With the surprise update of the iPad mini for the California Streaming event, Apple’s tablet lineup now has a number of strong offerings across the board, from the base model ninth generation iPad all the way up to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. At first glance, it seems that there is something for everyone – but take a closer look and the cracks will begin to appear.
The high-end and low-end of the lineup are pretty clearly set out: No one who is in the market for a $ 329 iPad looks seriously at the top of the line iPad Pro or vice versa. In the middle, though, things get more exciting, especially when it comes to the iPad Air. This is partly due to the fact that the tablet lineup is out of common, as Apple’s update plan for the various models has varied a lot over the last year or two.
Will 2022 give Apple a chance to get its tablet teeth in a row? Maybe, but in that case, it has some difficult decisions to make first.
Apple will update iPhones and Apple Watches this fall, regularly as a clockwork. Sure, there is occasionally an expiring spring release like the iPhone SE or the purple iPhone 12, but when it comes to new models, you can count on them in September (or rarely October). It’s no surprise why: the holiday shopping season is routinely Apple’s biggest quarter, and the iPhone is its biggest product.
The iPad, on the other hand, has always been a bit more widespread, its development resembling more Mac. In the past year, we got an iPad Air update (Fall 2020), an iPad Pro update (Spring 2021), two base-level iPad updates (Fall 2020 and Fall 2021) and an update for the iPad mini (Fall 2021).
But in addition to splitting the product line to debut on different points, they also have different update cycles. For example, the base iPad has been updated every fall since September 2019, and the iPad Pro has been updated twice since the spring of 2020, but the iPad Air and iPad mini had not been updated since March 2019 until their latest updates in September 2020 and September 2021, respectively. .
Of course, Apple can update its products no matter what schedule works best for it, but by getting new iPad models coming out a few times a year, that means the lineup is always uneven somewhere.
When the fourth generation iPad Air came out last fall, it was in a peculiar position. With its A14 processor, it easily surpassed the A12Z in the then state-of-the-art iPad Pro and it was cheaper to start. Similarly, Air added many of the features that had previously been exclusive to the Pro, e.g. Support for Magic Keyboard and second generation Apple Pencil as well as a USB-C connector. Although its storage options were more limited and its cameras were not as good, the price tag of $ 749 for a 256GB model was $ 150 cheaper than the slower 11-inch iPad Pro with the same storage capacity.
The iPad mini is now in a similar situation. At heart, it looks like it really wants to be an iPad Air mini that has got similar features like second generation pencil integration, Touch ID on the start button and a USB-C connector. But it also surpasses the air in several respects, such as its A15 processor, 5G support, and a better front-facing camera with Center Stage.
Even though the mini is not in the bargain-basement area, it’s still $ 100 cheaper than the air that it performs better. Obviously, if the screen size is the driving factor, there is simply no substitute, but for those who do not mind a smaller screen and do not need the convenience of a keyboard that can be attached, it is reasonable to speculate, why they should spend more to get less.
The air down there
All of this points to a question about the future of the iPad Air. It looks like it’s meant to sit between the ninth generation iPad and iPad Pro, right in the “mid-range” of the line. And yet, its price tag is weighted firmly against the Pro side of the market, its price point $ 100 more than the $ 499 that the “standard” model has generally lived on.
And that’s a paltry 64 GB, the same bootloader as a ninth generation iPad. (A storage level, it should be noted, that Apple did away with its iPhone 13 series this year.) The only other storage option for the Air is 256 GB, which adds a significant $ 150 to the price tag – at which point, just $ 50 more gets you to a 128 GB iPad Pro.
Long story short, the iPad Air seems to be out of touch and out of time. Without rumors of a renewal this year, it suggests a new Air is more likely to emerge in the spring. The question is whether Apple will decide to keep its price where it is, or place it again as the modern iPad for most people.
But with these staggered updates, Apple may be doomed to always have its tablet line somewhat disorganized. Maybe it’s a bonus for Apple in terms of pushing more expensive models and weighting prices towards high-end, but it does not feel like it benefits consumers looking for a modern iPad at a reasonable price.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He is a prolific podcaster and author of the series Galactic Cold War, including his latest, The Nova incident, coming in July 2022.