Apple’s Confusing iPad Product Line

Those of us who have been using Macs for a long time remember the days before Steve Jobs returned to the company and simplified the product lines. There were scads of different Macs, and it was hard to know what the differences were. Jobs killed off most of the existing models, and simplified the offering.

But things are returning to an unnecessary level of complication; take a look at the current iPad product line:

Ipad product line

Ignoring the different color, capacities, and connection capabilities (Wi-Fi and cellular), there are five different iPads. Why?

There are now two different iPad Pro models, each with some unique features. The 12.9″ iPad is, for the most part, inferior to the 9.7″ model, though it has some features that its smaller brother doesn’t, such as USB 3 transfers, and a faster processor. But the 9.7″ model has such features as Wide Color and True Tone display, live photos, a True Tone flash, and more. Rather than upgrade the (admittedly young) larger iPad Pro, Apple chose to make the smaller, cheaper model more modern.

They still sell the iPad Air 2, which is a good thing, because it is an affordable option for people who don’t need the “Pro” features (i.e., most people). But then there are two iPad mini models; the mini 4 and the mini 2. Why have two models of the small tablet? Sure, the iPad mini 4 is a bit lighter, has a faster processor, and a better camera, but why continue to sell the sub-standard model? There’s a fairly large difference in price – for the 16 GB versions, the mini 4 costs $399, compared to only $269 for the mini 2, but then the different storage options don’t match (16/64/128 GB for the mini 4, 16/32 for the mini 2).

All told, with the different colors, capacities, and connectivity options, there are 77 SKUs for the iPad product line:

  • 12.9″ iPad Pro: 15
  • 9.7″ iPad Pro: 24
  • iPad Air 2: 12
  • iPad mini 4: 18
  • iPad mini 2: 8

That’s a lot of different products to manage.

One could say the same thing about the iPhone; there is the iPhone 6, the 6s, Plus versions of each one, and now the SE. So that’s five different models, in a variety of colors and capacities. But it seems more complicated with the iPad, perhaps just because of the second iPad mini. maybe they need to kill off that cheaper model, but also match the features in the two iPad Pro models.

22 thoughts on “Apple’s Confusing iPad Product Line

  1. Exactly my thoughts these past few days: Apple is coming back to the pre-1997 Steve Jobs-return product line confusion. Oh how this clean up was a bliss back then! One desktop for the masses, one for the pros, one laptop for the masses, one for the pros. To which we could now obviously add one iPod, one iPad, one iPhone of each size. End of story.

  2. Exactly my thoughts these past few days: Apple is coming back to the pre-1997 Steve Jobs-return product line confusion. Oh how this clean up was a bliss back then! One desktop for the masses, one for the pros, one laptop for the masses, one for the pros. To which we could now obviously add one iPod, one iPad, one iPhone of each size. End of story.

  3. So the iPad Air 2 gets a price drop and fewer storage configs. That puts it in the category of previous generation with mini 2. They should move those models next to each other on the chart and sell them as “previous generation.” Right now the Air 2 and mini 4 are the same price. One would think a smaller product would be less expensive.

    And how can they stick with the Air name if the 9.7 iPad Pro is the same size as the iPad Air? It seems to me really we got the new iPad with $100 price increase. In other words the 12.9″ iPad Pro is the pro, 9.7″ iPad Pro could just be called “iPad” and mini 4 could just be called mini, and sell older models at a price cut. Get rid of the numbers and labels that no longer matter.

  4. So the iPad Air 2 gets a price drop and fewer storage configs. That puts it in the category of previous generation with mini 2. They should move those models next to each other on the chart and sell them as “previous generation.” Right now the Air 2 and mini 4 are the same price. One would think a smaller product would be less expensive.

    And how can they stick with the Air name if the 9.7 iPad Pro is the same size as the iPad Air? It seems to me really we got the new iPad with $100 price increase. In other words the 12.9″ iPad Pro is the pro, 9.7″ iPad Pro could just be called “iPad” and mini 4 could just be called mini, and sell older models at a price cut. Get rid of the numbers and labels that no longer matter.

  5. If you accept that there are going to be 3 sizes (12.9, 9.7 and 7.9), then that accounts for 3 of the 5 models. Then there is “Pro” (pencil input) versus non-Pro. So, in an orthogonal world, we’d have _6_ models!! But a Pro Mini makes no sense. Nor does a non-Pro 12.9. To me, only the Mini2 is an oddball. I suspect it fills a need for education or some other particular market so they’ve kept it for now.

