The cat is out of the bag, as AllThingsD has confirmed that Apple will hold an iPad-related media event on Tuesday, October 22. While we won’t know Apple’s full sales picture till the last week of October, unless some of the numbers are revealed at the iPad unveiling, some are wondering about its ongoing success. Reason is that sales were down in the September quarter, although there are probably good reasons for that result. One being that the current models were first introduced last fall, and that’s an awfully long time in the tech universe.
There are also ongoing reports that the iPad has been consigned to a minority status when it comes to market share, particularly against Android tablets, and it may only get worse. But there is that curious disconnect, that the iPad receives approximately 84% of measured tablet-based Web traffic. That conveys the impression that most of those other tablets aren’t being used to get online, which would seem to be one of the most basic functions. Why the disconnect?
One possibility is that lots of people buy those cheap tablets, under the impression they are getting a genuine iPad knockoff, with similar performance capabilities, or they are just buying something that they can afford. Regardless, after a brief period of use, it’s clear these white box tablets aren’t up to snuff, so they are placed in a drawer or in a closet somewhere. Perhaps they are returned in disgust to the dealer. I wouldn’t presume to have the answers, but there is that irritating question about what people are doing with all those tablets that, collectively, outsell iPads by a huge margin.
So what is Apple planning for the fifth generation iPad and the second generation iPad mini?
For the former, there are two logical changes. First is to make the chassis thinner and lighter, and I assume Retina display technology has advanced enough to allow Apple to give the iPad 5 a diet. There are supposedly leaked prototype parts that clearly point in this direction, a direction that appears to make the iPad 5 closely resemble its smaller sibling. It would also appear that a similar or faster version of Apple’s 64-bit A7 chip would be a given. Maybe it’ll be a more powerful version labeled A7x. That will continue to pave the way for the new generation of 64-bit apps. In a couple of years, it’ll be all 64-bit.
The expected chip upgrade may not necessarily apply to the iPad mini, which tends to receive somewhat less advanced parts, but I wouldn’t presume to second guess Apple’s intentions. What is clear is that the iPad mini is the hot ticket, and thus Apple would want to make the next version an extremely attractive upgrade.
That takes us to the Retina display dilemma. Although the display on the original iPad mini seems perfectly sharp and clear, it’s not quite Retina quality. Compare that to the small HD tablets being sold for less by Amazon and Google. It has been suggested by some pundits that it’s a matter of cost, since such a Retina display would have the same resolution as the one on the full-sized iPad, but I think Apple’s margins are high enough to absorb a more expensive component. The real question, then, would be whether Apple can get them in sufficient supplies for the holiday season.
The other question would be whether the first generation iPad mini would still be sold at a lower price as an entry-level product. Imagine buying one for, say, $229. Clearly a lot of customers would live without Retina to save $100. It’s also in keeping with how Apple has marketed the 9.7-inch model up till now.
The remaining question is whether there will be enough supplies to meet demand. Don’t forget it remains an open question how long it’ll take for the iPhone 5s backorder situation to end.
Now it’s a sure thing Apple’s critics won’t be impressed, even if everything I’m saying ends up being true, and it’s fairly conservative speculation. It represents a natural evolution of the iPad lineup, and it still keeps Apple ahead of the pack. As I said, customers may be buying those other tablets in huge numbers, but they aren’t doing much with them.
To be perfectly fair, it’s not as if the newest Android tablets are changing the paradigm. They may be a tad sleeker than the previous models, the processors are faster, and more and more are getting HD displays. But it’s not as if there are no growing pains. Consider the software problems that afflicted the second generation Google Nexus 7 tablet and made it almost useless, although they seem to have been mostly resolved. A recent survey of touch sensitivity still shows that Android tablets lag badly compared to an iPad.
At least Consumer Reports isn’t complaining, but they still expect mobile gear to be able to run Flash. Give me a break!
The one lingering question, though, about the next iPad is whether Apple will continue the policy of gouging customers who want more storage. Boosting the price by a flat $100 for each step upward in solid state memory is just plain wrong. That doesn’t reflect the cost to Apple, which is far less. Of course, that didn’t stop them from pulling the same stunt on the new iPhones, so I’m not expecting any changes, at least for this year.