We had an interesting contrast in marketing techniques this week. Both Google and Apple announced new tablets but they made their announcements in completely different ways.
A blog post is a pretty low-key affair. No one had to book airfare and there wasn't a lot of leaky buzz ahead of time. Of course that means no one got hands-on time either.
Apple, on the other hand, held an event to introduce the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3. There were a lot of leaks ahead of time that detracted from the impact of the event, but the truth is tablets aren't all that exciting any more. Apple felt the need to pad the event with a celebrity appearance and some clowning around just to goose the excitement level. (Of course Apple also introduced a 5K iMac that starts at $2500 which was probably exciting to the kinds of people who can still justify spending $2500+ for a computer.)
Personally I think I liked Google's quiet method, though I have to admit there wasn't nearly the buzz that the Apple event generated. My pro-Apple friends still like watching the events streamed from Cupertino, but I miss the old Jobs events with the "one more thing" at the end that always surprised us. Ah nostalgia.
So back to the hardware. Google's Nexus 9 has an 8.9" screen with a resolution of 2048x1536 which works out to a PPI of something like 288 according to my friends at pixeldensitycalculator.com. It's powered by the 64-bit Nvidia Tegra K1 running at 2.3GHz, with a 192 core Kepler GPU. There's 2 GB of memory, it comes in 16 & 32 GB storage models and it's running Android Lollipop. According to TheVerge the 16 GB model will be $399, the 32 GB model will be $479, and an LTE equipped 32 GB model will be $599.
That K1 is supposed to really scream but we'll know more when we see full reviews. I currently use an Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 which has a 2560x1600 (339 ppi) screen and I really wish Google had been able to match that resolution.
On to Apple. First of all, I'd like to thank Apple for returning to logical product names. Remember how it used to be? First we had the iPad, then the iPad 2, then we had the iPad again, sometimes called the iPad Retina, then we had another iPad, distinguished as iPad 4th generation. Then we moved to the iPad Air. Thankfully Apple has named the newest iPad the iPad Air 2. Please, next year give us the iPad Air 3!
The iPad Air 2 has a 9.7" screen with a resolution of 2048×1536 (264 ppi). Inside is Apple's second generation 64-bit A8X chip. Apple says that makes it 40% faster than the first iPad Air, with 2.5 times the graphic performance. Apple is offering the iPad Air 2 in 16GB, 64GB and 128GB configurations price at $499, $599 and $699 respectively. Add cellular and the prices become $629, $729 and $829.
Apple's big talking point is about thickness. The iPad Air 2 is 6.1 mm thick (the first iPad Air is 7.5 mm thick and the Nexus 9 is 7.95 mm). I'm not as convinced as Apple that shaving a few millimeters of thickness matters all that much. Most people I know slap their iPads into some kind of chunky case or cover anyway.
I was glad to see Apple dropped the 32 GB tier with the new iPads. They used to charge an extra $100 to make the 16 GB jump from the 16 GB model to the 32 GB model, which was insane. I think it'd be even sweeter if they switched to 32 GB as the baseline model, but this at least is a step in the right direction.
Apple also introduced the iPad Mini 3. It seems relatively unchanged from last year. Some reports are saying it's a little faster (though with the same A7 chip) but I've been unable to confirm that. They've added a fingerprint sensor and they're also following the 16GB/64GB/128GB capacity scheme with the Mini 3. I think the best thing about the iPad Mini 3 is that it's driven the price of the iPad Mini 2 down by $100. The Mini 2 with 16 GB is now $299, and the 32 GB Mini 2 is $349. Pricing of the iPad Mini 3 is the $399/$499/$599 for 16GB/64GB/128GB. Add cellular and pay $529/$629/$729.
Are you excited yet? I'm not. Maybe it's just me but tablets have become mundane and frankly the iPad (Retina) that I bought a few years ago still works great. I don't feel the slightest urge to spend $599 (there's no way I'd buy a 16 GB model) on an iPad Air 2. Frankly the tablet I use most often these days is that Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 I mentioned. That screen is gorgeous and so easy on the eyes.
I can't imagine I'm that unusual. In some sense Apple had become it's own worst enemy. A tablet is a lot like a PC. These days most of us don't feel the need to upgrade their PC every year or even every two years. They're 'fast enough' at this point. I still have an original iPad kicking around and that has aged enough to where it feels slow, but then it's five generations out of date. I think Apple is going to have to weather a dip in iPad sales for a year or two before a lot of us start feeling the need to upgrade.