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Is This the iPad Let Down?

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.