The first iPad went on sale in March of 2010, and March of 2011 and 2012 saw the iPad 2, and iPad 3 respectively. That wasn’t the case in 2013 as Apple has yet to release a new iPad this year, leaving it to the last three months of the year. In October of 2012, Apple released the iPad mini, and a minor increment to the full sized iPad with just a better chip set. That update allowed the company to skip the March refresh, and move to a fall update cycle, and it’s likely that we see the iPad 5 and iPad mini 2 in October of this year. The iPhone is the king of Apple’s product line-up, but the iPad is the second best seller, so it’s another important piece that Apple has to nail, especially as it gains momentum with the iPad mini form factor, and competition with more high quality tablet alternatives out there.
The release of the two new iPads will be just in time for the holiday shopping season, but the release isn’t just for the end of 2013. Instead, these iPads need to have lasting appeal from October 2013 all the way until the fall of 2014. Apple’s holiday quarter is their biggest, but without any product updates the rest of the year, the iPads need to maintain interest for the next four quarters. Apple previously got a boost in the spring from the iPad line-up, but have now put all of their eggs in the holiday quarter basket. With this in mind, we’re going to look at Apple’s plan of attack for the iPad for the next year. What we expect for the iPad line is to see the iPad 5 and iPad mini 2, with both taking cues from the other. The iPad 5 is likely to see an iPad mini like form factor that is thinner and lighter with the side bezels slimmed down as well. The iPad mini 2 is expected to have a retina display for the 7.9” screen size to adopt one of the benefits of the full sized iPad.
Apple’s current 9.7” tablet is on the hefty side, so a significantly reduced form factor would be of great interest. The retina display is something that should have been included on the original iPad mini, so that will be of great benefit as well. The question is, can Apple get away with such minor updates to their iPad line-up? It would seem that it would take more than expected updates to make both iPads appealing for the next 12 months. The full size iPad is an extra big question mark due to the fact that Apple is asking for a premium price, especially in comparison to the iPad mini. Right now, Apple positions the retina display as a main distinguisher to go from the $329 iPad mini to the $499 iPad. If both have retina displays and similar form factors, does is make sense that going from 7.9” to 9.7” warrants the additional $170? It wouldn’t appear so, which leads us to believe that the full size iPad 5 may have more than just a slimmer form factor for its update. Apple could always keep the A7X chip for the iPad, and leave the A6X for the iPad mini.
The iPad line has a very clear upgrade path, and even if minimal expectations are met, they would probably both sell very well, but the iPad mini may get a majority share of sales. Apple needs to entice users to go for the premium iPad over the mini, similar to wanting to push people to the iPhone 5S, rather than the 5C. The distinctions between the iPhone models are clear, but Apple really needs to up-sell the iPad beyond just a larger screen. Another thing to consider is the current generation devices, and whether or not Apple will keep them around. It would make sense for Apple to keep selling the original iPad mini, and perhaps drop the price $50 so it could sell at $279, and the iPad mini 2 settling in at the current $329 price tag. For the full size iPad, Apple did keep around the iPad 2 when they introduced the iPad 3, and knocked $100 off the price. The difference between the lines was the retina display, so the same thing could happen for the mini. The 4th generation iPad on the other hand could be discontinued, similar to how Apple stopped selling the original iPad, when they launched the thinner and lighter iPad 2.
Only so much can be done with the iPad hardware, and that leads us into software. iOS 7 is a fresh start for Apple, and current beta builds are quite advanced for the iPhone, but relatively rudimentary on the iPad. We have already postulated that Apple could be saving up a special iOS 7 iPad build to launch with the iPad 5 and iPad mini 2 in October. Apple is gearing up for the September 10th iPhone event, with iOS 7 for the iPhone expected shortly thereafter. Since Apple is saving the iPads for a separate October event, it would make sense to save the iPad version of iOS 7 for the same event. If Apple does that, we could see some iPad specific features of software to truly distinguish the iPad mini and iPad from their small screen counterparts.
There’s a lot of potential in the iPad line, and Apple has very slowly tapped into that potential since the first iPad back in 2010. The 2013 models are expected to have minimal upgrades offering iPad mini form factor on the iPad 5, and a retina display on the iPad mini 2. Apple has a very deliberate approach to the iPad, and the 2013 plan of attack appears to be no different.