You heard me. What’s up with this entry-level iPad?
The iPad had one thing going for it: price. At $329, the entry-level model has been a real pain in my neck as a laptop reviewer for the past year. Every time I’ve wanted to recommend a budget laptop, Chromebook, or tablet, I’ve had to caveat that the iPad exists and might be a better deal. For multimedia or as a secondary device that didn’t need to accommodate, say, an enterprise workload, $329 was a steal. It was the sole reason I could say “just get a tablet” to some people without immediately being laughed out of whatever room I happened to be in.
But the 10th-gen entry-level iPad starts at $449 — a 36 percent increase. That’s very much not counting the keyboard you’re supposed to buy with it, which is an extra $249 (oh, and the Apple Pencil is $99 too). That decisive price advantage is, if not gone, significantly mitigated here. And that leaves this entry-level model in a bit of a confusing spot.
Over the past few generations, we’ve seen Apple bring the iPad line closer and closer to being, well, computers. Last year, the Pro was equipped with the same eight-core M1 processor that powers the MacBook. It has other laptop bells and whistles, too, including Thunderbolt and 6K external display support. While the 10th-gen iPad is still rocking the A14 Bionic, the new Magic Keyboard now has a full function row — implying that you should now want to do things like tweak brightness and volume from your keyboard, rather than the screen (which is a thing we do with computers and not with tablets, generally speaking). The device has landscape stereo speakers and dual microphones, as well as Touch ID in the power button. These are all things that seem a bit much for a budget tablet but are right at home in the midrange laptop sphere.
And there’s the pricing. This new iPad is $700 — $450 plus the $250 keyboard (and $800 if you want the pencil). There’s an M1 MacBook Air listed at Best Buy right now for $849. The new iPad is only $150 away from that MacBook Air.
This is risky. Apple must know that it’s risky, and I keep wondering if some of the complaints people have raised about this model (the older chip, the incompatibility with certain accessories) are cut corners because people may not actually buy a ton of these. For one, that $700 only gets you 64GB of storage, while that $849 Air gives you 256GB. (I’ll save you the math — it’s a quarter of the MacBook’s storage.) Nope. Pass.
And then there’s the other big problem. As much as Apple may want it to be, the iPad is not a computer. It’s just not. This is not a complicated philosophical discussion — an iPad is not a computer because it runs a tablet operating system, not a computer operating system. Take your finger off that DM button because I will not debate you on this. It’s not a computer.
The iPad is not a computer
And there is a myriad of laptop things that iPadOS doesn’t allow you to do. Resizing app windows is a pain. I can only reasonably look at one or two apps at a time, which makes multitasking a hassle. Many of the gold-standard apps I use on a MacBook (Photoshop, for example) don’t have iPadOS equivalents that are up to quite the same standards. And Stage Manager... well, I don’t even really know what’s going on with Stage Manager these days. (Fortunately, it’s not available on the new iPad, a blessing if you ask me.) In the words of Verge editor David Pierce, “Whatever the future looks like, I don’t think it’s piles.” (And that’s before we even talk about the damage a full-on office workload can do to an iPad’s battery life. In my experience, it’s not pretty.) Give me an incredible iPad and an average Windows laptop for free, and I’ll still probably choose the latter for my workday.
To sum up: A 36 percent price increase eats into the 9th-Gen iPad’s biggest advantage, which is price. Look, I don’t doubt that this 10th-gen iPad’s performance is an improvement over its predecessors. Apple claims it will perform three times better than the seventh-generation iPad and have all-day battery life. Sure, I’d buy it. But I also haven’t heard many complaints about the 9th-gen iPad in either of those categories, and I’m not convinced that the target audience for this model will appreciate them in the way, say, users of the iPad Pro might. Certainly not 36 percent more.
The biggest benefit the iPad always had was the extent to which its price undercut the price of the average Windows (or macOS) laptop. It was really hard for me to recommend a better choice than the iPad at $330; at $450, plus the cost of the keyboard, it’s going to be easier for me to figure something out.
So where does the iPad go from here? I’m not totally sure if Apple knows. It wouldn’t surprise me if this upcoming year is something of a cornerstone for the iPad line’s direction.
There’s value in having a clear budget tablet choice in Apple’s lineup. Maybe Apple decided it was losing that battle to Chromebooks already, and it sees a bigger opening in the midrange-laptop sphere. Maybe it doesn’t care about losing customers to the MacBook because it’s all Apple money in the end. Or maybe it thinks its branding is valuable enough that the entry-level iPad’s audience won’t be deterred by the hike. One thing is clear: Apple wants to charge more for these iPads. The success of this model (compared to the cheaper one, which is still currently on sale for $329) may reveal just how much more they can get away with.
But personally, until Apple makes the objectively correct choice and puts macOS on the iPad (which I know, I know, they’re never going to do that), I’m sticking with the MacBook this cycle.