Apple is often seen as a company that competes only in the premium portion of various computing markets. The iPad, in particular, has been a product that has always fit in at the high-end of the tablet market and has always been priced accordingly. Even the introduction of the iPad mini two years ago didn't change this. Although the iPad mini was a concession by Apple that people were interested in smaller tablets, it still remained at a high price for its form factor.
With the unveiling of its new iPad lineup, however, Apple has begun to offer a truly diverse lineup of tablet options for the first time. Although the new iPads retain their place as premium products, the decision to keep last years models plus the original iPad mini at reduced prices means that Apple can offer options to the majority of tablet buyers, including those with more modest budgets.
To be fair, there are plenty of alternatives on the market that hit an even smaller price point than the original iPad mini's new $249 price. And this is a product that is essentially two years behind the curve in terms hardware and that likely won't be able to upgrade to the next version of iOS (my original iPad mini feels somewhat sluggish running iOS 8). It is also the only product in Apple's mobile lineup that doesn't feature a retina display.
Even with those qualifiers, however, it remains a viable option for many users. The truth is that most of the tasks done on a tablet don't require a lot of horsepower - reading ebooks, browsing websites, answering email, basic photo editing, and even reviewing or working with Office documents can easily be done on the 2-year-old iPad mini.
One of the big lessons about the tablet market as it's matured is that people can make good use of a tablet for years on end without seeing a huge need to replace or upgrade it. That's been a stark contrast to the smartphone market where it's been customary to upgrade a device every two years or so, even in markets where carrier subsidies aren't common (or an option) as in the U.S. market. It's something that reflects that the perceived value and use cases are different between the two.
That means that by keeping the older iPad models on the market, Apple has been able to truly diversify what it offers to customers across different market segments while still being able to offer value as well as a complete ecosystem at each price.
This isn't entirely new territory for Apple. The company kept the iPad 2 in its line for years. It also used a similar strategy to bulk up its iPhone offerings. This year's launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus saw the company continue to offer both of last year's models - the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c at reduced prices. That move not only ensured a range of price options but also preserved a broader set of physical device sizes (though it's unclear if Apple will maintain them when it releases new iPhone's next year).
What is new is that this is the closest Apple has ever gotten to offering a truly budget-friendly iPad and that is significant. Although Apple will always be a premium company that, unlike many of its competitors, launches just a handful of new products each year, it is clearly making an effort to offer something to as much of the market as possible.