Apple's iPad dilemma — Cupertino needs new iPads more than you do

Apple Logo behind a waterfall
(Image credit: Future)
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Just days ahead of the May 7 Let Loose iPad event, hype for the next big thing in Apple’s tablet lineup is at an all-time high. This is mostly in response to the fact that we’ve now gone more than 500 days without a new iPad to speak of. With a new iPad Pro M3 (perhaps M4), replete with an OLED display, and a new iPad Air 6 launch imminent, all eyes turn to whether or not these tablets will be the shot in the arm Apple needs to get out of the slump it seems to have got itself into recently. 

Apple’s Q2 earnings call this week painted a picture of Apple’s hardware entering the doldrums. While its 10% iPhone revenue slowdown can be attributed to an inflated Q2 last year, Apple also recorded minimal Mac growth (4%) and drops in both iPad and wearables revenue of 17% and 10% respectively. Apple Vision Pro debuted in January as Apple’s next big thing, but its eye-watering $3,499 price tag has put off all but the most dedicated enthusiasts and early adopters. With Apple’s iPhone 16 still months away, Apple is relying heavily on its May iPad launch and WWDC 2024 to kickstart some customer interest. After all, when was the last time we could say we were truly excited about something Apple was about to launch? 

Apple’s new iPads sound pretty intriguing, especially if their launch will also herald the debut of the M4 chip and its powerful AI toolset. Recent bombshell reports ahead of the iPad unveiling that Apple might actually debut a brand new generation of Apple silicon, complete with AI upgrades, rather than adopt the existing M3 model. However, I can’t help but think that the iPad lineup is already so powerful that Apple needs these iPads far more than any of its customers do. 

It would take something truly unique in the iPad lineup to make these tablets stand out from their predecessors, and I just can’t help but feel resigned to the fact that we probably won’t see anything like it on Tuesday. Apple Pencil 3 sounds like it could be a promising upgrade, and I’ve already argued elsewhere that Apple should focus on the iPad’s drawing input as its truly unique, differentiating feature. In truth, the biggest boost Apple has to offer its products this year is Apple AI, but new reports indicate that these likely won’t take center stage next week. According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, “ The extent of the AI announcement next week will be related to the chip - not the features themselves.” That means the M4 chip could play a prominent role in the keynote, but AI, LLM, and generative features less so.

So while the new iPads are sure to be impressive, I’m less convinced they’ll be the big turnaround Apple seems to be searching for this year. More likely, they’ll lay solid foundations for WWDC 2024 and iOS 18, with the main event still the new iPhones in September.

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(Image credit: Future)

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Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9

  • erikbock
    It's not really the processor that I am wanting this new iPad Pro for. I have the M1 Pro and it runs fast enough. I need a storage upgrade but I want the OLED screen and the front facing camera on the long edge of the bezel as I use the iPad on a Magic Keyboard 99.9% of the time. The will make things like Team, WebEx and Zoom calls so much better.
  • Captain NV
    For the last month or so, my iPad Air 4th generation has lost it's touch ID. I took it in to Apple, and they wanted $500 to fix it. I passed.

    I'm just waiting for the iPad Air 6th generation to come out to replace it.