Some commentators have expressed surprise that Apple is keeping the iPad 2 in its lineup after announcing what it calls the fourth-generation iPad on Oct. 25. The company’s normal practice would be to keep the n-1 product while dropping anything older. Instead, Apple dropped the third-generation iPad announced just last spring.
But when you look at the products, this call is not at all surprising. The key is that it’s a big stretch to call the new iPad (the 9.7” version) a fourth-generation product. All that is new for the iPad announced this spring is a processor bump from the A6 to the A6X and the replacement of the 30-pin dock connector with the new Lightning connector used on the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini. If Apple hadn’t already had an event scheduled, this announcement probably would have been made by press release.
Then there’s the question of pricing. There’s probably very little difference in the bill of materials between the new-new and the old-new iPad. So dropping the price of the third-generation iPad to $399 to maintain a $100 differential between the products would have forced Apple to take a significant margin hit. So the iPad 2 stays and the third-gen version is retired.
The real fourth-generation product is the mini. Although it uses a non-retina display and an older processor, it is amazingly thin and light. Its stunning new case, made with a new manufacturing process, echoes the design language of the iPhone 5.
I expect that come next March or April, Apple will hold its by-now traditional iPad announcement. Then we will really see a new-generation product. Look for a thinner, lighter tablet with the perfect chamfered bezel edge that is Apple’s latest design hallmark.
The announcement of the new iPad has set off a remarkable and totally unjustified chorus of whining, such as this piece by Cnet’s Roger Cheng, “thanking” Apple for rendering his months-old third-generation iPad obsolete. It’s no more obsolete today than it was on Monday. It’s true that the new iPad features a faster processor, but I haven;t heard anyone complaining about the current model being slow.