There were no cryptic emails. There was no breathless event booked at San Francisco's Moscone Center. There was no PowerPoint. There certainly was no visible aura. There was only the product.
Today, with none of its usual pre-launch mojo, Apple announced a brand new iPad with a super-sized 128GB of storage space inside.
Here's why the product could sell itself.
Critics love to say the iPad is for content consumption rather than creation. Indeed it's one of the main promotional ideas behind Microsoft's rival Surface device, which offers many of the benefits of MS's desktop and office environments...so MS would have you believe.
The 128GB iPad is a definite attack at this idea. It's why Apple quotes pro-level creation platforms like AutoCAD in the press release. Basically, Apple's saying, there's more space inside this iPad for you to create and store more stuff...no need to haul a laptop or storage with you on the road. Of course it will appeal to users who love to store tons of photos, video, and music on their iPads too, but it's really not aimed at them—for price reasons, if nothing else.
A 128GB iPad is one way Apple's appealing to professional users or the upper end of the business market. It squashes criticisms of its un-upgradeable storage space (a frequent saw used to promote Android units instead) and says, subtly, "if you regularly fly over the ocean and need to store more in-flight movies, or all those huge company PowerPoint presentations...this is for you."
The income streams from enterprise and pro-user markets could be substantial. And Apple's made an effort to secure them at very little personal expense: Little PR push, and probably little R&D or engineering effort to double the on-board chip storage was needed.
Microsoft is due to release the Surface Pro on February 9th—its top-end, expensive, full-featured tablet aimed at mobile professionals. The Pro has suffered some big pre-launch criticisms, and its price may be one of the bigger barriers to success, because it starts at $899 for the 64GB version. Battery life is, thanks to its more traditional Intel chips, also a disappointment. And it's been freshly pointed out that due to MS operating system design, the 128GB Pro will only have 83GB of useable space.
Apple's new device arrives on the scene four days earlier, has a promised 10-hour battery life, much more free space thanks to a smaller OS, and a price that starts below the entry price for Surface Pros.
Why wasn't there a 128GB iPad before? It really could've done at many points, and there've even been 128GB iPhone rumors. After all, it's an easy tweak to include bigger capacity solid state memory chips inside—and Apple's charging users for the privilege: 128GB costs you a premium of $100 over the 64GB model.
The answer is Apple didn't see the need to sell them, and it's possible the global chip prices weren't in favor of the move. But now it's surveyed the tablet landscape, decided it's a good time to sell them, and has probably moved very swiftly to add them to the production line requirements in China.
This means it's released a new product within a handful of months of first revealing the iPad 4. Tricks like this demonstrate movement that should please investors, unsettle Apple's peers, and draw press limelight away from Microsoft, Google, and Amazon in an otherwise slow month. That's clever.
There are two points for criticism of Apple here. The first is the price. Consumers understand that paying for additional storage costs more money—but Apple's famous for charging an astonishing premium for more space. The $100 you pay for doubling the storage inside an iPhone or iPad is, particularly at the lower levels of 16GB to 32GB, a huge markup on what Apple itself pays chip makers for. Bearing this in mind, it may have been smarter for Apple to charge less of a premium for this top-end product—it would've sold a lot more of them for $750 than it will at $800.
And there's one other big question: Does this news suggest Apple's lost momentum, and is merely pursuing incremental product changes? Some will argue yes, others will point to the lack of fanfare and say Apple's reserving PR efforts for future, bigger products. Many industry watchers will also say this does smack of a slightly reactionary move by the tech giant.
[Image: Flickr user Yagan Kiely]