Apple’s Parts Bin Mix-And-Match iPad Lineup

In addition to the aforementioned Apple TV, Apple today announced new versions of the iPad and iPad Pro. Alex Guyot of MacStories rightly describes the resulting product selection as “strange”:

As you’ve probably noticed from the many caveats throughout this article, this iPad lineup has some issues. I’m not sure how this happened, but somehow these product lines just seem all mixed up. The lowest-end iPad (not counting the previous 9th generation iPad, which is currently still for sale) has features that the iPad Pro does not. It also has the same design as all of the other iPads, yet lacks the Apple Pencil 2 support which can be found in the rest of them. The brand-new iPad Pro models do not work with the most feature-rich iPad keyboard that Apple sells. That keyboard costs a full half of the base price of the only iPad that supports it.

Apple probably has the best parts bin of any computer company. Its range of A-series SoCs are powerful and efficient, it has years of great camera modules to pull from, and its bucket of display and materials technologies is second to none. Just about any combination will produce a product its competitors could envy.

So it is bizarre when it appears the teams digging through this bin are not on speaking terms. The flat-sided iPad hardware design feels like it was made to go hand-in-glove with the second-generation Apple Pencil. But the tenth-generation iPad does not support that four year old accessory. The iPad Air is within millimetres of the same size as the tenth-generation iPad, but does not support the new Magic Keyboard Folio accessory because the keyboard relies on a smart connector along the edge instead of on the back.

The iPad product lineup even looks and feels confusing. If you look at pictures of them side-by-side, only the 9th generation sticks out as it retains a home button on the front. The others are all flat-sided slabs of metal and glass and lack consistency in colour choices. And here is a list of current iPads, as of today, as Apple describes them:

  • iPad (9th generation)

  • iPad (10th generation)

  • iPad Mini (6th generation)

  • iPad Air (5th generation)

  • iPad Pro 11-in. (4th generation)

  • iPad Pro 12.9-in. (6th generation)

Are we sure these are the latest generation? The descriptions make the two iPad Pro sizes look like they are not comparable. The iPad Air looks like it could be newer than the 11-inch model, but older than the Mini or either suffix-less model. Or perhaps not. Who can say?

The best differentiator is cost. The list above is arranged from least to most expensive. The two lower-cost models support only the first-generation Apple Pencil, have lower-quality displays that only support an sRGB colour gamut, and have older and slower A-series chips. You have to run all the way up to the biggest iPad Pro if you want the best display. If budget is your sole guidance, you will likely understand this product line better than any names, pictures, descriptions, or blizzard of technical specifications can communicate.

I do not understand this lineup. However, I do understand the appeal of both new iPad models announced today. The new iPad Pros permit users to hover a second-generation Apple Pencil about a centimetre away from the display for pre-touch functionality. It is not the first device to support something like this, but I am looking forward to hearing how it works in practice. The tenth-generation iPad, meanwhile, comes in some of the best colours of any iPad ever, and it does look like great value for many iPad users. It helps bridge the chasm between the lowest-end model and the iPad Air, but I wonder if it also adds confusion by being so similar to both.

I am looking forward to reading the reviews of these that will presumably be published early next week.