The new iPad makes no sense

did you hear me What about this entry-level iPad?

The iPad had one advantage: price. At $329, the base model has been a real problem for me as a laptop reviewer for the past year. Every time I wanted to recommend a cheap laptop, Chromebook, or tablet, I had to point out that the iPad existed and might be a better deal. For multimedia or as a secondary device that didn’t need to adapt to, say, a corporate workload, $329 was a bargain. It was the only reason I could tell some people “just take a pill” without being immediately laughed at in whatever room I was in.

But the starting price of the 10th generation iPad starts at $449 — a 36% increase. That’s not counting the keyboard you’d have to buy with it, which costs an extra $249 (oh, and the Apple Pencil is $99, too). This decisive price advantage is here, if not disappeared, considerably mitigated. And that leaves this base model in a bit of a mess.

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Over the past few generations, we’ve seen Apple bring the iPad line closer and closer to being, well, computers. Last year, the Pro was powered by the same octa-core M1 processor that powers the MacBook. It also has other laptop benefits, including Thunderbolt support and a 6K external display. While the 10th-gen iPad is still hitting the A14 Bionic, the new Magic Keyboard now has a whole host of functions – meaning you’d now be able to do things like adjust the keyboard’s brightness and volume, rather than the screen. (which is something we do with computers, not tablets in general). The device has horizontal stereo speakers and dual microphones, as well as Touch ID on the power button. These are all things that seem a bit much for a budget tablet, but are right at home in the realm of mid-range laptops.

And there is the price. This new iPad costs $700 – $450 plus a $250 keyboard (and $800 if you want a stylus). The MacBook Air M1 is now listed at Best Buy for $849. The new iPad is only $150 less than the MacBook Air.

It’s risky. Apple must know it’s risky and I keep wondering if some of the complaints people have raised about this model (older chip, incompatibility with certain accessories) are cuts because people might not buy a ton of them. For one thing, that $700 only gets you 64GB of storage, while the $849 Air gives you 256GB. (I’ll spare you the math — that’s a quarter of the MacBook’s memory.) Nope. Pass.

And there is another big problem. As much as Apple wants it to, the iPad is not a computer. It’s not. This is not a complicated philosophical discussion – the iPad is not a computer because it runs a tablet operating system, not a computer operating system. Get your finger off that DM button because I’m not going to argue with you. It’s not a computer.

iPad is not a computer

And there are tons of things for a laptop that iPadOS won’t let you do. Resizing an application window is a pain. I can only see one or two apps at a time, which makes multitasking a hassle. Many of the gold standard apps I use on my MacBook (Photoshop, for example) don’t have iPadOS equivalents that meet the same standards. And Stage Manager… well, I don’t even know what’s going on with Stage Manager these days. (Fortunately, it’s not available on the new iPad, lucky if you ask me.) In words Border editor David Pierce, “Whatever the future holds, I don’t think it’s a bunch.” (And that’s before we even discuss the damage a heavy office load can do to iPad battery life. In my experience, not pretty.) Give me a great iPad and an average Windows laptop for free, and I’ll probably still choose the latter for my work day.

In short: the 36% price increase affects the biggest advantage of the 9th generation iPad, which is the price. Look, I have no doubt that the performance of this 10th generation iPad is an improvement over its predecessors. Apple claims it will perform three times better than the seventh-generation iPad and have all-day battery life. Of course, I would buy it. But I also haven’t heard many complaints about the 9th-gen iPad in any of those categories, and I’m not convinced that the model’s target audience will appreciate them as much as, say, iPad Pro users. Certainly not 36% more.

The biggest advantage the iPad has always had is the extent to which its price has undercut the price of the average Windows (or macOS) laptop. It was very hard for me to recommend a better choice than the $330 iPad; for $450 plus the cost of the keyboard it will be easier for me to come up with something.

So where is the iPad going? Not sure if Apple knows. I wouldn’t be surprised if this coming year is the cornerstone for the direction of the iPad line.

There’s value in being the clear choice for a budget tablet in Apple’s lineup. Maybe Apple has decided it’s already losing that battle with Chromebooks and sees a bigger opening in the mid-range notebook sphere. Maybe you don’t mind losing customers to the MacBook because it’s all Apple’s money in the end. Or maybe you think your brand is valuable enough that the initial iPad audience won’t be held back from growing. One thing’s for sure: Apple wants to charge more for these iPads. The success of this model (compared to the cheaper one, which is still on sale for $329) may reveal how much more they can do.

But personally, until Apple makes the objectively correct choice and puts macOS on the iPad (which I know, I know they’ll never do), I’ll stick with the MacBook this cycle.

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