Did you hear about yesterday’s big Apple news? No, I don’t mean the iPhone 7 or the new Apple Watch: Those were telegraphed months in advance. The big news. I’m referring instead to the iPad, which Apple also updated yesterday. Just not in the ways you’d expect.
You’re forgiven for not having heard about the iPad updates, which I believe are in fact the biggest news to come out of Cupertino this week. And that’s because Apple didn’t actually announce any changes at all. And yet the iPad lineup, mysteriously and silently, has in fact just changed quite a bit.
It’s curious that Apple isn’t trumpeting these changes. And you can check the firm’s press site to see what I mean. There are new press releases about the iPhone 7, the Apple Watch Series 2, AirPods, and even Apple Watch Nike+ and Apple Watch Hermès. But there’s nothing about iPad. In fact, the last Apple press release to feature the word “iPad” in its title dates back to May, when—hold your breath—Apple and SAP partnered to “revolutionize work on iPhone and iPad.” Snork. (The last actual iPad news was in March when Apple introduced the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.)
Or maybe it isn’t that curious. As I just noted in The Trouble with Tablets, Apple is on track for three straight years of falling (not slowing; falling) iPad sales. And this week’s changes, clearly, are designed to fix the obvious problems with this faltering product lineup. Well, beyond the functional gaps I’ve previously discussed.
So here’s what’s amazing about the changes.
First, that it was done silently. On a day in which Apple had the entire world as a captive audience, and was guaranteed free press, it opted to simply ignore the fact that was updating all of its iPad models in some way. It is amazing to me that the firm couldn’t devote even five minutes to one of its core products on such a day.
Second, Apple did something it only does rarely and under great duress: It actually cut prices on existing products. (No, not all iPads, but see below for an additional point which amounts to an effective price cut.) So the 256 GB versions of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and 9.7-inch iPad Pro are both now $100 less than before. And the prices for the 128 GB versions are both now $50 less than before. Chop, chop. Just like a normal company.
Those are fairly uncommon purchases, you may argue. And fair enough: It’s not like higher-end iPad Pro tablets are leaping off of Apple’s retail shelves. But that’s fine. Because the third item is all the more impressive.
And it goes like this: Apple has doubled the storage on all of the iPads—mini, Air, and Pro alike—that already came with less than 256 GB of storage. And in doing so without raising the prices, not even on a single model, Apple has effectively given the iPad lineup the biggest price cut it’s ever seen.
What this means is that the absolutely useless 16 GB iPad models are gone. Now, 32 GB is the starting point. And the 64 GB versions, likewise, are gone: Now, 128 GB is the mid-tier storage allotment.
This is a big deal. As I wrote, just yesterday, iPads are really expensive.
“Tablets are too expensive. The cheapest new iPad, the iPad mini 4, costs $400 for an unusable version with just 16 GB of storage, so $500 and up, really, for 32 GB. (If you don’t mind performance issues, you can try the years-old iPad mini 2, which starts at $270, or $320 for the more viable 32 GB version. That’s what I’m stuck with right now—I have a 16 GB version—and I want to chuck it into an incinerator.)”
So let’s put just those prices in perspective.
Today, the actual starting price for a usable iPad mini 4, with 32 GB of storage, is just $400, a full $100 lower than before. The actual starting price for a usable iPad mini 2, again with 32 GB of storage, is just $269, which is $50 cheaper than before. (Apple no longer sells iPad mini 2 with anything other than 32 GB of storage, which is of course fine as well.)
Put simply, you will save $50 to $100 on any iPad. Because virtually all iPads—certainly all mainstream iPads—now offer double the storage for the same price. Which again, is effectively a price cut.
This isn’t the way Apple operated when all of its product lines were racing to dominance. But it is now, and when you add in previous Apple price cuts—it also cut prices on the Apple Watch earlier this year—you see the start of a trend, a normalization.
Yes, Apple products are still wickedly expensive. They’re just a bit less so today.
There is one more thing. We are, after all, discussing Apple. While this isn’t a given, I have to think that these changes mean we won’t see any actual iPad news—i.e. new models or upgrades—this calendar year. This, I believe, is the tablet lineup that Apple is going to market with this holiday season.