The side view of the Apple eMac computer

Apple re-enters the cheap computer market with the March 2017 iPad

For the past ten years, Apple has been a company that exclusively sold premium products. In the somewhat distant past, Apple shipped things like the 50lb (22.7 kg) eMac, an intentionally no-frills computer that was designed for educational institutions, but later sold to the public as a budget-friendly Macintosh.

It had been so long since Apple sold low-priced products that it seemed like they had permanently abandoned them. However, it appears that the new, ambiguously named “iPad” marks Apple’s return to bargain-bin computing.

Until now, the general consensus among tech journalists, podcasters, and bloggers was that Apple would no longer sell inexpensive hardware. They had worked hard to elevate their brand as a maker of premium goods, and any low-priced options could damage that reputation. This was true for a decade, but it looks like it’s over.

Is my argument bulletproof? You could say $329 isn’t cheap for a tablet. This is accurate. Searching the word “tablet” on Amazon returns an army of inexpensive slates. The baseline price for these Android devices is around $40, and you have put some real effort in to find models that are $329 or higher.

But what’s the sense of comparing apples to oranges? Let’s go Apple to Apple and compare the March 2017 iPad to the original. The base model of the original iPad was $499. When that price was announced, I thought it was reasonable and something to be excited about. Imagine if it was $329.

Here’s a comparison:

Original iPad March 2017 iPad
CPU 1 GHz 32-bit ARM Cortex-A8 1.85 GHz dual-core 64-bit A9 with M9 motion processor
Display 1024 x 768 px 132 PPI 2048 × 1536 px 264 PPI
Depth 0.50 in (13 mm) 0.30 in (7.5 mm)
Weight 1.5 lb (680 g) 1 lb (469 g)
Price $499 $329

For two products that share the exact same name, you have to admit the difference is striking, especially when you arrive at the bottom.

I’m not nay-saying Apple for doing this. Hardly. The fact that they’re making extremely capable, yet affordably-priced hardware is fantastic news. If I were to buy a new iPad today, I would take a long, hard look at this new model. It would likely be my choice. Yet, somehow spending $40 on an Android tablet still feels like a ripoff.

I want to see more economically-priced, new Apple devices. When the iPhones are announced in the fall, I would be super excited if there are high-end metal options, and colorful plastic models that are a little more affordable.

The practical and utilitarian vibe of the 2006 – 2009 plastic MacBooks was something I admired. Imagine a hot pink or matte black plastic 2017 MacBook. A totally crush-worthy machine that’s $100 less than the aluminum option. Sold.

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Writer, musician, photo taker and video maker. When not writing somewhat longish articles for this blog, I write incredibly short things on Twitter: @SamMallery

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