Apple used the stage on Monday to unveil the 9.7” iPad Pro. Clearly the unwieldly 12.9” iPad Pro isn’t for everyone and they know it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a slightly upgraded Air 2. Make no mistake, it’s every bit an iPad Pro, packed with all the same features.
When Apple launched the iPad Pro, a lot of people were put off by its size. At 12.9”, it was more of a coffee table tablet than something you would take around with you. Sure, it’s marketed as a professional tool rather than just a bigger iPad, but we’re pretty sure Apple wouldn’t mind ordinary folk paying more for the flagship model if it were only a little more accessible….
Enter the 9.7” iPad Pro.
Packing the same A9X chipset as the 12.9” model, the 9.7” model is remarkable due to the fact that they’ve managed to shoehorn all of the 12.9” features into a smaller chassis and yet sell it at a lower price point.
Apple seem alone in this new way of thinking. Let me explain:
Go into any computer retailer and take a look at the laptops. The specs and the prices of models seems utterly bewildering to most people. The reason is that there’s no real cohesion in pricing.
There could be a 15” model sporting an Intel Core i5 CPU coupled with a respectable GPU, SSD, with 16GB RAM for around £500.
Next to this, there could be a 13” model with the lower end Intel i3 CPU, integrated Intel graphics, 8GB RAM and a rotary HDD, priced at £599.
The reason? Well, components shrink with each new iteration. It’s the reason that Moore’s Law still holds – roughly every 18 months, you can double the amount of transistors on a chip. More transistors can perform more calculations, and smaller transistors require less power. It’s the reason that an iPad 2 is roughly on a par with a Cray supercomputer from 1995 in terms of raw processing power, yet you can hold it in your hand.
So, a 15” model may well have faster components and the price may be lower than its 13” counterpart, but that’s because the 15” has last generation components which are larger and more power hungry. You can also buy the 13” model with the same specs as the 15”, but you’d be looking at a considerable bump in price, possibly to £700-£800. And that’s because you are buying bleeding edge technology.
Back to Apple…
Apple make such a huge profit on hardware that they can afford to flip this system upside down.
As an example, an iPhone SE packing the same features as the 6S but in a smaller body is a manufacturing challenge and will be more expensive if both were launched at the same time. It may be that Apple have managed to reduce the die size of the A9 processor in the last 9 months and can now fit these components into a smaller body. That manufacturing process at a smaller size serves two purposes – 1) to produce the last generation CPU at a smaller die size, and 2) to ‘tool’ or prepare for the next generation CPU.
I’m aware that the bill of materials (BOM) for iPhones show that the larger screens cost a fraction more than the smaller screens, but this isn’t the real issue here. Don’t forget that the battery will be smaller too, so a reduction in power usage is required.
They have launched the SE as a lower end model though, and that’s what’s interesting. In order to continue with this system, you will never see an iPhone SE launched at the same time as the larger iPhones. That’s because the next generation (iPhone 7 and 7+) will be launched in September with the latest chipset. In the following months leading to March, the manufacturing processes will be advanced enough to shrink these components to fit into the new SE model.
They did it with the iPad Mini 4 (a smaller iPad Air 2, but cheaper), and they’ve done the same with the 9.7” iPad Pro. It was a marvel only a few months ago what they’d managed to cram into such a thin 12.9” body. Now they’ve managed to fit all that tech into a smaller unit. Again, it’s cheaper, because Apple want to make it simple for people to decide entirely on display size.
This is only possible because of the obscene profits Apple make on hardware, but nevertheless, it’s an interesting flip on the classic PC pricing structure.
Talking of pricing, it’s interesting to see that Apple are offering a 32GB configuration in addition to 128GB and 256GB. That’s not offered on the 12.9” which seems to add weight to the theory that Apple consider the 9.7” as a semi-pro device aimed at both professionals and wealthy consumers alike.