  6. If you accept that there are going to be 3 sizes (12.9, 9.7 and 7.9), then that accounts for 3 of the 5 models. Then there is “Pro” (pencil input) versus non-Pro. So, in an orthogonal world, we’d have _6_ models!! But a Pro Mini makes no sense. Nor does a non-Pro 12.9. To me, only the Mini2 is an oddball. I suspect it fills a need for education or some other particular market so they’ve kept it for now.

  7. There has been a relatively short time between the introduction of the iPad Pro and now the “little brother”. While I understand technology changes at a rapid pace, I can’t understand why the newer “little brother” is rumored to have a throttled CPU, and USB2 instead of the USB3 port of the “big brother”. Holding back performance on the newest model seems weird to me.

  8. There has been a relatively short time between the introduction of the iPad Pro and now the “little brother”. While I understand technology changes at a rapid pace, I can’t understand why the newer “little brother” is rumored to have a throttled CPU, and USB2 instead of the USB3 port of the “big brother”. Holding back performance on the newest model seems weird to me.

    • I think the issue, at least from my take (and I agree with Kirk), is that several of these offerings aren’t merely “fits that person’s needs” but instead are pure sucker buys. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus? Why do they still exist in the product matrix? They’re inferior in every way to the iPhone SE EXCEPT on screen size (and, arguably perhaps, battery life); hence they ONLY exist to sell a second-rate product to a consumer sold on a big screen with not enough money to spend. Wow, THAT seems to completely contradict Apple’s marketing spiel! And the same conundrum exists with the iPad mini 4 and mini 2. The mini 3 was rounded excoriated as a terrible value proposition. The “hot melt glued in TouchID” was just icing on that crap cake. It was pretty obvious from mini 3 and mini 4 teardowns that Apple threw the mini 3 out there for the price point, not much more, while sitting on the mini 4 to drag out the value curve. And yet, here we are with a product matrix with the mini 2. No TouchID, and otherwise not a lot of differentiation with the mini 4. Odd NAND sizing,1GB of RAM, eye-rolling price points. If anything, sell the 16GB mini 2 via Education and Enterprise stores only, and drop the price of the mini 4 another $50. The matrix would look cleaner, the marketing would be tighter, and their margins wouldn’t suffer that much. But instead, these things ONLY exist as sucker fodder, which WILL end up making unhappy customers, and confuse the buying process. Inexplicable (excepting, simply, for greed).

    • I think the issue, at least from my take (and I agree with Kirk), is that several of these offerings aren’t merely “fits that person’s needs” but instead are pure sucker buys. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus? Why do they still exist in the product matrix? They’re inferior in every way to the iPhone SE EXCEPT on screen size (and, arguably perhaps, battery life); hence they ONLY exist to sell a second-rate product to a consumer sold on a big screen with not enough money to spend. Wow, THAT seems to completely contradict Apple’s marketing spiel! And the same conundrum exists with the iPad mini 4 and mini 2. The mini 3 was rounded excoriated as a terrible value proposition. The “hot melt glued in TouchID” was just icing on that crap cake. It was pretty obvious from mini 3 and mini 4 teardowns that Apple threw the mini 3 out there for the price point, not much more, while sitting on the mini 4 to drag out the value curve. And yet, here we are with a product matrix with the mini 2. No TouchID, and otherwise not a lot of differentiation with the mini 4. Odd NAND sizing,1GB of RAM, eye-rolling price points. If anything, sell the 16GB mini 2 via Education and Enterprise stores only, and drop the price of the mini 4 another $50. The matrix would look cleaner, the marketing would be tighter, and their margins wouldn’t suffer that much. But instead, these things ONLY exist as sucker fodder, which WILL end up making unhappy customers, and confuse the buying process. Inexplicable (excepting, simply, for greed).

  9. The problem with comparing Apple’s current iPad or iPhone line with their previous “simplified” line of Macs after Steve Jobs came back is that it ignores how those Macs were ALL available in multiple configurations, with different processor speeds, different base memory configurations, and different amounts of disk storage.

    A proper comparison would list out Apple’s “simple” late 90’s/early 2000’s Mac product matrix like this:

    Consumer Laptop Mac (Good)
    Consumer Laptop Mac (Better)
    Consumer Laptop Mac (Best)

    Pro Laptop Mac (Good)
    Pro Laptop Mac (Better)
    Pro Laptop Mac (Best)

    Consumer Desktop Mac (Good)
    Consumer Desktop Mac (Better)
    Consumer Desktop Mac (Best)

    Pro Desktop Mac (Good)
    Pro Desktop Mac (Better)
    Pro Desktop Mac (Best)

    There’s 12 “base” SKUs.

