Apple 2023 report cards: iPad

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 4 min read

This is the second in a series of posts reviewing Apple’s major product lines in 2023. Here’s my look at the iPhone.

How the year started

Apple updated 4 of their 5 iPad models in 2022 (everything but the iPad Mini) and added a new model to the lineup.

  1. The iPad Pro 11” and 12.9” models got new M2 processors and some hover detection for the Apple Pencil.
  2. The iPad Air got a processor bump to M1.
  3. The base iPad got a second model with an iPad Air-style redesign, moved the camera to the long side of the bezel, and came in new colors, but didn’t replace the previous model and cost $120 more than the previous starting price.

That base iPad was just odd, and its release is really the moment we all went, “the iPad lineup is weird now.” This model has USB, but only worked with the Lightning Apple Pencil so it came with a dongle in the box to account for that inherent jankiness. It also moved the front-facing camera to the place where many people have been begging Apple to move it for years, but none of the other iPads got that change. And it cost more, so it didn’t even replace the previous base iPad.

Now there are 6 iPads you can choose from, and some cheaper iPads have features the more expensive ones don’t, and the whole lineup feels a bit stagnant. All of the hardware was quite good, but 2022 was definitely the year of iteration.

The first year without a new iPad

For the first time since its 2010 debut, we didn’t get a single new iPad released this year. The only new hardware we got was the “Apple Pencil (USB-C)” which is better than the “Apple Pencil (1st generation)” in some ways, but worse in others.

This new Pencil seems tailor made for the new base iPad released in 2022, it just released one year later than the iPad it was built for, which is very unusual for Apple.

Honestly, the Apple Pencil situation is a perfect encapsulation of the iPad lineup today. Here’s a breakdown of Apple Pencil compatibility and features of each Apple Pencil:

Via Apple
Via Apple
Via Apple

Three products named “Apple Pencil” with varying sub-names, different compatibility, and feature sets. You can’t get a Pencil that works with every iPad, and you need to know which of these 35 iPads you have to make sure you get the right Apple Pencil. You can figure it out if you need to, but let’s be real, this is more of a Dell-style lineup than the Apple-style clarity we’ve come to expect from them.

Hopes for 2024

I hope that 2024 brings updates to all iPad lines, and those updates are synchronized so that they make the lineup more cohesive overall.

The iPad Pro hasn’t gotten a design refresh since 2018, and while that 2018 model was iconic (and still an amazing device today), it would be nice to see something new and cutting edge on the design front. I’ll also lose my mind if they don’t move the front-facing camera to the long side of the device. For the iPad that’s marketed as something you’ll use in a laptop form factor more than any other iPad, it’s wild that it’s not the first iPad that got the camera in a location that will make you look good on video calls. This likely means the Pencil will have to attach elsewhere, but I don’t believe this is an insurmountable challenge. Oh, and for the love of god, give the 11” model the same screen as the 12.9” one; whether it’s same mini-LED tech they use now or something new across both models, it’s really annoying that you need to get the bigger model to get the better screen, and I hope they nip this in the bud in 2024.

The iPad Air inhabits a space in the lineup I’d call, “better than the base iPad, but for less than $1,000” and to that end I don’t expect them to change this too much this year. An M2 seems reasonable, and the new camera placement is a must here as well.

The iPad Mini hasn’t been touched since 2021, and this is the one iPad I’m not super worried about camera placement. I would like to see it get a processor bump to the A16 or M1, as well as some reduced bezels if they can.

The base iPad is actually 2 iPads if you count the 9th and 10th gen models together as Apple does, and I think this will be the most boring upgrade in the bunch. The 9th gen will disappear as Apple gets the starting price for the 10th gen model down to $399 or below. Maybe they keep the 9th generation model around at an even cheaper price for education buyers, but I wonder how aggressively Apple should even be fighting in this space anymore. For many schools, Chromebooks are cheaper, more convenient, and more capable than iPads, so I’m not sure how Apple moves the needle here much longer.

There are rumors of a new Smart Keyboard coming relatively soon, and I’d welcome that as long as it has function buttons. 2020’s Smart Keyboard was one of the best surprise releases in years, and I’d love to see an iteration on that product.

God help me if a 4th Apple Pencil model is introduced.

And it goes without saying, but iPadOS continues to be the thing that can elevate all iPad hardware, so as always, I hope Apple can achieve the nearly impossible task of making iPadOS more powerful for the people who need it without compromising the simplicity that makes it appealing to so many others.