When the iPad Air 3 was released last year, I promptly picked one up, kicked the tires for a few days and reviewed it. While it wasn’t for me, I did like it enough that I recommended it to my father, who has enjoyed it since I handed it over.
I came away pretty impressed after my time with the Air 3 and thought that the new model was a good ideal on Apple’s part. There was far too wide of a gulf between the base model 6th Gen iPad, the smaller iPad Mini, and the iPad Pro before the release of the Air. The new model gave buyers a solid, full-size mid-tier option to think about with enough features and improvements to stand out.
While the Air 3 was a nice option when it was released, it’s appeal was still somewhat limited. It was basically a device cobbled together from the leftover parts of iPads past. Apple took the body of the 2017 10.5” iPad Pro and filled it with middle of the road existing parts and pieces. There’s nothing wrong this, as the Air was a clear upgrade over the 6th Gen iPad, but it still couldn’t hold a candle to the iPad Pro in looks or specs. As good as it was, there really wasn’t a stand out feature of the Air 3 that would bring mass numbers of iPad buyers.
The other issue with the iPad Air 3 was that it only had a six month run before the 7th Gen iPad was released. This upgraded iPad has a 10.2” screen that is only 0.3” smaller than the Air’s. It is also compatible with the same 1st Gen Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. The current Air still has a faster processor and a laminated screen, but that’s not enough obvious differences to justify the higher price tag to a store shopper who isn’t digging into specs and doing lots of research.
If all of the rumors are true, and they have been repeated by enough reliable sources to believe that they are, then the iPad Air 4 could quickly put things back into balance. At the top of the food chain, you have the iPad Pros. They are undoubtedly top of the line, but let’s be honest- the market for these more expensive devices is limited. People like me who want or need that power will pay happily pay the price, but there is a reason that the base model iPad has always outsold the Pros.
At the bottom of the lineup, the base model 7th Gen iPad is a great buy at it’s $329 price tag. Even better, you can almost always get one cheaper than that brand new. For users who aren’t demanding a ton from a tablet, the iPad is a great value. It’s the most popular current iPad for good reason.
I guess I can’t forget the iPad Mini here. It is also solidly in the mid-tier of the iPad lineup, as well. However, it’s more of a niche device focused on buyers who prioritize portability over doing more with a tablet. It is really focused on a specific set of buyers, who likely won’t be the same as the people looking at the larger iPad Air.
The new 4th Gen iPad Air has the potential to shake things up. While the current model had solid specs, it was sort of a filler device. Apple needed a tablet at this price point and they created on that fit the bill. However, it wasn’t really that attractive to someone who was more interested in the Pro and value shoppers didn’t have much reason to spend more on it after the current iPad was released. The new Air is going to be positioned completely differently. With the looks and many of the same features of the Pro, the Air 4 should get the attention of people who like the design of the high-end iPad. Those looks and specs are impressive, but the starting price is too high for many. The Air will offer the same design and many of the same features for less money.
If it is priced the same as the current model, the new Air should also be far more effective at getting value shoppers to consider moving up a tier. The design we’ve seen mocked up and heard about looks higher-end and this tablet will also have a more decided advantage when it comes to specs. It will have a noticeably bigger screen, a newer processor, a better camera, and it will be compatible with the 2nd Gen Apple Pencil and the 2nd Gen Smart Keyboard Folio and Magic Keyboard.
That’s a lot of tablet for $499. If Apple pulls the new Air off the way that I expect them to, I can’t imagine that I would recommend the iPad to too many people going forward. $179 doesn’t seem like that much extra to pay for all that you get over and above the base model. There will be some who stay with the low end and others who want the smaller form factor of the iPad Mini, but I personally think more will be enticed to move up one step to the new Air.
$499 seemed like a good value for the specs and features of the current iPad Air when it was released. However, it didn’t have the visual appeal to hook casual shoppers and lost a lot of its spec advantage over the iPad just six months after release. Based on what we know, the new Air will have both the visual appeal of the iPad Pro and much better specs than the iPad. If Apple keeps the price at $499, I think it will have a real shot at being the best selling Apple tablet of the next year.