The reintroduction of iPad

Last week I wrote a series of articles called Thoughts on iPad (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) just prior to and after the iPad Pro 9.7″ launch. In these I discussed the bifurcation of the iPad line into regular and Pro, and the implications that has on launch dates, features and use cases, price, and relationship to past iPads.

The gist of the articles is that I believe Apple will rid itself of the ‘Air’ sub-brand and numbering iPads with the launch of a new iPad in the fall. This probably includes collapsing the iPad mini into that brand as well for the same reasons. The new iPad would run last-gen iPhone A-series chips, cost less, and possibly change chassis slightly – lighter, possibly even thinner, possibly colors. Think of it as a bit like how the iPod Touch line went thin and light and many-colored, while iPhones got the latest bits.

After thinking about the fall launch more, I realize how silly it is for Apple to keep two generations of products on the market at the same time as it typically does. I also believe I was too conservative in my cost estimates. In short, I now believe the new iPad will be $399/$499, and the iPad Air 2 will be retired along with the iPad Mini 4, thus making a clean break and not offering previous-gen iPads for at least this first year of the new brand.

The reasons for the retirement are pretty clear:

  • Brand Confusion – The biggest reason. Having ‘iPad’ and ‘iPad Air 2’ on the market at the same time is confusing, as the latter sounds more impressive. Time to retire the ‘Air’ brand and the numbers, and use the whole stage to introduce the reinvisioned ‘iPad’, which may even get a chassis change and some colors.
  • Age & Support – The Air 2 is already ‘last years model’ with the iPad Pro 9.7″ now out. If it is kept around after October, it will have been on the market 3 years when retired. No reason to push out support of an old architecture even later (especially true if the A8-powered iPad Mini 4 is retired and replaced, along with the 6th gen iPod Touch. Good fall cleaning).
  • Inventory – Apple can spend the next 6 months clearing out the remaining Air 2 inventory, and they’ve already closed out the 128gb SKUs.
  • Cost – Since the next iPad likely inherits a lot of the other components of the Air 2, Apple can get good value out of the supply chain there. Its likely the A9 + single LPDDR4 will be the same price as or cheaper than the A8X + dual LPDDR3. The combo also uses less power, meaning a smaller and cheaper battery, and some more potential for chassis refinements.
  • Cost/Benefit – The A9 performs too similarly to the A8X for the latter to justify staying around at a much lower price point.

One other thing I blanked on last week: the regular iPad shouldn’t have a cellular option. That’s a Pro level feature, and its costly to Apple because it doubles the SKUs. Although I’m not 100% confident they’ll add more colors, getting rid of cellular means they’re dealing with far less SKUs and opens up the capacity to add a few more. With 8 colors and 2 storage tiers, they’d have the same number of SKUs as if they kept the existing 4 colors and cellular. And if you think about, Gold and Rose Gold just don’t make much sense as colors for entry level devices – better blue, red, green, black, yellow, orange, purple, silver. Fun stuff for anyone who wants a device that’s more personal and expressive, and great for kids and schools.

I’m very confident now in this change-over, and any future speculation I’ll undoubtedly be doing here will be based on these assumptions. It just makes too much sense to try and position iPad any other way.