Apple (AAPL) just dropped a new iPad with all the excitement of an IRS audit. That is to say, there was none. It feels like the company just woke up Tuesday morning and decided, “Hey, let’s announce a new iPad.” Instead of a flashy event like Apple usually holds when it debuts a new product, we simply got a press release. I’ve had dentist appointments that were more thrilling than Apple’s latest announcement.
So why did Apple, the company that basically owns the tablet market, debut a new iPad without making a big show of it? Well, because the iPad isn’t that exciting anymore. It simply doesn’t warrant a lot of fanfare.
The worldwide tablet market is in the midst of a spiraling decline that shows little signs of improving. According to IDC, Q4 2016 marked the segment’s ninth consecutive quarterly decline. Overall shipments were down 20.1% in the quarter and 15.6% in 2016.
Apple, which is still the tablet king, experienced a 19% year-over-year decline in iPad shipments in Q1 2017, which equated to a 22% decrease in revenue.
The tablet market isn’t hot anymore and Apple knows it. Consumers can get the same basic functionality out of their big-screen smartphones that they once needed tablets for. Instead, companies are increasingly merging tablets with laptops to create hybrid devices like the iPad Pro or Microsoft’s (MSFT) Surface Pro 4.
And while the hybrid segment of the tablet market saw a decline in Q4 2016, IDC says that’s only a temporary setback, as more companies enter the space and manufacturers roll out updated devices.
But the iPad is still making Apple money, $5.5 billion in Q1 2017, so killing it would be incredibly foolish. People are buying the slates, just not in the numbers that they used to.
To sweeten the pot for prospective consumers, Apple has moved the iPad into the budget market. Whereas the iPad Pro 9.7 starts at a pricy $599, the new iPad starts at $329. That’s pretty reasonable for a new iPad.
Keen observers will also notice that Apple isn’t calling this the iPad Air 3, just the iPad, further cementing its status as the budget-friendly slate. Of course, the new iPad does sacrifice some features.
The new slate is actually a bit thicker than the iPad Air 2 — it’s now the same thickness as the original iPad Air — and, as Engadget points out, the slate’s display isn’t fully laminated. That’s a bummer as laminating the screen removes the air gap between the glass and display panel (which makes it feel like you’re really touching on-screen apps).
So does Apple’s new slate signal the coming end of the iPad? Not by a long shot. There’s still plenty of money to be made from the tablet market, and while sales have declined, Apple still shipped more iPads in Q4 2016 than the total number of computers Dell shipped in the same quarter. And the Cupertino, California-based tech giant continues to sell more slates than Macs. What’s more, Apple owns 24.7% of the overall tablet market.
In other words, this announcement isn’t the end of the iPad as we know it; it’s simply a natural evolution of the product category.
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