Last fall, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), which has seen sales of its iPad line of tablet computers plunge over the last two years, didn't roll out an update to its mainstream iPad Air family of devices. Instead, the company introduced customers to the iPad Pro -- a 12.9-inch monster of a tablet with an optional Apple Pencil accessory -- as well as a long overdue update to its iPad mini line.
At first, I thought that Apple had been holding off on releasing the new Air to give its new iPad Pro product its time in the spotlight. However, after reading an excellent profile of Apple chip chief Johnny Srouji in Bloomberg Business, it's become quite clear that the reason that we didn't get an iPad Air 3 last fall was that it simply wasn't ready nor was it intended to be ready in that time.
Did you know that the iPad Pro was delayed?
Bloomberg Business reports the iPad Pro was originally scheduled to launch in the spring of 2015, packing the same A8X processor that the iPad Air 2 launched in the previous fall did.
However, apparently as a result of the fact that numerous aspects of the device were not ready to support a spring 2015 launch, the device was pushed out to last fall.
In order to deliver a satisfactory amount of performance (the A9 chip inside of the iPhone 6s/6s Plus is faster than the A8X inside of the iPad Air 2), Apple's chip teams reportedly had to pull in the development of the A9X processor by about six months.
What does this have to do with the iPad Air 3?
It's clear that Apple had expected the iPad Pro to, in concert with the iPad Air 2, hold the line for the iPad product family for calendar 2016. Presumably, Apple had hoped to roll out, perhaps, an iPad Pro 2 as well as the iPad Air 3 in March of this year.
This means that Apple had probably planned on getting the iPad Air 3 out in early 2016 all along, hoping that the iPad Pro and the iPad Air 2 would be enough to keep customers interested in iPad throughout the entirety of calendar.
In other words, the development schedules of all of the new components and software innovations that Apple intends to bring out with the iPad Air 3 were targeting early 2016 rather than late 2015.
Such a release cadence actually makes sense. In the fall, Apple would launch its blockbuster flagship iPhones and, in order to stay in the headlines and give customers even more reason to hand their money over to Apple, roll out iPads (and a smaller iPhone) in the spring.
The future for iPad and some thoughts on the Mac
Indeed, I expect that the next time Apple rolls out new iPads after the rumored launch this March will be March 2017. I'd expect to see both an A10X-powered iPad Air 4 and an A10X-powered iPad Pro 2. An A9-powered iPad mini 5 could also make it out next spring alongside the two larger devices.
In addition, with iPhone grabbing the spotlight in the fall and iPad starring in the spring, I expect that future Mac product refreshes (at least portable Macs) will come targeted mainly in the summer/back-to-school season.
This way, Apple allows for each of its product categories time to shine and, perhaps more importantly, stays in investors' minds year round.