On Sept. 9, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) held a large product launch event at which it introduced, among many other things, the new iPad Pro -- a very large iPad aimed at professional and enterprise users. On the other hand, though, Apple didn't even bother refreshing its top 9.7-inch iPad Air, with the company instead opting to continue selling last year's iPad Air 2 models at the same prices that they launched at.

Although this move had been rumored in the press for a while, I must admit that it was initially a little surprising to see Apple forgo an iPad Air update this year and announce that it will continue selling last year's iPad Air 2 as its flagship 10-inch tablet. 

One question that I think is worth asking then, is, "Will the iPad Air 2 hold up as a flagship 10-inch tablet over the next year?"

Let's take a closer look.

What is the iPad Air 2 competing against?
There are plenty of high-end tablets in the market, but I would argue that the two tablets that the iPad Air 2 should be compared against are the Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Surface 3 and the recently launched Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF) Galaxy Tab S2.

The Galaxy Tab S2 represents, in my mind, the best competition that the iPad Air 2 is going to get from the wide world of Android tablets, and the recently launched Surface 3 probably represents the best from the Atom-based Windows tablet camp.

The spec showdown
In the following table, I include the key hardware specifications of these three tablets so that we can look at them side-by-side:


Apple iPad Air 2

Microsoft Surface 3

Samsung Galaxy Tab S2


Apple A8X

Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) Atom x7-8700

Samsung Exynos 5433



2GB/4GB LPDDR3 (depending on configuration)



2048-by-1536 LCD

1920-by-1280 LCD

2048-by-1536 Super AMOLED


1.2MP front/8MP rear

3.5MP front/8MP rear

2.1MP front/8MP rear


iOS 9

Windows 10

Android 5.0.2





Sources: Wikipedia, AnandTech.

I believe that in terms of CPU and graphics performance, the iPad Air 2 is the clear winner here according to performance tests of these various chips found on AnandTech. As far as other specifications, Apple looks like it has a competitive, high-resolution display and plenty of memory (albeit less than both the Tab S2 and the Surface 3 in its highest-end configuration).

Apple has the lowest-resolution front-facing camera, though.

It's pretty clear why Apple didn't bother updating this tablet
At this point it's pretty clear why Apple didn't bother updating the iPad Air 2 -- it's already best-in-class as far as 10-inch tablets go in terms of specifications, and the device should become significantly more useful to customers once iOS 9 -- which includes, among other things, split-screen multitasking support -- rolls out later this month.

Now, one reason the iPad Air 2 is still so competitive even a year after launch is that -- at least in my view -- innovation in the rest of the tablet market has slowed significantly.

For one thing, Apple seems to have much of the high end of the tablet market on lockdown. During Apple's most recent earnings call, company CFO Luca Maestri said iPad has 76% share of tablets priced above $200 in the United States.

Although Apple's competition in this market could probably push even harder to try to gain some share at the high end, it might not be worth the risk to them given how hard they seem to have tried (and apparently failed).

Furthermore, there is a widespread view that the tablet market is being "cannibalized" to some extent by large-screen phones, which is where many of the mobile device vendors seem to be aggressively pushing.

All told, I think Apple made a bold, but seemingly correct, choice in keeping the iPad Air lineup untouched this year and instead putting its best foot forward with the iPad Pro.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.