Apple didn't give us the iPad update we wanted, it gave us what we needed instead

 Someone using an Apple iPad.
Someone using an Apple iPad.

Go ahead and make fun of the Apple iPad on your favorite social network, I dare you. You will be swarmed by iPad fans, defending their favorite tablet to the death, which always seems to be just over the horizon for the tablet market. We got no new iPads in 2023, making it one of the hardest ever for iPad fanatics, but I say fear not! The iPad is healthy, and I see a brighter future than ever for Apple’s tablet.

Is the iPad really healthy? Well, according to Canalys, iPad sales declined year-on-year by quite a bit, as much as 24%. That still left Apple in a distant first place among tablet makers. Samsung’s sales declined only 11%, but it still shipped less than half of the tablets that Apple delivered, according to Canalys estimates.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra

That’s gotta be tough news for Samsung. The latest Galaxy Tab S9 series, including the more affordable Galaxy Tab S9 FE, are some of Samsung's best tablets ever. The entire lineup is IP68 water resistant, which is a first for tablets that aren’t sold as rugged business tablets. They come with an S Pen, which is a better stylus than the Apple Pencil, a $79 / £79 / AU$139 implement that doesn’t even work with every iPad.

The iPad didn't need an update to stay up-to-date

The iPad, on the other hand, has languished on shelves for a long time. There were no iPad updates in 2023. After endowing the iPad Pro with the M2 chip, and the iPad Air with the M1 chip, in late 2022, Apple left the tablet alone.

The base model iPad was updated in 2022, and it still uses a mobile A14 Bionic chipset, while the even older iPad mini, last updated in 2021, inexplicably uses a faster A15 Bionic. Apple also still sells the iPad 10.2-inch model from 2021 as a new device.

The Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)  being used with an Apple Pencil
The Apple iPad 10.2 (2021) being used with an Apple Pencil

Here’s the thing – the iPad was already more than a year ahead of other tablets on the market. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S is a powerful, capable Android tablet with a fantastic display. Its Snapdragon processor can’t come close to the iPad Air’s M1 chip. The M1 chipset can power a professional laptop. The Snapdragon is strictly mobile.

Even the A14 Bionic chipset in the base model iPad gives the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, found in the Galaxy Tab S9, a run for its money.

The iPad is so overpowered it sticks around longer

How could Apple improve the iPad? Maybe a better question would ask, what improvements do we need? The iPad is already powerful, well-designed, and long-lasting. I mean it lasts a long time in battery tests, and it also lasts a long time as a product you’ll own. When it comes to longevity, the iPad puts the iPhone to shame, though maybe that should change.

I owned the very first iPad, and I used it for at least six years before I broke it accidentally by dropping it. By then, it wasn’t worth fixing, but I felt I’d gotten plenty of value out of that purchase. On the last day it was alive, I was able to do everything I wanted, including playing games, watching movies, and browsing all of my favorite websites. A six-year-old iPad was completely capable, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

The original iPad lasted a very long time, years and years
The original iPad lasted a very long time, years and years

A big reason why the iPad market has stalled is because the market is saturated. People keep iPads and tablets much longer than they keep phones. On inspection, we should probably all just hold onto our phones longer. If a five-year-old iPad is a powerhouse, then a five-year-old iPhone is probably much more capable than we all imagine.

The difference is that Apple and our mobile carriers offer us financial incentives to trade in our old phones for new ones. That’s how we buy phones, on contracts and payment plans. That’s not how most people pay for tablets.

Do you really need a fourth screen? Of course you do

The iPad is the best of all of those worlds, and iPad fans know it

That’s the real problem with the iPad: it’s another expenditure on a device that replaces… well, nothing. If you have an iPhone, you can do everything the iPad can do, and more. If you have a laptop, too, then you really don’t need a third screen. What about that smart TV on your wall? Now, an iPad makes four screens, and there’s nothing it offers that your other screens can’t manage.

The iPad isn’t an impulse buy, either. It isn’t a hundred bucks or so. You can’t buy it with the gift card you won in a work raffle like you might buy an Amazon Fire tablet for $100. The iPad costs hundreds, and that’s before you add accessories like the Apple Pencil, a keyboard, or even just a nice folio cover.

Still, there is something undeniable about its appeal. The iPad is more powerful and capable than a smartphone. It’s more portable than a laptop. It’s more personal than the TV hanging on the wall. The iPad is the best of all of those worlds, and iPad fans know it.

The iPad's bottom line is much lower this year

Black Friday iPad deals sales 2021
Black Friday iPad deals sales 2021

Here’s what truly made this past year a boon for iPad fans. Every iPad model can be found for the lowest price ever. The iPad 10.9 is $429 / £307.62 right now on Amazon, down from $449 / £499 at launch. The iPad Air is $449 / £438.02, down from $599 / £569. Sorry, Australian friends, Amazon isn’t giving you the same iPad discount these days.

The iPad Pro hasn’t dropped as much as the rest, but the 64GB M1 iPad Air now costs $150 / £120 less on Amazon than it did when it launched. That’s a 25% discount in the US. Maybe Apple was doing the right thing by delaying any iPad update as long as possible. The iPad didn’t need an update. It needed a price cut.

Apple iPad 10.2 (2021): was $329.99 now $249 at Amazon
The iPad 10.2 is still available at Amazon for its lowest price ever this week. Apple's last-generation tablet may be slightly older tech, but the 10.2-inch Retina display and A13 Bionic chip ensure excellent picture quality and superior performance to this day. The entry-level slate can do it all without issue: whether that's browsing the net, streaming media, light work, or playing games. Ultimately, when it comes to powerful and affordable tablets that offer excellent value for money, it doesn't get better than the Apple iPad 10.2.View Deal

Apple iPad 10.9 (2022): was $449 now $349 at Amazon
This offer on Apple's newest entry-level iPad brings it down to the lowest price ever – one we've seen a couple of times this year. It's terrific value for money at this price if you need an all-around tablet. We said Apple's latest base-level tablet is a big upgrade over the previous generation model in our iPad 10.9 review, with a larger Liquid Retina display, a new A14 Bionic chip, improved cameras, USB-C support, and a sleek design.View Deal

iPad Air (2022): was $599 now $449.99 at Amazon
Amazon has the iPad Air available for a record-low price right now. As we said in our four-star iPad Air (2022) review, this model neatly sits in the middle ground between power and affordability while still offering many of the same features and capabilities as the more expensive iPad Pro. With an attractive 10.9-inch Liquid Retina display and M1 chip inside you get excellent picture quality plus fast performance, making it a great tablet for creative tasks, gaming, and general everyday use.View Deal