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Op-Ed: Apple's iPad Event Was A Welcome Breath Of Fresh Air

I really didn’t like Apple’s iPhone event this year. I thought it was overly scripted and the folks presenting it, too stiff with their presentations. It’s amazing how much fresher today’s iPad event seemed to be, both in its appearance, and in the products that were announced.

The iPad Air

We figured Apple would put a lot of emphasis on their 9.7-inch iPad during this year’s presentation, and they didn’t disappoint. The fifth-generation device is thinner and lighter than its predecessor, and also includes plenty of advanced features under the hood. The biggest surprise, however, was Apple’s decision to name this device the iPad Air. The iPad 2 remains the only tablet Apple has ever sold that received a number attached to it. Unlike the New iPad, and the iPad with Retina display, the name iPad Air is perhaps the best title Apple has chosen for its larger tablet to date. After the new name, the biggest news to come out of the iPad Air reveal is the exclusion of Touch ID. As Brent Dirks noted, this probably has a lot to do with supply issues. I was also surprised that Apple didn’t announce a gold iPad Air. There is always next year, of course.

The iPad mini with Retina display

There is no iPad mini 2. Instead, Apple’s second-generation 7.9-inch tablet is called the iPad mini with Retina display. This is a great title since it describes the one feature most were hoping to see. Add to that the new A7 chip and M7 motion coprocessor, and the new iPad mini will almost certainly be a top seller during the upcoming holiday shopping season. My first impressions of both the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina display is positive. Still, I’d like to mention a few points that have rubbed me the wrong way, and could others as well.

Apple's iPad misses

Apple says the nearly 3-year-old iPad 2 continues to sell well. As a result, it will remain. A wiser decision would have been to retire the iPad 2 and price the 16GB iPad with Retina display at $399. Not only would this choice have improved the internals for Apple’s least expensive 9.7-inch tablet, but also would have meant the retirement of the 30-pin adapter on all iOS devices. I’m also not crazy about the price jump for the iPad mini with Retina display. The 7.9-inch tablet was already priced at a premium compared to other tablets in its class. Now, that difference has jumped another $70, from $329 to $399, for the entry-level model. Dropping the price on the original iPad mini by $30 also makes little sense. At $299, the year-old iPad mini is still $70 more than the current generation Kindle Fire HDX and Nexus 7. Really, Apple?

The new word at Apple is free

Apple has slashed the price on many of its apps, both for iOS and OS X. Effective immediately, iPhoto, Garageband, iMovie, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, are all free when you purchase a new iPhone, iPad, or Mac. In addition, OS X Mavericks has become the first Mac OS update available for absolutely nothing. The move by Apple to make many of its most popular applications available for free is quite remarkable. It will also be interesting to see how competitors such as Microsoft will react, especially with the introduction of iWork for Web. For the first time, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, are now available across multiple platforms. And, as with Google Documents, the applications are entirely free. This may mean very little to one person who still prefers Microsoft’s Office suite, even though it costs a few hundred dollars. For businesses that spend thousands a year on Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, however, Apple’s pricing change could prove enticing.

The newest Macs

Apple announced some necessary updates to both the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro. They also announced that the Mac Pro would be released in December, beginning at $2,999. Cupertino didn’t, however, announce updates for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, or Mac mini. The new MacBook Pro notebooks are thinner, lighter, and faster. And they’re available beginning today at reduced starting prices. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display now starts at $1,299, as opposed to its previous starting price of $1,499. At this new price, the model includes 2.4GHz dual-core i5, 4GB of RAM, Iris Graphics, and 128GB of storage. As for the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, it now starts at $1,999, instead of $2,199. It includes 2.0GHz quad core i7, 8GB of RAM, Iris Pro Graphics, and 256GB of storage.

Finally, some odds and ends

Here are a few more observations about today’s event:
  • Apple didn’t mention one thing about the iPod line. Nothing. Nada. If my numbers are correct, this is the first time since 2001 that iPods weren’t discussed at an Apple event in the fall. Wow.
  • I would love whatever Eddy Cue was taking this morning. Apple’s senior vice president of Internet software and services was especially giddy and relaxed. So too was Craig Federighi, the senior vice president of software engineering, who loved making fun of himself during his presentation.
  • By contrast, what’s up with Tim Cook? The Apple CEO does a fine job at introducing and closing events. It would be nice to see him more often. I understand Cook isn’t a showman like Steve Jobs was, but it still would be nice to see the leader of Apple actually announce a new product personally.
  • No Apple TV refresh. The last significant update for the Apple TV occurred in March 2012. This may suggest that the next Apple TV update won’t occur until the introduction of the long-rumored “iTV.”
  • Some folks don’t like Apple’s use of videos during events. Personally, I find them beneficial, especially when covering these events at home. They are timed perfectly for some necessary breaks.
  • Speaking of those videos, is Jony Ive afraid of a live audience? Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of design, never appears on stage, except for in product videos. As some female members of the AppAdvice team have noted, this is a shame.

Summary

That's all for now, folks. We’ll be providing more coverage on the products announced today in the coming days and weeks. As a reminder, the new iPad Air will be available on Nov. 1, while the iPad mini with Retina display is expected to launch later in the month. Neither product is available for preorder.
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