Is This the iPad Let Down?

March 22nd, 2017

For several weeks there have been rumors, taken credibly, that Apple was planning some fairly major iPad upgrades any time now. This after a long dry spell throughout 2016 during which a single new model was introduced, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, based on the iPad Air 2. With falling sales, there were growing concerns that Apple’s tablet — despite being number one in a declining market — was not getting the attention it deserved.

Or maybe Apple was figuring out what to do with it.

In recent weeks, Apple has been promoting the iPad anew in web and TV ads, and there were growing rumors of a spring media event in which the iPad Pro, both sizes, would be refreshed, and an all-new 10.5-inch edge-to-edge form factor would be launched. You’d come to believe it to be true in light of all the specifics that were published about specs and features.

This had to be a no-brainer, right?

Well, maybe it will be. But not yet. So on Monday afternoon, there was notice on Apple’s site about a maintenance window for Apple’s online store on Tuesday morning. It would appear to coincide with the usual times new products are launched, so anticipation grew.

Until the store was upgraded that is.

So there was an iPad update all right, more or less. But it was underwelming, to put it mildly. The sole new model was a cheaper 9.7-inch iPad with some upgraded components, including an A9 processor. Curiously, Apple is using the original iPad Air case rather than the somewhat thinner and lighter iPad Air 2 design. Perhaps this was done to keep the price down, since it lists for $329 for the standard 32GB version. An optional 128GB configuration is $429. The Cellular version is $130 additional in either configuration.

The model name reverts to the original without the model generation or other identifiers — iPad.

The iPad mini 4 receives a storage upgrade to 128GB. The single model lists, curiously, for $399, plus the usual $130 for Cellular, and you wonder just how many people will pay more money for less tablet, even if the storage capacity is higher. After all, the maxed out iPad is only $30 more. The iPad mini 2 is history.

Now I have reviewed most of the regular-sized iPads over the years — and even had the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in here for a couple of months. This one, however, I’m going to pass by, if only because I fail to see that it will offer anything significant for iPad customers, other than a way to upgrade a vintage model, or get one at much lower price with slightly better performance.

The title of a old pop song, “Is That All There Is?” comes to mind.

But I want to be fair to Apple. Perhaps this simplified model lineup, an iPhone SE with greater storage capabilities at the same prices, and PRODUCT(RED) versions of the the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, were all meant to buy some time.

Perhaps there will be more new iPads over the next few months, and perhaps some long-awaited updates to Mac desktops. Maybe there will be a media event to launch this new gear, but the products just aren’t quite ready to launch.

I would prefer not to believe that the rumors of a new iPad form factor were wrong, since there appears to be enough credibility in them to indicate that they come from the usual Asian supply chain sources. Recent rumors have even mentioned possible production delays.

On the other hand, this move may only buttress the complaints of some of Apple’s critics that the company has run out of good ideas. What about the curious form-factor change with the iPad, and why did Apple abandon the thinner and lighter version and revert to an older design? Was it to better differentiate the “Pro” versions? How much money is Apple saving by this move?

I wouldn’t presume to suggest the iPad will suddenly become more popular in the remaining days of this quarter. Even if the expected new models had arrived, there would hardly be enough time to make a significant difference. Apple’s standard press release treatment is hardly conducive to increasing demand, nor is the publicity it generated.

Still, I am optimistic that Apple does have a long-range plan for the iPad intended to restore its luster. So this lame product upgrade should only be regarded as the first of many. Despite such reality checks, Apple’s stock price predictably declined somewhat as a result of the less-than-stellar news. There will probably be a few weeks of fear-mongering before Apple finally gets some more products out the door.

Will it even hurt this quarter’s sales? Well, Apple no doubt figured all that in its usually conservative guidance, so the answer is probably not.

In any case, I look forward to the next press release — or maybe there will be a real media event the next time.

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6 Responses to “Is This the iPad Let Down?”

  1. DaveD says:

    Right now, I am accepting your thoughts on Apple’s product move yesterday. It is a head scratcher to me. Maybe Apple is moving more in the direction of dropping the model number to be inline with the more mature product lines like Macs, iPods and Apple TVs. I do think this is overdue on the iPhones. The iPhone SE was a start. The iPad mini looks like clearing out the inventory. A check on Mactracker, the mini 4 Wi-Fi was initially priced in 2015 at $599 for 128MB.

  2. AdamC says:

    No matter what Apple do there will always be critics even though they come out with a better tablet and at a cheaper price too. If they didn’t do anything the whines will come out loud and frequent as to why they didn’t upgrade their products.

    Time to look at Apple differently perhaps now they will upgrade their hardware to address the market.

    They know many are holding out by not buying another iPad because the ones they have are still working perfectly and the OS can still be updated. As of today apple offer them the perfect opportunity to get the latest and greatest at a cheaper price.

  3. Peter says:

    I dunno. Some of this comes from the “you’ll never make me happy” crowd.

    Why didn’t Apple use the thinner/lighter iPad Air 2 case? Because it can’t handle the heat of the A9X and 128GB of storage? I’d be willing to bet that’s the case.

    Apple releases a new iPad Air and everybody whines that the specs are too low. They use the larger case so they can put in faster CPUs and more memory and everybody whines that it’s bigger and heavier. Hell, I just saw an article on Forbes whining about how Apple didn’t announce anything about new MacBooks and MacBook Pros. Uh, Hello? They just did that a few months ago.

  4. KiraK says:

    Time will tell what Apple is up to, but a strong case can be made that it has run out of ideas. Moreover, it has abandoned much that solidified its strengths in the past. For example, the Mac line is a mess; and it does not even make professional class machines any longer, instead choosing to simply badge a box as pro instead. And well established user interface principles are being forgotten, apparently by young developers who don’t know better. In short, Apple no longer builds anything that offers the very best user experience possible. That’s not to say it does not produce excellent work, but the passion for everything Apple is fading. That’s no small thing to miss, prognosticators. But it ain’t over until the fat lady sings, so there is hope Apple will see the fallacy of its ways and return to that which made Apple truly great, ironically when so many did not get it. But is that not how genius is usually recognized, in retrospect?

  5. dfs says:

    If Apple ever runs out of ideas, it has an excellent fallback position: start listening to its user base, openly solicit us end users for suggested improvments and recommendations for new products (software as well as hardware), set up focus groups and polls, and otherwise take soundings of public opinion. This would entail a revolution in Apple’s corporate culture. It would have to abandon its paternalistic “the public can have cares in any color it wants as long as it wants black” philosophy that assumes Apple knows what’s good for us better than we ourselves do. It would mean taking a substantial amount of power away from Jony Ives and his ilk and transferring it to you and to me.

  6. You mean do the same things as Microsoft and other companies that come out with silly ideas from focus groups?


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