The iPad gets a spruce-up but is the Mini a dead-end?

Apple expended a lot of energy on spruiking the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus phablet, so it’s no surprise that the iPad’s upgrade has been a tad underwhelming.

Slimmed down ... Apple unveiled the thinner iPad with a faster processor and a better camera as it tries to drive excitement for tablets amid slowing demand. Pic: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez Source: AP

Apple expended a lot of energy on spruiking the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus phablet, so it’s no surprise that the iPad’s refresh has been a tad underwhelming.

The iPad Air 2 looks a lot like last year’s model but there are a few new additions inside and out. However, adding the TouchID sensor, jazzing up the processors and the camera all add up to an incremental upgrade that’s unlikely to give Apple’s tablet range a shot in the arm.

The one standout of the iPad Air 2 is that it’s thin, thin enough to prompt Apple boss Tim Cook to say on stage -- “Look how thin it is. Can you even see it?”

At 6.1 mm thick, you actually might just not be able to see it, but is that a compelling enough reason for people to ditch their existing iPads and upgrade?

There’s not a lot of change when it comes to display. With a 9.7-inch display and sporting 2,048 x 1,536 pixel resolution it looks like Apple was saving its display love for the iMac (The iMac catches up with Retina 5K, October 17).

However, Apple did point to its new anti-reflection coating, which it says will make the device 56 per cent less reflective than the original.

The iPad Air 2 comes with a tablet-optimised version of the A8 chipset found in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The 64-bit CPU ,with three billion transistors, promises to deliver 40 per cent faster CPU performance and 2.5-times faster GPU performance.

There’s a rear 8-megapixel camera with an f/2.4 lens aperture and dual rear mics for audio pickup, capable of shooting 1080p HD video. The updated camera app offers single-shot HDR photos, HDR video, and photo bursts, as well as time-lapse and slow-mo video modes.

You get 10 hours of battery life, which is same as the iPad Air.

This is all very nice, not terribly groundbreaking, but nice. However, given the current state of the tablet market, nice might not be enough to compel consumers to part with their money.

Speaking of cash, the iPad Air 2's Touch ID function allows users to make payments via Apple Pay, that doesn't mean a lot to us here in Australia, but it points to the biggest problem with iPads.

The tablet has lost its mobility mojo

The iPad was meant to be the secondary adjunct to the mobile revolution, the smartphone/tablet combo was destined to conquer the world. Instead, flagship smartphones still command a massive premium and the role of the tablet has been usurped by phablets. 

That's a big reason why this iPad refresh was always going to be about incremental changes. Apple just has too much invested in the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus to risk the iPad Air 2 taking some of the shine off the brand new products.

The improvements revealed bring a certain parity for the iPad, it's now on the same page as the rest of the Apple stable and also its competition.

By making Apple Pay a feature in the iPad, Apple is trying to shake its tablet out of the grips of domesticity. The iPad has by and large seen most use within the confines of a home, effectively replacing the laptop as a content consumption device.

But with that market heavily commoditised, Apple has to incentivise its users to start toting their iPads out and about. Touch ID integration for Apple Pay is one way to do that. 

Another interesting feature is the Apple SIM, that, in Apple's words, gives the user the "flexibility to choose from a variety of short term carrier plans."

What that means is that the user is no longer beholden to the tyranny of their carrier but has the ability to choose a plan from any carrier. It will be interesting to see how many carriers Apple can get to play ball with them on the SIM. As long as the technology stays on the iPad there shouldn't be a big problem, but if it migrates to the smartphones, there's going to be mayhem.

Given that the iPhone is Apple's bread and butter business, it's unlikely that the Cook would be willing to pick that fight.

But as far as iPads are concerned, the Apple SIM has the potential to revitalise its fortunes as a truly mobile device, and, when you combine that with the fact that Apple's overarching aim with its operating systems (How to upgrade to Apple OS X Yosemite and iOS 8.1, October 17.) is to create seamless continuity within its device ecosystem, the iPad is here to stay for a while.

Is the iPad Mini a dead end?

Whether the iPad Mini will be making that same journey is hard to predict. The iPad Mini 3 got the briefest of mentions on stage and with the iPhone 6 Plus and the iPad Air 2 set to soak up the attention, perhaps the iPad Mini is going to end up like the iPod.

So is the iPad Mini an evolutionary dead-end or can it still be given a new lease of life?

It looks grim at the moment, but Apple's new-found enthusiasm in the enterprise space could provide an opportunity.

What we didn't see in Apple's latest presentation was the 12.9-inch iPad model. That's the tablet many say is being prepared to showcase the prowess of iOS 8.1 and includes features like Continuity, which are going to have a significant impact on the workspace.

A 12.9-inch 'iPad Pro' with iS8.1 and a free version of iWork will allow Apple to press a compelling case in the enterprise space.

Finding a space for the iPad Mini within that ecosystem could be one way to keep that form alive. The iPad Pro might be great in the office but your floor staff, sales staff and those involved in operational and maintenance tasks, may opt of the comfort of an iPad Mini.

Alternatively, Apple may just choose to keep the iPad Mini as a premium content consumption device and milk the margin for as long as possible.

But the long term viability of the iPad range may rest on whether Apple is able to orchestrate a successful transition from pure consumption to productivity for the device range.

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