Apple iPad Event Announced -- Here's Why it Matters

Without question, the single largest storyline driving opinions, and share prices for that matter, of Apple this year is the iPhone 6.

Source: Apple

Apple's latest smartphone has, and will likely continue to, set fresh sales records for the world's largest publicly traded company. However, the seemingly constant news cycle discussing and dissecting even the most minute iPhone detail has also served to largely distract that public and investing community away from the second must-watch event of Apple's fall product launch cycle - the iPad.

And after plenty of speculation as to its exact timing, Apple recently sent out invitations for its second major product launch of the Fall.

The new Apple iPad event: Mark your calendars
Yesterday, Apple sent out invitations for its new iPad event, putting an end to the guessing game that had been slowly developing over the past several days. We now know that the new Apple iPads will be unveiled at 10 am PST on Thursday October 16th. The event's invitations came with the tag line "It's been way too long," suggesting some kind of surprise or long overdue overhaul is in order. However, holding the event on Apple's corporate campus also suggests a more low key emphasis on the upcoming products than the massive fanfare created around the Apple iPhone 6 announcement.

Either way, Apple is expected to launch updated versions of its iPad Air and iPad Mini. Beyond tablets, many anticipate Apple also unveiling an upgrade to its Mac lineup, including Retina display powered iMacs, and more concrete dates for the release timing of Apple's Yosemite OS X software update. Taken in total, this would position Apple with a largely updated product portfolio as it heads into the critical holiday shopping quarter.

In terms of specifics for the new iPad Air and iPad Mini, it's generally anticipated Apple doesn't have any genuine game-changing new features up its sleeve this go-round. The most significant upgrade commonly discussed is the inclusion of Apple's Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the home button of the new iPads. Apple will also likely include its newest A8 chip into its updated iPads as well. Overall, the form factor for the new iPads is expected to remain largely the same, although many believe Apple will also offer its new iPads in the popular gold color option as part of this upcoming upgrade. 

The enemy within
If you're thinking the latest iPad overhaul seems frustratingly uninspired, you're probably not alone. And worse yet, this seemingly unimaginative upgrade comes at time when Apple's tablet business is facing several key threats to its continued growth.

Source: Apple SEC filings; * reflects removal of accessory revenue from iPad revenue in 2012 and 2013

Coming off a fiscal 2013 in which iPad revenue grew a mere six percent, Apple has seen year-over-year declines in iPad shipments in its two most recently reported quarters. This slowed growth is clearly to some degree the result of the tablet market's lack of carrier subsidies that help lower the upfront cost to consumers as is the case in many smartphone markets across the world, a dynamic which in theory hampers overall adoption and how routinely consumers upgrade their tablets.

Perhaps the most pernicious threat to the success of Apple's tablet business comes from within. By tapping into the global "phablet" craze with its recently launched 5.5 inch iPhone 6 Plus, Apple has in all likelihood created a meaningful disincentive for consumers to pay for an additional second device, especially in the case of the smaller iPad Mini.

What it means for Apple
Overall, market researchers expect the global tablet market to expand at only 6.5% now in CY 2014, so this slowing growth isn't a frustration unique to only Apple. However, with Apple's iPhone lineup increasingly encroaching the use-case of its iPads, I'm becoming less and less optimistic for the iPad's prospects in the years ahead. Apple is famous for its willingness to cannibalize itself, a trait I maintain largely does more harm than good. However, as we head into Apple's second major product launch of the year, this could precipitate more pain for Apple's iPad business barring any major surprises from Apple.

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Andrew Tonner owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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