Apple's New iPads: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


As is so often the case, tech giant Apple stole the show in an otherwise busy week for tech news when it unveiled the latest iteration of its iPad line of tablets on Tuesday.

Source: Apple.

To be sure, there were plenty of changes worth noting, but the high-order bit for this week's iPad update was that Apple largely matched the rumors that had been swirling for some time prior to this week's launch event.

This isn't necessarily a negative, and Apple did discuss several other areas of its business during its presentation on Tuesday. However, those hoping for one of Apple's "One more thing..." moments were left disappointed.

Keeping that in mind, let's review exactly what Apple gave us this week -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good
For starters, the newest iPads represent steps forward in many regards.

Both the larger 9.7-inch iPad and the smaller iPad Mini saw significant hardware improvements in different ways. For starters, Apple included its ultra-powerful new A7 processor in both devices.

Apple also borrowed some branding from its laptop lineup, dubbing the larger 9.7 inch device the iPad Air, which underscores the most significant area of improvement for the larger iPad.

Source: Apple.

As expected, Apple changed the bezel size for the iPad Air. Apple went to great lengths to scale down the larger iPad's dimensions as a whole. In doing so, the company was able to make the larger iPad 28% lighter, allowing the iPad Air to weigh in at only 1 pound. Apple also touted the device's thinness, noting the iPad Air is also 20% thinner than its predecessor.

Turning to the iPad Mini, Apple's 7-inch tablet received the Retina display upgrade that was widely expected. This now puts the two newest iPads on equal footing in terms of their display chops, which should bode well for Apple as tablet growth shifts toward smaller form factors.

Source: Apple.

Overall, it's a clear improvement for the product. However, there are still several factors at work that could prove potential flash points for Apple's newest tablets in the coming quarters

The bad
The iPad Mini's improved display will come with a price increase. By choosing to include the Retina display, Apple moved up the price of the iPad Mini from $329 to $399, which could prove a headwind for continued iPad growth.

Apple certainly isn't the only tablet producer to pass along the cost of improved displays to consumers. We've also seen Google and also raise the prices of their respective Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire tablets as they've improved their displays in newer models.

In an effort to possibly offset the higher pricing on the iPad Mini, Apple chose to keep both the iPad 2, and older, non-Retina iPad Mini around for $100 less than the more-current version. This should come as no surprise, either, considering Apple's pricing history with the iPad and iPhone.

The ugly
This brings us to the ugly truth that Apple needs these tablets to be winners.

Although it's hard to pinpoint exactly what's driving this trend, (realistically it's probably multiple drivers), but Apple's unit tablet growth has been slowing over the last several quarters. True, there are so many moving parts to the equation, but nonetheless, the trend is in place.

Q2 2012

Q3 2012

Q4 2012

Q1 2013*

Q2 2013

Q3 2013

iPad growth (YOY)







Source: Apple Investor Relations. *Denotes quarter of iPad Mini launch.

The ugly iPad contraction last quarter could simply be the result of demand shifting from Q3 and Q4 into Apple's fiscal first quarter (which is the calendar fourth quarter). If that's the case, then Apple could be in for an iPad blowout next quarter. Apple's earnings report next Monday should provide some much-needed insight into this dynamic.

However, it's undeniable that there's competition -- even Microsoft has made significant strides on the tablet front. The scary part for Apple investors is the notion that the shipment growth slowdown seen above could have more to do with consumers simply shifting their purchasing habits to other brands.

Another potential flash point for Apple's iPad franchise is persistent rumors that production yields for the iPad Mini's Retina display have been poor. Although Apple's supply chain is so expansive and dynamic, it's hard for anyone to get a completely accurate gauge. However, that hasn't stopped some analysts from ratcheting their iPad Mini shipments down to between 1 million and 5 million units next quarter. With the first fiscal quarter typically driving the greatest percentage of Apple's problems with the iPad, it could spell disaster for Apple's quarter.

It's certainly more likely than not that Apple's momentum in the tablet space should continue. However, Apple needs to execute and get its new iPads in consumers' hands in order to keep its tablet business humming. We'll just have to wait and see.

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