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Something for everyone, or a confusing mess?

Yesterday saw the launch of the all-new iPad 10, as well as updated versions of the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which makes for a rather extensive iPad line-up!

This could be viewed in two ways. Apple’s argument would be that the company now offers a model for every need, while a certain Apple co-founder might have been found drawing a 2×2 grid about now …

Current iPad line-up

With the latest changes, what is Apple’s iPad line-up now? It’s not even completely clear what order to list them in, but let’s do it in price order and see what that gives us …

  • iPad 9: $329
  • iPad 10: $449
  • iPad mini: $499
  • iPad Air: $599
  • 11-inch iPad Pro: $799
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro: $1,099

Things could, of course, get even messier once we start considering different specs, but let’s stick to the starter models.

iPad 9

Things used to be simple here. If someone asked my advice, I’d ask some questions and typically point them to one of two extremes. If you just want an iPad for everyday needs, are happy with a small screen, and don’t have a specific need for any of the Pro features, buy the base model (but with more storage). If you need one or more Pro features and/or want a large screen (and can afford it!), buy the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

However, the launch of the iPad 10 makes the iPad 9 now look rather old-fashioned …

iPad 10

If a more modern design is worth the extra cash, then this would be a logical choice. It’s just a pretty big price jump for the prettier screen and some spec improvements that probably don’t much matter to an entry-level iPad buyer.

This is also the only model you can buy if you want the front-facing camera in the Proper Place.

iPad mini

At fifty bucks more than the iPad 10, you have to really want the compact size. That’s literally the only reason it makes sense to buy this model.

iPad Air

Here’s where things start to get messy. Most 9to5Mac readers will be familiar with the concept of spec-creep. You start by looking at the base model of something, then tell yourself that for just $n more, you could have features X, Y, and Z. But if you’re going to spend $n more, then for just $n+ you could move up to the next model and … And so on.

So if someone has convinced themselves to spend an extra $110 for the iPad 10 rather than the iPad 9, then you have to start thinking about whether a further $150 bump for the iPad Air might make sense. Which it kind of does and doesn’t …

Ok, you’re getting an M1 chip, but that’s irrelevant for most usage. You’re getting better accessory compatibility, which might be relevant if you want the Apple Pencil (2nd gen versus 1st gen) or keyboard (choice of Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio). The display is better (P3 rather than sRGB), and you also get anti-reflective coating, which is a small thing that can make a big difference.

Is all that worth $150? Is is worth almost twice as much as the iPad 9 we were looking at in the first place? Only you can decide.

11-inch iPad Pro

What about bumping ourselves up from the iPad Air to the 11-inch iPad Pro? This is where things probably get clearer. I’d say that the Pro features fall into the “you’ll know if you need them” category. M2 chip over M1. ProMotion. Ultra Wide cameras. Thunderbolt/USB 4. ProRes support. More storage options. If you’re a typical consumer, and not super into video, you likely don’t need any of that.

12.9-inch Pro

And back to a bit of messiness – because you might need the Pro features and want a bigger screen, or you might simply want a bigger screen. There’s no equivalent of the iPhone 14 Plus in the iPad line-up, so if all you want is a bigger screen, you’re going to have to pay for all the Pro features to get it.

What would Steve do?

Ok, it’s a tongue-in-cheek question, based on all the things people confidently state would never have happened when Steve were alive. But on the Apple co-founder’s return to the company, he did famously tell them their Mac line-up was a mess, and draw a 2×2 grid: consumer/pro, and desktop/portable. What the company needed, he said, was “four great products.”

This is, of course, what Apple does these days with its iPhone line-up, even if it is still in the process of figuring out what those four models should be.

The problem is, how would we condense the current iPad line-up into just four models? This, I think, is where the “something for everyone” argument might win out. I absolutely guarantee you, whatever models I proposed to remove, there would be loud objections in the comments about how one of those models is perfect. And it is, for them.

Additionally, Apple doesn’t fly by the seat of its pants these days. Every model exists because there’s financial data to show that it makes more money for the company than if it were removed and customers had to choose between the next level up and the next level down.

My colleague Zac Hall drew up a tongue-in-cheek list of why each model exists, and in all honesty, my serious version wouldn’t be too different!

iPad 9: $329
Apple needs an entry-level model at this price. Also, if you’re going to buy an iPad for your kids, it really doesn’t make sense to pay more than this.

iPad 10: $449
Many people will pay the premium for a more modern look. Over time, as production costs fall, the price will come down to the point where this becomes the $329-ish model.

iPad mini: $499
Compact size is the only benefit, but if you want a small iPad, you want a small iPad. The iPad mini has also proven hugely successful in the enterprise world. Electronic notepads for wait staff, warehouse inventories, easy Internet access for airline ground crew and cabin crew … you name it.

iPad Air: $599
It would honestly make more sense if Apple could offer the better accessory compatibility and anti-reflective coating on the iPad 10, as these are really the only reasons why the average iPad user would consider the Air. If I were going to remove one model from the line-up, this would be it.

11-inch iPad Pro: $799
As discussed, pro users will need one or more of the pro features, and be happy to pay for them.

12.9-inch iPad Pro: $1,099
Ditto the features and/or the size. From a consumer perspective, and iPad 10 Plus would be a great option, but the fact is that enough people are willing to pay the Pro premium for the size, so that’s all money in Apple’s pocket.

Wrap-up

Try as I might, then, I can only really cull one model from the line-up – and then only with a couple of its features migrating to the iPad 10.

What about you? Which would you cull, and why? Anyone up for the 2×2 grid challenge? Let us know in the comments.

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