Today’s Apple presentation was unlike any September Apple event in the last eight years. Not only was it remote, it was the first without a new iPhone to show off. Tim Cook quashed any remaining speculation of seeing new iPhone models today in the first two minutes of his introduction, letting everyone know that today’s presentation would be entirely focused on the Apple Watch and iPad.
I don’t have a lot of thoughts on the new Apple Watch models — other than being impressed by the value of the SE and amused by some of the weirder new faces — but the new iPad Air is intriguing. A few days ago, I was idly chatting with some friends about how hard it was for me to differentiate between the 10.2-inch base model iPad and the 10.5-inch iPad Air. The Air sits in an awkward middle-grade position: better in a lot of little ways than the entry-level model, but with an older design and $499 price point that put a gaping chasm between it and the least expensive iPad Pro.
Enter this year’s iPad Air. First, the bad news: it is now $100 more expensive. But the good news, from a positioning standpoint, is that it puts more air — a word I typed, saw the pun, and didn’t feel like rephrasing — between it and the base model while bringing it closer to the Pro in every conceivable way. The iPad Air is clearly the hand-me-down iPad Pro model, and there is nothing wrong with that.
It has a chassis that is sized within tenths of a millimetre of the iPad Pro, and a display that is 10.9 inches diagonally instead of 11. Like the iPad Pro, it now has rounded corners — though, in the fine print, Apple does not refer to the display as “follow[ing] a beautiful curved design”. The new iPad Air does not have Face ID, instead being equipped with a Touch ID sensor located in the sleep/wake button. Normally, that would be less than ideal, but it seems appropriate for 2020.
There are several nitpicky ways in which the iPad Air is less good than the iPad Pro, plus one that may take the edge: the new A14 processor. But the clear message about this new Air is that it is now a more comfortable middle child in the full-size iPad family. Also, it comes in some pretty nice pastel colours.