A week after Apple announced these new gadgets, the company’s earnings report showed that iPad sales were down for the third quarter in a row. Apple CEO Tim Cook pointed out that more than 225 million iPads had sold since the product line’s launch, and that the tablet market was still young. But, despite the fact that Apple was the clear leader in tablets, the reality was that plenty of people still didn’t feel compelled to buy any tablet—and those who did, didn’t feel the need to upgrade as often as they would with a smartphone. Apple would have to try something new to get people excited about the iPad.
Apple went big with the iPad Pro. Really big.
This new kind of iPad, introduced in the fall of 2015, had a 12.9-inch diagonal display. This made it suitable for someone with hands the size of Lebron James’s, according to WIRED writer David Pierce. It weighed 1.57 pounds, close to the weight of the original iPad.
But it wasn’t just its bigness that set the iPad Pro apart. It was designed to work with an Apple-made accessory keyboard, called the Smart Keyboard, and an Apple stylus called Pencil. (These, of course, cost extra; you had to shell out $169 and $99 respectively for those, in addition to the $799 starting price of the iPad Pro itself.) In doing this, Apple was taking direct aim at Microsoft’s line of Surface two-in-one machines.
The iPad Pro also came with a new chip, 4 gigabytes of RAM, four speakers for “shockingly loud audio,” and a whopping 12 hours of battery life. At its launch, Tim Cook had insisted that this new iPad was “a replacement for a notebook or a desktop for many, many people.” It became quickly apparent, however, that running iOS on a giant screen was not the same as using a laptop or desktop running a desktop OS. And the first versions of the Smart Keyboard and Pencil weren’t particularly well designed, especially the Pencil’s charging mechanism.
In 2016 Apple did a smart thing: It produced a more reasonably sized iPad Pro, bringing features like stylus support and the always-charged accessory keyboard to a regular 9.7-inch iPad. Plus, this smaller iPad Pro had something called True Tone display, “which calibrates the tablet’s screen so it looks right even if you’re in a room with weird lighting … Night Shift, which works on any device with iOS 9.3, changes the color spectrum at night so you can use the device without hurting your eyes or disturbing your sleep,” David Pierce wrote.
Still, he continued, this iPad Pro was best at just being an iPad. It was great for reading books, watching movies, and browsing the internet. Sure, you could run two apps side-by-side now, but that didn’t mean it was up to the task of being your full-time work machine.
Maybe it was that exact realization, that a pricey 9.7-inch iPad Pro was just an iPad, that led Apple to introduce this next tablet. Or maybe the company’s product pipeline had been determined years in advance. Regardless, most people would agree that a less expensive iPad was a good thing for consumers, and that’s what arrived in the spring of 2017. This new 9.7-inch iPad brought “the guts of an iPad Air 2 into the body of a first-gen iPad Air.” It also had a universal SIM, allowing the iPad to work over cellular service from any carrier.
The screen wasn’t as nice as the ones on more expensive models. It had two speakers instead of four, and it didn’t work with Apple’s Pencil or the accessory keyboard with the proprietary “smart” connector. But for $329, you couldn’t beat the price—especially if you were just using the iPad for, well, iPad things. Later that year, Apple would introduce some of the most dramatic updates for the iPad-specific version of iOS, overhauling the dock for the tablet, adding a new kind of app switcher, and letting users drag and drop text and images across iPad apps.
What better way to start off the new year than by producing an ad for iPad that spawned a million Internet opinions? The Apple ad featured a young teen browsing on her iPad, who innocently says, when her neighbor asks her what she’s doing on her computer, “What’s a computer?” The spot was supposed to showcase the versatility of the tablet and suggest that future generations won’t be as beholden to clamshell designs as us olds are. The ad has since been taken down.
Versatility would become something of a theme for the year. In March, Apple hosted an education-focused event in Chicago. There the company unveiled a non-Pro iPad that fully supported the Apple Pencil and ran on the new Apple-made A10 Fusion processor. It cost $329 for consumers and just $299 for schools.