My fellow Foolish colleague Evan Niu recently gave a good overview of the financial struggles that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is currently seeing in its iPad business. The business, Evan says, seems to be facing a weakening product mix (as evidenced by the average selling price erosion in Apple's iPad numbers) in addition to unit declines.
That said, he remains hopeful that the iPad business is in the process of bottoming out, citing both Apple's enterprise push as well as the potential for a consumer upgrade cycle to begin to kick in. In addition to these factors, Apple seems to be preparing a major iPad product refresh that could further stimulate demand.
iPad mini finally gets some love
As far as iPad mini goes, Apple currently offers two generations of the tablet: iPad mini 2 and iPad mini 3. Internally, these tablets are essentially identical, with the primary differences between the two lines coming down to color choices (iPad mini 3 comes in gold) as well as storage options.
However, Ming-Chi Kuo suggests that the iPad mini 4 will essentially be a miniaturized iPad Air 2.
If true, then Apple may be bringing significant improvements to its iPad mini line. In addition to external improvements, and potentially an improved display (which has been a major point of criticism of the display on the iPad mini 2 and 3), the device should see long-overdue internal improvements as well.
Unlike the iPad mini 3, which was a hugely underwhelming "upgrade" from the iPad mini 2, the iPad mini 4 has the potential to be quite a compelling upgrade for iPad buyers interested in smaller form-factor devices.
iPad Air should get an upgrade, too
Although there is speculation that Apple may forgo an update of its 9.7-inch iPad Air tablet, this seems unlikely to be true. Apple would surely be in a better position to stabilize iPad revenue if it releases new products than if it were to let the highest-end portion of its tablet product portfolio go stale.
One rumor, courtesy of Mac Otakara, suggests that Apple might release an iPad Air 3 that is physically similar to the iPad Air 2, but will include a faster A9 chip (although I would think an A9X would be more likely).
Although a new processor likely won't be enough to have customers rushing into their nearest Apple stores to upgrade their iPad Air 2s, it could very well entice owners of older iPads who passed on the iPad Air 2 to finally make the leap to a newer device.
Welcoming iPad Pro
There is also plenty of speculation that Apple will launch what is widely referred to as an "iPad Pro" this year. This device is said to be a 12.9-inch tablet, which some speculate should help iPad gain further traction within the enterprise market.
The iPad Pro is likely to be pricier than comparable iPad Air models, which could potentially buoy iPad average selling prices (assuming that enterprise customers who would have purchased an iPad Air instead choose an iPad Pro).
It is worth noting, though, that if the iPad Pro is positioned as a productivity device that can replace a notebook, then Apple might see iPad Pro sales begin to cannibalize MacBook sales. However, as Evan points out here, Apple doesn't fear cannibalization.
It won't be too long now before Apple's new iPads hit the shelves if the company's traditional fall release schedule holds. Investors should pay close attention to Apple's iPad sales following the new product launches for any signs of stabilization in the iPad business.