With a new iPad Air now here, the 11-inch iPad Pro's days are numbered
In recent years, Apple has become really proficient at offering products within its lineup at a range of price points. As such, Apple has an iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad, or Mac at a long range of prices. Given Apple's history of cannibalizing its sales and current CEO Tim Cook's previous role as the operations lead, it's not surprising that Apple has arrived at this point. However, after this month's Apple event, there's one uniquely awkward product overlap within the iPad lineup that doesn't make sense to me.
There are four distinct iPad lines: iPad, iPad Air, iPad mini, and iPad Pro. The entry-level iPad is an affordable option that works great for browsing, email, watching videos, and completing other day-to-day tasks. The Pro is perfectly positioned for those wanting the most power possible, and the mini is the best iPad to buy if portability is your number one priority.
The iPad Air 5's purpose in the lineup is a little less clear. It's got a bigger and better display than the entry-level model with a more modern, edge-to-edge design. It's also much more powerful, supports the second-generation Apple Pencil, and has higher quality cameras and speakers. It offers an improved experience for every role the 10.2-inch iPad might fill, but that might not be worth the nearly $300 price jump for many folks.
On its other side, the iPad Air 5 is even more closely brushing up against the 2021 iPad Pro — the 11-inch variant, at least. Not only are the sizes almost identical, but the M1 chip powering both devices offers the same level of power, and the accessories are cross-compatible.
Again, it's a decent jump in price to move up to the 11-inch iPad Pro — $200 in this case — but for that you get double the storage, plus a more advanced ProMotion display, Thunderbolt connectivity, an AR-ready camera module, quad speakers, and more. On the other hand, if you considered the 256GB iPad Air 5 at $749, you're only $50 off the 128GB 11-inch iPad Pro, making for an even more awkward decision.
Perhaps Apple intends to have these collision points in its iPad lineup where these decisions are made, and consumers have the opportunity to throw the company a few dollars more. However, since most everyday buyers will punt for the cheapest model that meets their needs, the iPad Air 5 will struggle to attract those eyeing the base-spec iPad at almost half the price. However, mid-range buyers may be torn between the good-enough feature set of the iPad Air 5 and the added extras of the not-that-much-more-expensive 11-inch iPad Pro.
11-inch iPad Pro neglect
When Apple released 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models in 2018 and 2020, they were identical in every aspect that didn't pertain to their size. But in 2021, Apple gave arguably the best iPad Pro feature to just the 12.9-inch model: mini-LED display technology. Whether this was a limitation of the technology, price, or supply, it was the first time the iPad Pro sizes had diverged so significantly on a particular feature, with the larger model offering a much better experience.
It is now rumored a mini-LED 11-inch iPad Pro is no longer in the cards for this year, or at all. Perhaps Apple can't get the price down low enough or feels an improved display isn't a priority. Still, it's one area in which the 11-inch iPad Pro could further differentiate itself from the similarly-sized iPad Air 5.
As it stands, the iPad Air 5 and 11-inch iPad Pro make for a very close spec sheet comparison in the areas that matter. They offer the same M1 chip, same 12MP front-facing camera with Center Stage, same accessory support, and almost identical dimensions. So essentially, the iPad Air is like an iPad Pro with just the fanciest features stripped out. And those top-end features, like ProMotion, Thunderbolt, dual cameras, LiDAR, and faster 5G, are only really valued by pros who are likely also to want the best and biggest display possible.
Given last year's miss on the better display and the possibility of a lackluster 11-inch upgrade this year, Apple appears to be simply keeping the smaller iPad Pro around to hit a price point at this stage.
One has to go
It seems clear to me that the iPad Air 5 and 11-inch iPad Pro are fighting for many of the same customers, and it's not the best experience for anyone shopping for a mid-sized tablet.
I think that, ultimately, we'll see this issue resolved with one of Apple's ~11-inch tablets going away. However, given the iPad Air just got refreshed, the days of the smaller iPad Pro may be numbered.
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Adam Oram is a Senior Writer at iMore. He studied Media at Newcastle University and has been writing about technology since 2013. He previously worked as an Apple Genius and as a Deals Editor at Thrifter. His spare time is spent watching football (both kinds), playing Pokémon games, and eating vegan food. Follow him on Twitter at @adamoram.
if you considered the 256GB iPad Air 5 at $749, because you wanted the storage, why wouldn't you be looking at the 256GB 11-inch iPad Pro for $899? That's $150 difference.
Perhaps you are looking at “smallest available storage that’s more than 64 GB”. In that situation, 256 GB Air is a direct comparison to 128 GB Pro.
The thing is, I prefer the 11" iPad Pro size. I think many do. The 12.9" iPad Pro is just too big and sometimes can be unwieldy.