Notwithstanding its recent share price nosedive, Apple demonstrated that it hasn’t lost its capacity to surprise us, announcing on Tuesday that a fourth Generation 4 iPad model will be released on February 5 boasting 128 GB of storage memory capacity — just a day after the first rumors I’d seen about it hit the Interweb.
The pertinent questions of course are: why right now?; what user demographic is it intended to target?; and does anybody really need a 128 GB iPad?
An answer to query number one would be to address the recent stock price swoon on short notice with a technically simple and quick to implement upgrade (the still relatively fresh Gen 4 iPad remains otherwise unchanged). Strategically, a more expensive iPad model will raise Apple’s iPad ASP (average selling price), which has diminished since the cheaper iPad mini launched last fall, a move that should be attractive to stock analysts. The timing of the release also steals some thunder from Microsoft’s scheduled to launch of the Pro version of its Surface tablet PC in the U.S. and Canada on February 9, at price points of $899 and $999 for 64GB and 128GB models respectively. Apple’s high-capacity tablet gets a four-day jump on Microsoft, and undercuts the Surface Pro on price at $799 for the 128 GB iPad with Wi-Fi model and $929 for the iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular model.
As for that target demographic, it”s strongly implied in Apple’s press release prominently noting that: “the iPad continues to have a significant impact on business, with virtually all of the Fortune 500 and over 85 percent of the Global 500 currently deploying or testing iPad. Companies regularly utilizing large amounts of data such as 3D CAD files, X-rays, film edits, music tracks, project blueprints, training videos and service manuals all benefit from having a greater choice of storage options for iPad. The over 10 million iWork users, and customers who rely on other productivity app….”
Need? A minority percentage of enterprise/pro users perhaps, and folks with massive collections of images, music and/or movies, or aspirations thereto. Subjectively, I find myself a bit bemused by the concept of a 128 GB iPad, being as after more than a year and a half of intensive daily use, partly for production work, my 16 GB iPad 2 still has greater than 8 GB free memory left, although I am pondering whether to go with 32 GB when I upgrade. I had been cautiously anticipating that Apple might tweak the iPad with a minor update around the traditional late-winter /early spring slot for iPad releases, but with this unexpected development, I’m now doubtful that they will, and in any case it will likely be fall before we see a major upgrade to the iPad 5.
The greatest benefit to Apple of trumping the tablet competition by being first to release a 128 GB tablet may well be the halo effect provided by customers being initially intrigued by the greater storage capacity, but who will after some sober second thought and assessing their realistic need opt for a 64 GB or even a 32 GB unit. It’s sort of like the Corvette, Viper, and Shelby Mustang being halo models for Chevrolet, Dodge, and Ford — not spinners of big profits in their own right, but drawing people into the showrooms where they end up buying a volume-seller Malibu, Dart, or Focus.
Also part of the value equation is the fact that you can get a 128 GB MacBook Air for $1,099, or 300 bucks more than the WiFi 128 GB iPad, and in many contexts it’s at least 300 bucks worth more computer.
Speaking of value, at least in terms of storage capacity, Apple has a much more substantial edge on Microsoft’s Surface Pro in that context than is immediately obvious from the price differences. Those nominal storage capacity numbers are not quite what they seem for either the Surface or the iPad (or for that matter any computer), but the reality with the Surface Pro is a lot harsher.
Microsoft has reportedly confirmed in a statement released the to a variety of outlets and now widely disseminated in the blogosphere that:
“The 128 GB version of Surface Pro has 83 GB of free storage out of the box. The 64GB version of Surface Pro has 23GB of free storage out of the box. Of course, Surface Pro has a USB 3.0 port for connectivity with almost limitless storage options, including external hard drives and USB flash drives. Surface also comes pre-loaded with SkyDrive, allowing you to store up to 7GB of content in the Cloud for free. The device also includes a microSDXC card slot that lets you store up to 64GB of additional content to your device. Customers can also free up additional storage space by creating a backup bootable USB and deleting the recovery partition.”
And for the consumer-targeted Surface RT, its nominally 32GB base version provides only 16GB of system data storage, while its 64GB version leaves 46GB available for user files. By contrast, Apple’s much more efficient and compact iOS reportedly allows the 32GB and 64GB iPad and iPad mini to provide roughly 28.6GB and 57.2GB free capacity respectively for user files.
Not that, as the Microsoft statement alluded to, the Surface Pro doesn’t have some substantial advantages of its own that make it appealing, at least conceptually, to users who do serious production and content creation work on their machines, as opposed to what diglloyd.com blogger Lloyd Chambers calls the “iHaveNoRealWorkToDo” demographic that the iPad seems primarily focused on.
For example, while the Surface Pro runs the full desktop version of Windows 8, and consequently can run a vast array of current and legacy Windows productivity apps, is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of system RAM, provides real multitasking and file system access,as well as supporting external pointing devices as well as keyboards and offering decent connectivity via standard I/O ports, rendering it a truly credible surrogate for a PC Laptop, the 128GB iPad 4 offers more usable storage capacity at a lower price, but can’t run OS X and remains an iOS device with an Apple A-series system-on-chip processor, offers no external pointing device support, no real multitasking or multi-window views, no expansion slots, and I/O is limited to what Apple’s proprietary Lightning connection cable can provide, so therefore can’t function as a satisfactory substitute for a MacBook Pro or a MacBook Air for serious productivity-oriented users.
The entry of a 128 GB iPad to the mix also poses the question of how long Apple will continue to offer only 16 GB storage in its entry-level full-size iPad. While I anticipate that there will be four 9.7-inch iPad models offered for the immediate future and probably for the entire product lifespan of the 4th-Gen edition, I’m thinking that when the iPad 5 comes out, probably next fall, Apple will likely revert to a three-model lineup, only with 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB, at the traditional iPad price points and the 16GB model will be quietly dropped. Something to consider if you’re considering an iPad purchase or upgrade. I’ve been pondering handing off the iPad 2 to my wife and upgrading to a Gen-4 this spring, but if I’m right about 32GB becoming the new entry-level spec. for iPads, that may provide incentive to wait. After all, my iPad 2 still offers roughly similar performance to the current iPad mini.
The new 128GB versions of the fourth generation iPad will be available starting Tuesday, February 5, in black or white, for a suggested retail price of $799 for the iPad with Wi-Fi model and $929 for the iPad with Wi-Fi + Cellular model. All versions of the 128GB iPad will be sold through the Apple Online Store (http://www.apple.com), Apple retail stores, and select Apple Authorized Resellers.