Apple always has its own way of transitioning products to a new design or platform. We've seen the company pull it off several times now, and while not all the transitions have been ideal at every stage, they've more or less achieved what the company wanted to. There's one thing to be noted, though — none of them have been as confusing as the latest one.
Apple recently refreshed its base iPad, bringing it up to speed with the rest of its iPad lineup. It now gets fresh new colors, and the newer Apple design, which means the home button is finally gone, and so is the headphone jack, and wrapping it all together is a hefty starting price tag of $449. While it's not bad value for the money, it makes the iPad lineup very confusing.
The future is fast, the future is colorful, the future is... expensive
The iPad has been fantastic from the get-go, and it has improved a lot over the years as well. For a while there, the Air and Mini took a backseat with refreshes coming out with long gaps. The Pro caught the eyes (and wallets) of a whole new market demographic. In the meantime, the base iPad was doing all the heavy lifting. It has consistently been the best-selling iPad model, often accounting for over half the total sales of the iPad.
It wouldn't be stupid to assume that this has largely been the case due to the accessibility of the iPad. The sub-$350 price tag, which has kept the base iPad affordable for so long, is a part of the iPad's identity. Most folks associate this cheap-yet-capable model with the iPad brand on the whole. Apple had been able to keep this up by keeping the same design for years, lowering assembly costs, while packing in newer and faster hardware every year, making it the best iPad for most folks.
The refreshed iPad ushers in a new era, which is what we have been waiting for. It gets the new design, which keeps it from standing out against the rest of the lineup. No more home button. Even bezels are finally here. The iPad finally gets bright new colors too. It feels like the second coming of the iPad, right up until you start noticing the cracks.
Out with the old, in with the old
The debate of value here also brings to notice the uneven changes to the iPad. The display is still non-laminated, and you only get to use the first-gen Apple Pencil with it. The way to use it is with a really inelegant USB-C to Lightning adapter. Upon a closer look, the iPad doesn't feel all that new, and definitely not enough to make it the new default at a price premium that thick.
There's a lot about the new iPad that is new, including the price bump. It now adds a huge $120 premium to the cost, which places it dangerously close to the iPad Air. iMore staff member Luke Filipowicz discussed the similarities between the two models recently, saying that the iPad Air 6 would need to bring the heat to be able to differentiate itself from this new iPad. On the flip side, you could see this new iPad as the cheaper iPad Air. Except that it's not. It's a more expensive base iPad.
iPad SE to the rescue?
For now, the iPad lineup is very confusing. Apple is keeping the 9th Gen iPad in the lineup, which isn't a bad value at $329. Then, we have the new iPad starting at $449, the iPad mini at $499, and the iPad Air at $599. It doesn't feel like there's enough for the new iPad to be a middle ground between the 9th Gen iPad and the iPad Air. Of course, there's the argument that folks can pick the one that fits their budget, which works for now, but there's a problem with that logic.
The problem is that the 9th Gen iPad is a stopgap measure. There will be a void in the lineup down the line — a void in the iPad's best-performing price point, since the 9th Gen iPad cannot go on forever. Unless Apple is planning a magical $100 price drop on the base iPad next year, the sub-$350 tablet price point is going to have an empty throne. And while there may not be a competitor that takes its place, the $329 iPad will be sorely missed. Unless, of course, Apple raids the parts bin again for an iPad SE, which wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.
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Palash has been a technology and entertainment journalist since 2013. Starting with Android news and features, he has also worked as the news head for Wiki of Thrones, and a freelance writer for Windows Central, Observer, MakeUseOf, MySmartPrice, ThinkComputers, and others. He also worked as a writer and journalist for Android Authority, covering computing, before returning to freelancing all over town.