The Fantastic Ho-hum iPad Lineup

A close friend asked me for iPad shopping advice. He’s a family man with six kids, so any device he purchases will eventually be handed down.

He asked, “Do you think you will be trying to sell your iPad Air since there's new ones coming out?”

I didn’t need to think about it for a second. “Nah. I still really like the one I have.” I have an iPad Air with 32 gb, Wi-Fi only.

“Ok. So that first gen one is still a solid choice?”

“Definitely.”

I like it when Apple blows us away with state-of-the-art updates to any of their product lineup. The iPad Air 2 has some interesting improvements, but none that would warrant I spend $400 to upgrade from the year-old iPad Air. The 2 is a refinement of the first generation — not a momentous step up in power or performance.

A few minutes later, my friend asks, “I see no real advantage of the mini 3 over the mini 2.”

“Agreed. It's laughable actually. The 3 comes with Touch ID.” Part of me feels like that should be a blow to Apple’s good name. It’s true that Apple is known for their year-over-year innovations. Is it reasonable to expect that they will always surprise us with their innovations year-over-year? No, it’s not, and I don’t need Apple to do that. Still, something just doesn’t seem right about the iPad lineup.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I was texting with my friend. He added:

My friend’s text message

He wasn’t trying to slam Apple. He likes Macs, iPods and iPhones almost as much as I do. But my friend isn’t overly eager to spend his hard-earned money on one more $500+ device, if he can help it.

I stopped to think of a justification for the product tiers. Is Apple tricking their loyal iPad customers into buying overpriced models? They must have plans for the iPad in the future, but at this time…why do they think the lineup is a good one? I think the lack of substantial differences between the iPad mini 2 and the iPad mini 3 begs for an explanation.

Using Siri to dictate my last response, I thought aloud and told my friend, “I think the technology for the iPads is slowing down similarly to the pace of the iPod touch. There really hasn't been anything new or different about the iPod touch in a few years, and the iPods still make the market happy. But that market is nowhere near the size of the iPhone’s, so Apple isn't motivated to give these devices the best technological advances.”

“Ahh. Good point.”

Of course, if I’m right, my answer to the problem is still oversimplified. Other considerations:

  • The iPad has a longer lifecycle than iPhones.
  • The iPad is better serving education and enterprise markets than the iPhone, which is Apple’s device for potentially every mobile use case.
  • Everyone finds a need for a phone.
  • The iPad is a luxury to many customers.
  • Many developers are not offering the newest apps on the iPad.
  • If you already have an iPhone, and your favorite apps are well supported on the phone, you probably don’t need redundant apps on an iPad because the iPad versions do the same things the iPhone’s do — no more, no less.

And yet, the iPad outsells iPods by a long shot. It’s not going obsolete. It’s just a smaller market than the iPhones’. A few million smaller, which isn’t bad when you’re still selling millions. Apple is justified because their top priority is the most popular device. And when it is more advantageous at a reasonable pace to sell more advanced iPads, you can bet your bottom dollar they will.

It’s difficult for the average customer or business pundit to appreciate this. Apple has made reasonable choices. The iPad lineup isn’t a bad one — it’s just not as exciting as it was last year, or as exciting as it will be next year.

And yet, if you are in the market to buy an iPad, Apple is offering their best lineup to date. It’s also the largest lineup. You can narrowly define the device that appeals the most to you. No need for Apple to answer for their sales strategy.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.