So who is the iPad Air for, exactly? The fast answer to this question is pretty much anyone who is interested in using a tablet. After a few days of kicking the tires and comparing the new Air 4 to the iPad Pro, I feel very confident in the opinion that it is the new default Apple tablet. It is the Goldilocks iPad- not too much, not too little. It’s just right.
So what about all those other iPads? I’ve heaped plenty of praise on the Apple for making the low-end iPad as capable as it is considering how competitively it is priced. It’s still the right choice for anyone on a budget, or for people who are in the Apple ecosystem, but are only interested in a larger screen device for basic tasks like reading or streaming video. It’s also still a great option for students, especially younger ones.
However, even with its most recent processor bump, the iPad lags behind the Air in more than just horsepower. It lacks Apple’s premium accessories like the Magic Keyboard and 2nd gen Apple Pencil, as well as the flexibility of USB-C. For anyone who wants or at least occasionally needs not just more horsepower, but more flexibility, the Air is the real choice. And that’s focused on how the iPad and the Air stack up today. Having the more modern processor and a little more RAM will serve you well if you hold onto your tablet for multiple years.
I’ve also learned over the last couple of years writing here that there is still a role for the iPad Mini to play. The smallest iPad still has a very loyal and dedicated following. I used to think larger iPhones would eventually crowd it it out and replace it, but here we are and it’s still alive and kicking. For those who want the smaller form factor, even the lightweight Air won’t be small enough. However, in the grand scheme of iPad sales, I still think this is a modest number. Now if the rumored Mini with an iPad Pro design and Mini-LED screen shows up next year, then we have a little more to talk about.
As for the iPad Pro, there will always be people like me who want the highest end experience. Some want to use an iPad as their primary computer and there are even a few pros who legitimately need the full power the hardware offers. The Pro isn’t a viable primary work computer option for me, but I have basically used mine as my primary personal computing device for the last four years. There are still others who can tell the difference when missing out on features such as ProMotion that you don’t get with the Air and will pay the premium to get them.
The bottom line for the Pro is that, while the market for it should shrink a bit because the Air offers enough of its features to deter fringe buyers, it still has an important purpose. Apple needs a device at the high end of the lineup to drive the ecosystem forward. They need a showcase for the newest features of iPadOS. And in time, there will be new and compelling hardware features that push future models further ahead, as well.
However, for today, the Pro only has a small lead on the Air in terms of meaningful features. That just adds to how compelling Apple’s new mid-tier tablet is in the short term.
While the iPad, the iPad Mini and iPad Pro all still have a place and their various roles to play, the table is set for the Air to take the lead going forward. Its combination of looks, features and price seem certain to catch on, at least in my opinion.
Think about it this way. Look at how well the iPhone 11 sold and the iPhone 12 looks to be selling early on. People want the premium looking design and some of the top tier features if they can get them at a slightly lower cost. I believe the iPad Air will sell in higher numbers than its fellow Apple tablets by next year for the same reason.
The Air’s hit on the pocketbook will be a stumbling block for some, with its starting price of $599. However, I’ve already seen sale prices of $549 after just a week on the market. That price is sure to come down to $499 at some point, maybe even as early as this Christmas shopping season. That is a pretty compelling price considering what you get. That lower price tag also makes accessories like the Apple Pencil and Logitech’s Folio Touch a little easier to afford, as well.
Add up the balance of looks, features and price and I think most will agree that the iPad Air offers the most for the money of any Apple tablet today. Whether you agree or disagree, I would love to hear from you. Let me know what you think about how the iPad Air stacks up in the Comments below or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.