    Then within all of those choices you could configure them to bump the processor/RAM/disk. With at least 2 options for each, that multiples each of those base SKUs by a minimum of 2x2x2=8, so 8×12=96 “SKUs.”

    Compare those ~96 options to the 77 SKUs iPads have now. Suddenly the range of available iPad don’t seem to be too large.

    (This, BTW, is completely ignoring how consumer desktop [iMac] and consumer laptop [iBook] Macs each came in a range of colors for a while.)

    The real problem is simply one of perception. The simplified Mac product lineup was easier to visualize because the various configurations were much easier to hide. Apple also wasn’t selling “last year’s model of Mac, at a lower price” alongside this year’s model so much as it was selling “this year’s model of Mac with last year’s mid/top-end processor speed, RAM, and disk, at a lower price.” (Although, occasionally like with the bottom-end introductory PowerMac G4, even the motherboard was sometimes from last year’s model.)

    Also, anyone thinking “Steve Jobs wouldn’t have done this!” about the wide range of Apple’s iPad and iPhone lines should look at the full range of iPods that were being sold while Steve was still CEO at Apple. There was the iPod Shuffle, iPod Nano, iPod Classic, and iPod Touch, and each of those had at least two capacities, and usually multiple colors. There were easily three or four dozen different iPod SKUs at various times while Jobs was Apple’s CEO. If you take out the iPad models with cellular radios (because that doesn’t really compare between iPads and iPods, while physical size, storage capacity and colors do), you get a very similar number.

  10. The problem with comparing Apple’s current iPad or iPhone line with their previous “simplified” line of Macs after Steve Jobs came back is that it ignores how those Macs were ALL available in multiple configurations, with different processor speeds, different base memory configurations, and different amounts of disk storage.

    A proper comparison would list out Apple’s “simple” late 90’s/early 2000’s Mac product matrix like this:

    Consumer Laptop Mac (Good)
    Consumer Laptop Mac (Better)
    Consumer Laptop Mac (Best)

    Pro Laptop Mac (Good)
    Pro Laptop Mac (Better)
    Pro Laptop Mac (Best)

    Consumer Desktop Mac (Good)
    Consumer Desktop Mac (Better)
    Consumer Desktop Mac (Best)

    Pro Desktop Mac (Good)
    Pro Desktop Mac (Better)
    Pro Desktop Mac (Best)

    There’s 12 “base” SKUs.

    Then within all of those choices you could configure them to bump the processor/RAM/disk. With at least 2 options for each, that multiples each of those base SKUs by a minimum of 2x2x2=8, so 8×12=96 “SKUs.”

    Compare those ~96 options to the 77 SKUs iPads have now. Suddenly the range of available iPad don’t seem to be too large.

    (This, BTW, is completely ignoring how consumer desktop [iMac] and consumer laptop [iBook] Macs each came in a range of colors for a while.)

    The real problem is simply one of perception. The simplified Mac product lineup was easier to visualize because the various configurations were much easier to hide. Apple also wasn’t selling “last year’s model of Mac, at a lower price” alongside this year’s model so much as it was selling “this year’s model of Mac with last year’s mid/top-end processor speed, RAM, and disk, at a lower price.” (Although, occasionally like with the bottom-end introductory PowerMac G4, even the motherboard was sometimes from last year’s model.)

    Also, anyone thinking “Steve Jobs wouldn’t have done this!” about the wide range of Apple’s iPad and iPhone lines should look at the full range of iPods that were being sold while Steve was still CEO at Apple. There was the iPod Shuffle, iPod Nano, iPod Classic, and iPod Touch, and each of those had at least two capacities, and usually multiple colors. There were easily three or four dozen different iPod SKUs at various times while Jobs was Apple’s CEO. If you take out the iPad models with cellular radios (because that doesn’t really compare between iPads and iPods, while physical size, storage capacity and colors do), you get a very similar number.

  11. Really, this product line is confusing?
    Man, you must get paralyzed in 7/11 trying to decide which Slurpee to buy….

    Uggghhh…

  12. Really, this product line is confusing?
    Man, you must get paralyzed in 7/11 trying to decide which Slurpee to buy….

    Uggghhh…

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