Apple’s latest iPad is a curious product. It’s not a flagship device and doesn’t introduce any new technologies. It has an unremarkable name: just iPad, no qualifiers like Pro or a version number.
It doesn’t do anything my year-old 9.7-inch iPad Pro can’t already do because it’s not as advanced. For that reason alone, I have no plans on buying the new iPad. There’s no successor to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro at this point.
Still, the new iPad does have one feature that intrigues me: its $329 price. Cheaper is obviously better for your bank account, but there’s more to it than that.
Price is partly what makes the iPad Pro awkward. You can spend $850 on a base iPad Pro and its accessories, but a lot of users expect more out of its operating system for that price. Third-party apps help it shine, but the OS itself holds it back. Maybe iOS 11 will dramatically change that; we’ll see.
When the OS does move forward, it’ll happen through a free software update so iPad Pro hardware still requires a premium price. iPad Pro also raised the entry point for a new 9.7-inch iPad to $599; the best 9.7-inch iPads always started at $499 before the iPad Pro.
Even if iOS 11 makes the iPad Pro a better tablet for power users, its $599 price is still a barrier for a lot of casual uses. Apple’s answer before this week was a two-year old iPad Air 2 for $399, $100 less than its original debut. Now the new iPad offers a newer processor and is priced $70 cheaper than its predecessor and $270 below the next model.
For a lot of users, that’s a more appropriate product for the price even if its hardware is less advanced. For me, the $329 price actually opens up the possibilities of what an iPad in general can be used for.
Education is the obvious purpose. Chromebooks do well in part because their cost can be much lower, so a cheaper iPad helps Apple position tablets to schools. But Apple could make a privately distributed education iPad if it really wanted to, and college students will probably be better off with the iPad Pro and its accessories.
A $329 price enables a lot of casual uses for iPads as well.
For example, I would consider buying an iPad at that price to be used as a family iPad that stays in the living room, controls my Sonos speakers and HomeKit accessories, responds to Hey Siri voice control from anyone, and doesn’t have my email or messages. I’d highly consider the $329 iPad for that very purpose if Apple brought back the old photo frame feature from iOS 6 and earlier.
Another example is my daughter’s iPad which she absolutely adores. She inherited her mom’s iPad Air 2 (it’s way over-spec’d for a four-year-old) and we have a lot of fun with learning games and video apps. If something happened to it before, we’d likely shop around for a decent deal on a used or refurbished older iPad because of the price. At $329, I could probably convince my wife that we can just buy a new one for a special occasion.
I actually wish this iPad existed a few months ago. I considered buying my grandma a new iPad for Christmas but didn’t like the prices of 9.7-inch models and thought the cheaper iPad mini would be too small.
Personally, I could even see myself considering a version of this iPad in the future. I have the 9.7-inch iPad Pro but don’t use the Apple Pencil or Smart Keyboard as much as I’d like to considering their price. I spend most of my time on my MacBook Pro or iPhone so a $329 iPad feels more appropriate for my own casual use. If retailers discount that price by $50 or $100 (or refurb models come in under $300) that’s an even more compelling price.
So while nothing specific about the new hardware is exactly an upgrade, its price actually does make it more tuned to certain use cases that price could prohibit on iPad Pros. I don’t plan on ordering one when they go on sale tomorrow and I’ll probably never end up buying this particular generation, but I do appreciate that a modern iPad exists at that price point even if it is basically an iPad Air with an iPhone 6s processor.