Apple Delivers a New iPad With Less Hype

For several months, rumors about potential new Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad models have circulated widely. Most of the pundits expected Apple to unveil these new models at a press event sometime in March. Thus, many Apple-watchers were surprised to see two-thirds of the month go by without any announcement from the tech giant about a product event.

The answer to this little mystery became clear this week. Apple made several product announcements on Tuesday, including launching a new (and cheaper) 9.7-inch iPad model. However, it did so without holding any kind of launch event.

A new iPad is arriving soon
Apple's newest iPad model -- which the company is simply calling "iPad" -- is essentially a minor upgrade of the iPad Air 2. Apple first released the iPad Air 2 in late 2014, and for the past year it has functioned as Apple's entry-level full-size iPad, with a starting price of $399.

The new model will keep the popular 9.7-inch screen size. It offers a somewhat more powerful processor -- the A9 -- compared with the iPad Air 2's A8X chip. That said, this is still a full generation behind the speedy A10 processor found in the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. By and large, the new iPad doesn't have major technical improvements over the iPad Air 2.

Instead, Apple is becoming more aggressive on pricing. The new iPad will have a starting price of just $329. The iPad Air 2 was occasionally available at a lower price -- some stores offered the 32GB Wi-Fi model for less than $300 on Black Friday last year -- but Apple never reduced its suggested retail price below $399. The lower price and modest performance upgrades may finally persuade some price-sensitive customers to replace their aging iPads.

The new model will be available to order on Friday, March 24. It should start reaching customers' hands (in the U.S. and more than 20 international markets) next week.

Apple makes some other tweaks
In addition to launching the new 9.7-inch iPad, Apple made several other announcements on Tuesday. First, Apple is dropping the 32GB option for the iPad Mini 4 but reducing the price of the 128GB version by $100. As a result, the iPad Mini 4 still has a starting price of $399, but that now includes four times as much storage as before.

In a similar vein, Apple is doubling the storage at all price points for the iPhone SE. The entry-level $399 version will now have 32GB of storage (up from 16GB) while the $499 variant will have 128GB of storage (up from 64GB).

Apple also introduced a new red version of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus as part of its long-standing partnership with (RED), an AIDS-fighting organization. Like the jet-black versions of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the new PRODUCT(RED) Special Edition won't have the lower-tier 32GB storage option, so the starting price will be $749.

Lastly, Apple unveiled some new software on Tuesday. It has created a new app called Clips that's designed to make it easy to create videos on an iPhone or iPad. Apple also released versions of its Swift Playgrounds coding app in five new (and important) languages: simplified Chinese, French, German, Japanese, and Latin-American Spanish.

New iPad Pro models still needed
Considering what Apple actually announced on Tuesday, it's not surprising that it chose to skip holding a launch event. Every Apple "special event" stimulates a lot of interest, and none of this week's announcements were significant enough to justify that kind of hype.

If nothing else, Apple would have needed to roll out new iPad Pros to justify hosting a special event this month. However, either because of supply limitations or other business considerations, the new iPad Pro models have apparently been delayed until May or June. (That lines up -- roughly speaking -- with Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, which runs June 5-9 this year.)

While the new, lower-priced iPad could lead to better unit sales results for the iPad lineup, it will also drive the next downward move in the iPad average selling price. As a result, it isn't likely to spark a return to meaningful revenue growth for the iPad product line.

To get iPad revenue growing again, Apple needs to launch high-end models with compelling features that consumers are willing to pay a premium for. Investors can only hope the next-generation iPad Pro models will be equal to that task. However, based on the iPad's recent track record, investors shouldn't hold their breath.

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Don't want a new iPad? Try one of these 3 alternatives

Just a reminder: it is possible to find a solid tablet not named iPad.

On Tuesday, Apple unveiled a new iPad model which will replace the iPad Air. It starts at $329, and will feature a 9.7-inch touchscreen, 10 hours of battery life and an A9 processing chip, just a step below the iPad Pro.

Apple has been the dominant force in tablets for years now, boasting a 21% share of the market, according to Strategy Analytics. But there are other tablets out there if you want an Apple alternative.

