Those Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) customers excited at the prospect of a new, high-end 10.5-inch iPad Pro launching at an event in March were surely disappointed by the release-by-press-release of the new low-cost iPad and updated storage configurations for the low-cost iPhone SE.
At this point, it's not entirely clear when Apple intends to update its flagship iPad Pro lineup. DIGITIMES says that Apple is planning to launch the new iPad Pro at an event next month; a supply chain source told MacRumors that she or he expects a launch "sometime in the spring."
The uncertainty from these sources indicates -- at least to me -- that Apple wants to launch this device as soon as possible and is targeting a spring launch, but something isn't going quite to plan to allow Apple (and, by extension, its supply chain partners) to be able to confidently pin down a more precise launch window.
There's one thing that investors should be confident in amid the uncertainty: that Apple will release the new 10.5-inch iPad as soon as it can. Here's why.
New technology at a faster pace is better
The better that Apple makes its products -- iPhone, iPad, Watch, and everything else -- the more likely it is that customers will be willing to buy them. Apple has the tough task of trying to get current iPad users to try to upgrade to newer models, it wants to capture share from competing tablet makers, and it wants to bring in as many first-time buyers as possible.
The more innovation Apple brings to the table at a quicker pace, the better.
Given that iPad unit shipments continue to be weak (dropping 19% year over year last quarter) and that the company is seeing some average selling price erosion (revenue was down 22% year over year as unit shipments were down "just" 19%), the company desperately needs to take actions to try to reverse these trends.
The low-cost iPad that Apple launched via press release has the potential to help offset the unit shipment declines (introducing solid products at lower price points often has that effect), but that's potentially going to dilute the average selling price story.
Now, diluted average selling prices at higher total revenue levels is OK, but if Apple can put out compelling new products at higher price points, too, then it can not only further improve the unit shipment story but it can also offset that average selling price dilution and drive total revenues (and profits) even higher.
In other words, Apple has real incentive to bring this new technology out as quickly as it reasonably can, so don't expect it to just be "sitting" on a brand-new, ultra-compelling iPad waiting to launch it at the opportune time -- that opportune time is "immediately."
What's the holdup?
It's very likely that the new 10.5-inch iPad is a very complex piece of technology with a lot of bleeding-edge, hard-to-manufacture components. If I had to take a guess at what technology is likely holding up the launch, though, I'd bet on the display.
Remember that Bloomberg's Mark Gurman said a while back that Apple is planning to use a "faster display technology that allows for smoother zooming, panning, and scrolling."
In other words, a high-refresh rate display.
Building a display that can update its contents at a rate faster than the typical 60 times per second is tough, but it's doable. Building such a display at high yield rates with low power consumption and superb image quality is likely another matter entirely.
I think that it's because of Apple's aggressiveness vis-a-vis the new iPad's display technology that the company hasn't launched the device yet and that the schedule is so uncertain.
The silver lining, though, is that once Apple is able to get this new iPad into mass production at good device-level yield rates, it should have a very compelling offering that I suspect could help stimulate upgrade activity, particularly among the more "professional" and "prosumer" types who will really appreciate the higher display refresh rate.