5 biggest surprises from the iPad Air and iPad mini 2 launch

October 24, 2013

Apple announced the iPad Air — the "world's thinnest full-size tablet" — along with the much-anticipated Retina Display iPad mini in San Francisco on 22 October. Both have debuted to reasonable acclaim, even if Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak isn't too impressed. Personally, the announcement itself opened my eyes to a few new trends.

New iPad mini is good news for Android vendors

I’ve been pretty adamant over the last few months that the tablet market was split in two; suspended between high-end iPads (plus some hybrid Windows 8 devices) and cost-effective Android models. I really didn’t see much middle ground, perhaps until more of those 8-inch x86 machines starting falling below $400.

The latest iPad mini is an extension of that. Sure enough, there’s a Retina Display and the A7 processor, but it’s important to note that its prices now rise to $399 while the original iPad mini slips to $299. The iPad 2 remains too at $399, although why anyone would buy it at that price is a mystery to me. 

[I agree with CITEWorld’s Ryan Faas that it distinguishes the iPad line-up and makes upgrading much more appealing.]

Who benefits out of this? Surprisingly, its Android OEM vendors.  The race to the bottom has been unrelenting in the tablet market and margins have been betting slimmer as consumers demand hi-res displays and quad-core processors at affordable price points. That’s all right if you’re Amazon and Google – which monetize in other ways – (although Amazon has said that it can’t afford a $99 Kindle Fire), but not so good if you’re an out-and-out hardware manufacturer.

Fortunately, the new iPad prices give these guys some breathing space although it remains to be seen if consumers will be as willing to splash out up to $400 on an Android tablet.

Free apps are bad news for developers…and Office for iPad

‘Free’ was a buzz word at the Apple conference. Apple announced that its latest version of Mac OS (Mavericks) is now free to all customers running OS X and also added that iWork and iLife apps would come free with new iOS device purchases.

As far as the latter is concerned, the cynic in me says that demand for the paid versions hasn't been as high as Apple would have liked.

Nonetheless, that does seem to be the way productivity apps are going; Quickoffice, Cloudon and Quip are all free, amongst others, and some of these rely on in-app payments and subscriptions.

This isn’t the end of the world should Microsoft eventually debut Office for iPad, which would likely be free anyway with an Office 365 subscription, but it does show that its imitators are getting a whole lot better.

(Worth reading: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak dings the iPad Air, Apple CEO Tim Cook says 'competitors are confused' about tablets & Behind Apple's new iPads is a push to extend its software edge)

App focus turns to quality, not quantity

Apple is now up to 475,000 iPad-specific apps, which is pretty impressive considering that figure was at  375,000 in June. But with the iPad Air and iPhone 5S sporting the 64-bit A7 processor that is sure to come to other iPads in the future, you have to think that future apps will be more extensive than they are today. The app developers I've been speaking to — including Quip and Readdle — have certainly been very positive about it.

"When Apple has a 64-bit version of iOS and the apps, they'll be able to take full advantage of the architecture," said analyst Jack Gold after the announcement.

Is Apple actually bringing “innovation” or just talking it?

I’ve lost count the number of times a PR spokesperson has told me that their client’s product was innovative or that it had a great ‘user experience’ (which surely is in the eye of the beholder).

Apple, sadly, is now one of that crew. ““It’s been an incredible period for innovation and new products,” said Cook at the event. “Any other company would be incredibly proud to have just one of these new products.”

Let’s get real here – the new iPads are just that little bit better than the ones before. 

The 64-bit A7 processor, the lighter chassis on the iPad Air, the Retina Display on the mini – it’s all evolution not revolution. Even the presentations are a little tired, as Nick Bilton writes on the New York Times.

Food for thought; iPad Pro is up next?

Consider this; Apple now has the Mac mini, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iPad mini and iPad Air. Spot the missing link.

While not commenting on the possibility of an iPad Pro, Creative Strategies principal Tim Bajarin reckons the iPad Air is being positioned as a business device and reckons a future hybrid device could be in the works.

“While Apple has not embraced this convertible or 2-in-1 idea, it is clear to me they understand the potential of a product like this and could easily create their own unique branded version of this concept in the future,” he wrote in Techpinions.

There would certainly be demand for an iPad Pro — especially if that rumored new iPad keyboard cover came to fruition — and Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster reckons it is inevitable. But Tim Cook would have to first eat a little crow having previously dismissed the notion of hybrid tablets.

"Our competitors chased netbooks," said Cook. "Now they're busy making PCs into tablets and tablets into PCs.”

(For more iPad news, reviews and features, subscribe to the free TabTimes for iPad newsletter).


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