It started with the iPhone SE. Taking everyone by surprise, Apple resurrected the venerable iPhone 5s, gave it new internals and a new name - Boom! The iPhone SE was born. Since then, we have seen a number of similar product resurrections. At Tim Cook’s Apple, what is old is new again, and again, and again...
Everyone thought the Mac mini was dead. Even those who loved it were ready for Apple to just kill it already. No one likes to watch a slow, lingering death. Instead, Apple surprised us with an updated Mac mini. It kept the old case. Nothing changed about the look and feel except for color and port options. But it was met with open arms and rave reviews.
Enter the MacBook Air. Apple’s most popular laptop had grown embarrassingly long in the tooth. The 12” MacBook was poised to take over the low-price slot. But it couldn’t. What was Apple to do? They resurrected the MacBook Air with a new model that shares a name with the old model, still for sale.
The iPad lineup recently got the same Lazarus treatment. The iPad mini was another one of those products that remained on the price list without love or attention from Apple. Boom! A new iPad mini shows up. It is the same as the old mini, but with new internals and one new trick: compatibility with the Apple Pencil. (Naturally, the old one.)
That is where we come in. Introducing, (or reintroducing) the iPad Air. This product has not remained on the price list. It had been dead for a while. Recently, it was reincarnated into a futuristic version of itself. The new Air is different from the old Air in most ways. But it is not a new machine. It shares much more DNA with the 10.5” iPad Pro from a year ago. The Apple Store still has that model on display. And if you do not notice the 4 speakers, you would not know the difference between it and the new Air.
It is highly unlikely that you will notice the lack of ProMotion. If you don’t know what that is, don’t worry about it. You are not going to miss it anyway. It uses the same Apple Pencil as the 10.5 Pro. It even uses the same Smart Keyboard cover. There was no need to make a new one. Pundits are comparing the Air to the wrong Pro. It is not like the current Pro with FaceID and squared edges. It is almost identical to the 10.5 Pro. And that’s just fine.
Filling the Gaps
The iPad Air serves the obvious purpose of filling in the gaps. The line was so muddled, it took two products to do the job. If we were just considering current iPads Apple was actively mass-producing, we were looking at a price gap from $329 at the bottom, to $799 as the next step up. Apple was still offering the previous generation Pro to fill in the gap at $649. But that still didn’t make a lot of sense.
I suspect a lot of people ended up with $800 iPads because they wanted something a little better than the budget iPad, and newer than the previous gen iPad Pro. They didn’t need all the bells and whistles of the new hotness. But there was nothing reasonable in the middle. This is the kind of thing that can weigh heavily on those all-important customer sat numbers.
It was a mistake to take away the $500 iPad. The new Air corrects that mistake. That plus the mini gives us $329, $399, and $499. This means that people can walk in with a budget, and walk out with an iPad that fits their needs. Unfortunately, it leaves another gap. Apple has removed the 10.5 Pro from the price list. So there is now a $300 gap between the Air and the Pro. But specing up that Air will fill the gap nicely.
Another gap filled is the design gap. The current budget model has a design that is even older than the previous iPad Air (Air 2). The new Pros with FaceID are light years ahead of that one. The new Air sits in the middle and provides the needed step up in design from the old, and a nice bridge between the super old and the cutting edge future.
There is also a feature gap that the new Air addresses. We get the Apple Pencil and also the Smart Keyboard. The laminated screen also makes a huge difference. And the processor is one of the fastest available in any mobile device. This iPad should easily last three to four years of updates and productivity.
The Default iPad
What iPad should most people buy? For the last couple of years, the default iPad was the budget iPad at $329. That is because it didn’t make sense to recommend a $800 iPad for the average person. But the default was a little too low-end in my opinion.
The price jump from $329 to $499 is not that much. It is the original iPad price. And that price holds up to this day. The new Air has the perfect balance of design and features to justify the $499 price. That makes it the logical default iPad to recommend.
No one would be unhappy with the new iPad Air. A pro still has all the power they need. Writers have all the screen real estate they need. Casual users have an amazing screen for content consumption. And people wanting something a bit more portable have a package with the right size and weight. It is a secondary device for me. But it could easily be someone’s primary device depending on their needs.
I don’t have any real complaints about this product. It is almost the perfect blend of size, performance, features, and price that would satisfy almost any iPad buyer. The one complain I think is legitimate is the lack of the four-speaker array that can be found on all Pro models, including the one from which this product was based.
The iPad Pro 10.5 has a four-speaker array. It sounds fantastic, perfect for listening to music and TV without headphones or external speaker. One can’t say that Apple didn’t have the parts. They clearly have them. One can’t say this form-factor can’t handle that speaker arrangement. It absolutely can. This feels like something Apple is doing intentionally to differentiate. And it is mildly annoying.
While Apple had to put in some effort to not include the four speakers, the other complaints among pundits seem superficial to me. It wouldn’t make any sense to include the new Apple Pencil. This generation of device was built around the original Apple Pencil.
Apple does not include FaceID with any device that looks like this one. It was built around the fingerprint reader. And unless I am mistaken, this is one of the newer, faster readers. Again, these are the features common to the 10.5 iPad Pro on which this is based. It makes no sense to complain that this isn’t based on the latest Pro. It is as if reviewers are taking points off of it because it is not a $500 iPad Pro that normally costs $800. That is unreasonable and petty.
Lost, in the search for something bad to say about the product, is the acknowledgement of just how good the previous gen accessories were and are. Sure, the Pencil pairs and charges in a funny way. But it charges quickly. It holds a charge for a long time. And it is one of the best and most accurate drawing devices on the market. Just spend $100 on a different stylus and see how awkward that is to manage. And it almost certainly will not be good as either generation of Apple Pencil.
The old Smart Keyboard is still better than any other bluetooth keyboard on the market that you might want to pair with your iPad Air. It actually has more functionality than the newer Smart Keyboard Case. It is lighter and easier to rip off and set aside when not needed.
I happen to have an old Smart Keyboard Cover for the 12.9” iPad Pro. Guess what, it absolutely works with the 10.5” iPad Air. Check out this video if you don’t believe me:
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You might actually want to buy the big one on purpose just to have an uncompromising full-size keyboard if you find the proper 10.5” keyboard a bit cramped. You can’t really carry it in a nice and neat package. But it works well enough if you use a sleeve or bag. Just be sure to select a sleeve intended for 13” laptops or tablets. There is no way to mix and match keyboards from the newest generation of Smart Keyboard Cases.
Finally, this iPad is immune to the biggest complaint the pundits had for the newest iPads Pro. Those machines seem like they should be doing more than the software allows them to do. While this iPad feels like it is perfectly paired with the software it has. If more capable software comes along, it will be ready. But if not, it is fine just as it is.
I gave my wife my $1,000 iPad Pro plus keyboard case, and downgraded to the iPad Air for myself. I couldn’t be happier.