October 9, 2012
Seven months is a long time in the world of mobile. During that amount of time, technology advances, competitors release new products, and fickle consumers begin looking for the next big thing. On Oct. 17, Apple is likely to unveil a 7.85-inch tablet, the so-called "iPad Mini." When they do, Cupertino will have refreshed their entire line of iOS devices over the course of two months. All products, of course, except for the new iPad, which Apple launched earlier this year. Much of the attention heading into the rumored iPad Mini launch has focused on what this new tablet could mean to competitors such as Amazon, Google, and Samsung. However, very little has been said about what effect this launch could have on Apple’s flagship tablet, which first launched in March. Awkwardly named the new iPad, Apple’s third generation tablet is only halfway through the typical iPad product lifecycle. However, it could soon look anything but new when compared to the iPhone 5 and possible iPad Mini. Therefore, I fully expect Apple to unveil a refreshed iPad at the same media event as the iPad Mini. As I first reported in July, this iPad will likely include a better battery, enlarged camera lens, and slightly better display. In addition, the new iPad 2.0 will almost certainly launch with Apple’s new Lightning connector. Finally, as MacRumors first reported, the iOS device could include the same A6 chip that comes on the iPhone 5, or some variation of the same. The current new iPad includes an A5X chip. Changing the iPad midstream doesn’t come without risks. For one, doing so will almost certainly tick off current new iPad owners who only recently shelled out a lot of money for Apple’s tablet. Now just months later, those same owners could suddenly find themselves holding “last year’s model,” even though the year isn’t even over. For another, the launch of a second new iPad now seriously jeopardizes the prospect that future iPad models will launch each spring, which has been standard practice since 2010. This uncertainty could spook investors who have grown accustomed to the current schedule that see spring iPads and fall iPhones. Here is what I think is going to happen: To make use of newer technology and to keep pace with other Apple iOS devices, the company will indeed launch another new iPad this month. However, instead of replacing the existing model entirely, this version will be marketed as some sort of enhanced version. For example, Apple may take Amazon’s lead and call it the iPad HD or iPad XL. Regardless, this model will be sold at a premium. This way, current iPad customers won’t feel like they’ve been taken advantage of, while investors will see a clearer path to the fourth-generation iPad launching next spring. A big unknown is price. Since 2010, Apple has sold the iPad at three price points: $499, $599, and $699 for the Wi-Fi only model. I fully expect that the “iPad HD” will be priced higher than the new iPad, but it remains to be seen how this will work. Sure, Apple could set iPad HD prices somewhere higher than the existing $499 starting point. More likely, however, would be for Apple to push iPad prices down across the board. Under this scenario, the iPad HD would launch at prices beginning at $499, while the new iPad would be slightly discounted. For example, Apple could price the current iPad at $399, $499, and $599. In other words, $100 would separate the price of each iPad’s entry model. For instance, the iPad Mini would start at $199, while the iPad 2 would be priced at $299. This would be followed by the new iPad at $399, and iPad HD at $499. Hopefully we’ll know soon enough about Apple’s plans for the iPad Mini and what this will mean for other iOS devices. In the meantime, I suggest checking out one of these stories:The AppAdvice Week In Review Looks At The iPad Mini, iPhone 5 Lightning Accessories, iOS 6 Maps And More and Color Me Crazy, But Maybe Apple Should Launch Multiple iPad Minis. Stay tuned.