Here are three options to consider:

Microsoft Surface Pro

Perhaps the closest competitor to the iPad is Microsoft's Surface line, which has been billed as "the tablet that can replace your laptop." It boasts a 12.3-inch display, Intel Core processors, and can hold up to 1 TB of storage. Users can take a separate dock to attach to monitors and use it like a desktop computer. It also has a type cover, which protects the screen and doubles as a solid keyboard. The Surface has something iPads don't: Ports, including USB 3.0 and microSD. Users also get up to 9 hours of battery life. The devices start at $699.

Amazon Fire

If you seek an affordable, mobile entertainment device, the Fire line from Amazon is impressive. Screen sizes vary from 7 inches all the way to 10.1 inches. The devices start as low as $49, so you can find a solid tablet depending on what you want. It's best as an entertainment device, so if you're big on streaming or playing games, Fire will fit nicely. Plus, it's great for reading books. Since the tablet is from Amazon, it connects seamlessly to your account and online store, which will also makes it easy to buy things. However, Amazon's app store is nowhere close to featuring the broad selection of apps on Apple's App Store or Google Play. For example, there's no official YouTube app. But many big names, including Netflix and Facebook are available.

Samsung Galaxy Tab

For a purer Android experience, try the Galaxy Tab series from Samsung. The electronics giant just launched the Galaxy Tab S3, which features a 9.7-inch OLED screen, Snapdragon processor, and 32GB of storage with the option to expand via microSD card. One of the better perks is the new Galaxy Tab includes a digital stylus, unlike competitors that require consumers to buy them separately. It might not be a great option for users wanting an all-in-one device with the potential for replacing a laptop, but still makes for a sleek tablet.

The New iPad vs. 9.7-inch iPad Pro and iPad Air 2

Apple yesterday announced the newest addition to its iPad lineup, somewhat confusingly called the "iPad" and known officially as the "5th-generation iPad," following in the footsteps of the fourth-generation model that was released before the iPad Air.

Designed to replace the iPad Air, the iPad comes with a tantalizingly low price tag: $329. It is Apple's most affordable tablet to date and it's a competitive price point that will allow the iPad to better compete with lower-priced Android offerings.

What do you get for $329? As it turns out, quite a lot. The iPad is a little bit iPhone 6s, a little bit iPad Air, and a little bit iPad Air 2.

In a nutshell, compared to the iPad Air 2, the iPad has a brighter display and a faster A9 processor (first introduced in the iPhone 6s). Other internal hardware seems to be very similar to what's included in the iPad Air 2, with the exception of the display and the casing. Camera, battery life, Wi-Fi, LTE, and other sensors are all nearly the same.

The iPad does not include a laminated display, and is thus thicker, much like the original iPad Air. It measures in at 7.5mm thick, compared to the 6.1mm iPad Air 2. The thickness and accompanying weight discrepancy is noticeable and the one downside between the new iPad and its predecessor.

Compared to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the new iPad is, of course, significantly inferior, which is why it's priced at $329 and not $599. It does not support the Apple Pencil or the Smart Keyboard (no Smart Connector), and it lacks many of the display improvements, including True Tone color shifting and wide color gamut.

The iPad has a slower processor than the iPad Pro, an inferior camera (8-megapixel vs. 12-megapixel rear and 1.2-megapixel vs. 5-megapixel front), two speakers instead of four, a slower LTE modem, and of course, since the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the same size as the iPad Air 2, the iPad is noticeably thicker and heavier.

If you're looking for top of the line hardware and accessory support, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the tablet to buy, but if you don't need the bells and whistles, the iPad is a steal at its price point.

Performance wise, it's going to run all the latest games and apps, it'll take decent pictures, it still has a high-quality Retina display, and it features a 10 hour battery life, so it will hold up for several years, especially when doing basic tasks like web browsing and emailing.

For those looking for a bit more, Apple is rumored to be planning to introduce an updated ~10-inch iPad Pro model that's going to replace the existing 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The ~10-inch model is said to have smaller bezels and perhaps an edge-to-edge display, allowing it to feature a bigger screen in a 9.7-inch-sized body.

That tablet was originally rumored to be coming in the spring, but now it's looking like we won't see it until later in the year. Based on rumors, it may be worth the wait for those willing to shell out more money for the best technology.

Apple plans to start selling the new iPad on Friday, March 24. The entry-level 32GB Wi-Fi only model will be priced at $329, and a 128GB model is available for $429. Wi-Fi + Cellular models are available at a $130 premium, so $459 for 32GB and $559 for 128GB.

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