We should now be about two months away from Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) October event, where the Mac maker has taken to unveiling the latest iPads each year. That's been the regular schedule for the past few years, and there's little reason to expect Apple's product cycles to change anytime soon. But there have been some interesting rumors floating around lately about what Apple might do with the iPad Air. Or rather, what Apple might not do with the iPad Air this year.
Last month, the Economic Daily News reported that Apple was not planning on refreshing the iPad Air this year. Instead, the company was allegedly focusing development efforts on the iPad Mini 4 as well as the long-rumored iPad Pro. Just last Friday, DIGITIMES followed up with a similar report, saying that no new iPad Air was in the pipeline. To be clear, both of these outlets have mixed track records when it comes to Apple rumors, but do these claims even make sense?
Force Touch probably isn't ready for the iPad
The best place to start is considering what Apple could even potentially add to an iPad Air 3. Beyond the customary speed increases (like an A9 or A9X chip) and maybe some additional camera megapixels, it's hard to imagine what Apple could have in store for the iPad Air. That's especially true since it was modestly redesigned just last year.
The company has a history of introducing innovative new features in the iPhone, and then subsequently bringing them to the iPad later on. That's been true for things like high-resolution Retina displays and Touch ID, to name a few. By the looks of it, Apple is integrating Force Touch into the iPhone 6s, hoping it will be a key selling feature. Whether it will succeed is very debatable, but the technology probably isn't ready for such a large form factor.
It would be uncharacteristic for Apple to leave the flagship iPad Air completely untouched for an entire product cycle. Instead, perhaps the company will play it conservatively and only deliver modest spec bumps.
Smaller and bigger
There have been reports that Apple will introduce a similar redesign in the iPad Mini 4, making it modestly thinner and lighter than it already is. The next model could even support Split View multi-tasking, although the smaller display size might make that a tougher sell for productivity.
Apple gave the iPad Mini almost no attention for last year's product cycle. The company discussed the new device for under a minute during the presentation and only added Touch ID, which probably isn't worth the $100 price difference alone. That could suggest that this year Apple will give the iPad Mini 4 a more meaningful refresh.
Investors have been hearing about the purported 12.9-inch iPad Pro for quite some time now, and recent reports suggest that Apple will finally release this larger device this year. An iPad Pro could have strong potential in the enterprise, an area Apple is focusing heavily on nowadays with the help from a powerful ally.
iPad average selling prices have been steadily declining over the years, suggesting a shift in the product mix toward the Mini anyway. It would make sense to give the Mini some attention now, while a higher-priced Pro could help boost ASPs.
A different kind of tick-tock?
Apple implemented a tick-tock cycle for the iPhone years ago, alternating between major redesigns and incremental "S" spec bumps each year. But as the iPad business has stumbled a bit lately, maybe Apple will implement a different variation of tick-tock.
What if it alternates meaningful updates between the iPad Air, iPad Mini, and iPad Pro families each year? Instead of having three different upgrade tracks to focus development on, maybe Apple will apply a sort of tick-tock cycle to the entire iPad family.
Apple has never been victim to traditional resource allocation policies with department-specific P&L lines. It just focuses on making a great product, and you can't argue that the iPad isn't a great product.