Back in March of 2017, the iPad lineup was a total mess. You had the iPad Pros, which touted Apple Pencil support and the option of a larger screen as primary features, and had the high price tags to match. The iPad Air 2 was far too close to the 9.7″ Pro in both specs and price, crowding the top of the lineup. Then you had the iPad Mini, which was languishing at the bottom of the heap. It was still too expensive for a low-end model and was suffering from neglect.
With the announcement of the new iPad on March 21, 2017, Apple started to change all that. They created a better low-end tablet by updating the processor, but going backward from the Air 2 in terms of size and screen. The result was a more competitive entry price of $329, renewed interest and Apple finally stabilizing tablet sales, which had been in freefall for a couple of years. What we have gotten in the two years since is a slow but steady progression that keeps this value option relevant and quite popular.
I picked up a new 7th generation iPad last week and…well….it’s an iPad. If you are coming from a Pro, it definitely doesn’t impress in terms of specs or looks. It still has the big bezels and TouchID. The screen is ok, but it doesn’t pop like the Pro, or even the Air. The A10 processor is two gens behind both the Air and the Mini, with an A13X Pro release likely just around the corner. However, when you consider the price and what most people are looking for in a iPad, this basic four door sedan of the tablet world still looks pretty compelling.
The limitations, such as processor and memory, don’t hold the new iPad back all that much for its targeted use case and audience. This is where Apple’s all-star silicone development team comes into play, as even slightly older A Series processors still deliver solid performance and great battery life. As for memory, as long as you aren’t trying to do Pro-level work or intense multitasking on this base-model machine, you will be fine. The A10 is able to handle the most iPadOS features well enough for the price point.
What the new iPad does have is a slightly larger 10.2″ screen, which is a smart improvement. iPadOS does more with some of the formerly unused space on the tablet’s Home screen, so having a little extra screen real estate is a good thing.
The larger screen also shrinks the bezels of the iPad slightly, which is makes it look a little less dated. Only a little.
The bump in the screen size actually causes the new iPad to encroach on the middle-ground territory of the iPad Air a bit. It has a 10.5″ screen and the difference there is negligible looking at them side by side. The Air does have a better processor and a laminated screen, both of which are noticeable upgrades for those who are looking for a little better performance. However, I don’t think those improvements will be enough to get many buyers to pay more. Hey, if you are going to cannibalize sales, make sure you are the company still getting the money, right? I expect we will see another bump to the Air next year that adds a little more separation between it and the iPad to keep it relevant.
So what have I done with this new iPad? Frankly, I’ve played Apple Arcade games on it more than anything else, so far.
I prefer a bigger screen and it’s a little less unwieldy than my 12.9″ Pro, so it’s been a perfect evening companion, lately. I’ve had little trouble there, as well. I have experienced few slowdowns and stutters so far, but the A10 isn’t so far behind the times that it holds back the content of Apple’s new service.
I’ve also done a lot of run of the mill surfing, email, etc. No problems there. Today I did try to push the iPad a bit more and play with the multitasking features of iPadOS.
While I do notice the restrictions of the smaller screen in comparison with my 12.9, it still handles everything at an acceptable level. Opening multiple apps is fluid. Swapping between multiple Slide Over windows isn’t a problem. The only issue I had was websites loading on the slow side with two windows and Slide Over all in play at the same time, likely as a result of having less memory. I was also able to access external files with an Lighting to SD Card adapter with no issues. The iPad doesn’t run the power features of iPadOS as well as the Air and Pro, but it’s good enough for the price point.
Apple’s approach to the iPad has been smart over the last two years. They keep the base hardware offering vanilla and target compelling features to update that will broaden the device’s appeal. Adding Pencil support last March was brilliant, as it put a very capable creative tool within the price range of far more people than before. I ended up giving my 2018 review unit to my oldest son after I was done with it and he was able to do most of his art class work on it without breaking a sweat. My daughter currently does the same with her iPad Mini. There’s no way I could have afforded to give them each an iPad Pro, so Apple making the Pencil an option at the lower-end of the lineup is something I really appreciate.
This year’s screen bump is joined by the addition of a Smart Connector for keyboard accessories. This is yet another small upgrade that is geared toward students. I use my iPad Pro with a keyboard in meetings and training classes and seminars all the time, so I can speak to the value of stripping away the elements of a desktop OS that you don’t need in favor of a device that is focused solely on the task at hand.
The stock iOS Notes app has gotten pretty good in iPadOS, but for me, Notability running on an iPad with a keyboard and Apple Pencil with voice recording running is the best notetaking setup known to man. I love having this capability with me now, but boy do I wish I had this back in college or grad school. As it stands now, the iPad brings this capability to students at a far more approachable price than the iPad Pro. As with the addition of Pencil support, these slow and steady updates keep the iPad relevant for its target audience.
Here is my not so bold prediction for this year’s iPad- it’s going to sell like crazy this holiday season. Retailers will discount it to $299 and it will fly off of shelves. I also believe that it will be the perfect device to get new users into Apple’s new TV+ and Arcade services. Considering that TV+ goes live on November 1, that’s no accident, people. I absolutely believe this is the reason Apple moved the release from March, when the 2017 and 18 versions were both unveiled, to September. As I mentioned above, this thing is the perfect size to play most Arcade content on. It’s also a great video player and will come with a year of TV+ thanks to the promotion Apple announced at their most recent event. It’s a savvy marketing move from Apple.
The 7th gen iPad is just the latest example of Apple making smart decisions when it comes to tablets over the last two years. They have identified what different groups of users want and reworked the lineup with hardware designed to work for each, from top to bottom. Apple’s iPad may be unremarkable in a number of ways, but it’s good in most of the ones that really matter to the majority of people who are looking for a new tablet. Pound for pound, it’s hard to imagine finding a better built and functioning computing device for $329.