Apple’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a fantastic entertainment device for content consumption. Videos are TV-sized, photos are highly detailed, and web pages fill the screen. But its $800+ price makes it hard to justify as a just-for-fun tablet. That could change if Apple applied the same strategy to the 12.9-inch iPad that it used on the new $329 9.7-inch iPad this week.
The current iPad Pro is intentionally a high-end tablet. It has a specialized display that works with Apple Pencil, a Smart Connector for easily interfacing with special accessories, and the powerful A9X processor.
That makes it require a higher price. The technology is over a year old now but it’s still premium. That’s why Apple left it out of the new $329 9.7-inch iPad.
Using that same strategy, Apple could offer a 12.9-inch version of iPad Pro at a much lower cost. The difference between the 9.7-inch iPad ($329) and 9.7-inch iPad Pro ($599) is $270.
Applying that same difference to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro ($799) and a theoretical 12.9-inch iPad without Pro features could bring it down to $529. That’s still arguably pricey for a just-for-fun tablet, but the $200 premium for a 3.2-inch larger display is easy to understand.
Want a big, portable touch screen for watching movies and TV shows on iTunes and Netflix, playing a few casual games, browsing the web, and flipping through your photo library? There could be a $529 12.9-inch iPad for that. If you need to use the Apple Pencil, Smart Keyboard, and have a faster processor then you’ll need the $799 model.
It’s an interesting thought experiment but not one that’s likely to happen this year or anytime soon. For one, the rumors point to a spec-bumped 12.9-inch iPad Pro that may or may not have a smaller casing next update.
Rumors aside, it would require Apple engineering an iPad that hasn’t existed before. The $329 9.7-inch iPad is a mix of previously available hardware: the iPad Air minus the mute switch and the iPhone 6s processor. It’s similar to the iPhone SE strategy that put the iPhone 6s processor in the iPhone 5s casing.
There has only been one 12.9-inch iPad Pro so far, however, so Apple can’t fall back on an older design with inferior hardware to create a cheaper product as easily.
If Apple simply stretched the $329 9.7-inch iPad out to 12.9-inches and charged $200 more, it would be a much heftier product too. Apple likely wouldn’t want to go heavier than the current 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but a thicker version with cheaper hardware would certainly do that.
Another option could be scaling back on hardware features. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the $329 9.7-inch iPad already use the same camera, but Apple could go even lower end on the camera for the larger budget iPad and save on cost without a major re-engineering effort.
None of this seems too likely, however, with the more probable approach being to just wait it out and let the current 12.9-inch iPad Pro age like it already is. Eventually something newer and better will replace it and drive the current shipping hardware down market. Maybe then we’ll see a large-screen iPad that you can buy for around $500 for super casual uses.