The iPad Air only exists to sell other iPads

Here’s a fun thought experiment: what would Apple’s tablet range look like if you removed the iPad Air? Just the basic iPad at one end (accompanied by the outdated and unappealing iPad mini, which we’ll largely ignore for now) and the iPad Pro at the other. How would you approach that as a retail offering, and how would it affect your buying decision?

The answer, for me at least, is that it wouldn’t be a range at all. It would just be two separate and isolated products with little to connect them. It would be like comparing the Mac mini and the Mac Pro. Or the Apple Watch SE and the Vision Pro, for that matter. There would be no point comparing their specs or weighing up their pros and cons, you would simply look at the one which is obviously aimed at you and buy it if the price is right. If you want a sofa computer you buy the standard iPad; if you’re a hardcore creative you buy the iPad Pro. It would make the decision a no-brainer.

That feels like a good, thing, right? Surely Apple wants the buying decision to be a no-brainer, so there’s as little friction as possible to slow the process from “want iPad” to “own iPad.” Surely it wants to make things easy for the customer. Or maybe it doesn’t.

Because here’s the thing: That isn’t just a thought experiment, it’s reality. For 99 percent of iPad buyers, there may as well just be those two options.

For most of the people who ask for my advice, the “correct” choice is the basic iPad, because it’s more than capable enough for their requirements and (following a timely price cut) is great value. Very few iPad owners need a super-fast processor, a high-end screen, or a terabyte of storage. And for the small market of creative professionals who do need those things, the Pro makes a lot more sense than the Air, because it’s more future-proofed, delivers better color reproduction, has Thunderbolt, and so on. If the iPad is your work computer, you don’t skimp on the premium features. In most of Apple’s product categories, the inbetweeners are a canny choice, blending features and value for money. But when it comes to iPads, because of the binary way people use them, you should decide whether features or value are the priority for you and then lean fully into that.

Give these people Air

If that’s the case–if the iPad Air is irrelevant to most customers–then it raises the question of why Apple bothers to have an Air at all. And here at Macworld we have a theory.

I said earlier that an Air-less iPad range just seems like two unrelated products–okay three, but honestly, the iPad mini is not worth your consideration until it gets an update–that have so little in common that no customer would bother to compare them. But what the Air does is bridge the gap between the standard iPad and iPad Pro and bring a sense of coherency to the range. Indeed it makes the range exist as a range, rather than standalone products.

Petter Ahrnstedt

With the Air nestled in the middle, it becomes much more tempting to load Apple’s iPad comparison page and start doing head-to-heads on tech specs. And then the intrusive thoughts begin. An anti-reflective coating sounds nice. I like the look of that new Magic Keyboard, maybe I should get an iPad that supports it. What’s Wi-Fi 6E? Do I need 16GB of RAM? How many CPU cores are worth getting?

In other words, the existence of the iPad Air introduces a whole lot of indecision that can actually help Apple, because it encourages customers to spend more on things they want but might not need. And for customers who are sensible and stay in their lane, it helps to reinforce the value for money of the standard iPad at the lower end and the capabilities of the iPad Pro at the top.

For those who are considering a vanilla iPad, the iPad Air acts as a price anchor, quietly establishing in the customer’s mind the idea that $599 is the sort of price somebody might reasonably pay for a new tablet. In comparison to that, $349 seems like an absolute steal, especially for the same size screen and very similar design. And in comparison to the Air’s M2 processor, 6.1mm chassis, and laminated LED screen (all of which we know are excellent, because this isn’t the budget iPad we’re talking about), the Pro’s M4, 5.3mm chassis, and tandem OLED screen look truly world-beating. Which, let’s be clear, they are… but it’s nice to make sure customers appreciate what they’re getting for their money.

I have no doubt that Apple sells plenty of iPad Airs, but the product’s value to Apple isn’t limited to the number of units it shifts. It’s all about the way it makes customers feel about the other iPads. And that sense of confusion you feel when you look at the iPad range might not be an accident after all.

Source : Macworld