There’s a New Apple Pencil With a USB-C Port, and My Thoughts Turn to the Complexity of the Overall iPad Lineup

Dan Moren, writing at Six Colors:

This pencil is clearly designed for use with the tenth-generation iPad: while it attaches magnetically to the long edge of the iPad for storage, it still charges via a physical port. Unlike the old Lightning model, which had a removable (and easily lost) cap hiding its charging and pairing connector, the new Apple Pencil features an innovative sliding design that reveals a USB-C port into which you can plug a cable (which, naturally, is not included). Its design is otherwise very similar to the second-generation Pencil.

At $79, this Pencil is cheaper than both the first-generation model at $99 and the second-generation model at $129. But that’s because it doesn’t have all the features of either of them: it lacks the pressure sensitivity of either of the previous models, as well as the double-tap controls, wireless pairing and charging, and free engraving of the second-generation. However, the new Pencil does support the “hover” feature on M2 iPad Pro models.

On the one hand, this new Pencil makes complete sense. Lightning is quickly fading away, and this new slider seems like a much better design than the old cap. On the other hand, though, the fact that there are now three Apple Pencil models, all with different features and which are supported by different iPads, exemplifies just how over-complicated the iPad product lineup is.

Jason Snell hits that point in his own take:

Still, it’s hard to look at the shenanigans in the iPad product line over the last few years and not get the sense that things are kind of a mess. This new Pencil should’ve shipped last year with the 10th-generation iPad. The new iPad has features that higher-end models don’t. There’s insufficient differentiation between the iPad Air and the iPad Pro. (Leaving old models aside, it just feels like there are too many iPads, doesn’t it?)

It’s possible that we’re witnessing a reset, however. There hasn’t been a single new iPad announcement this year, and given Tuesday’s Apple Pencil announcement, it sure feels like there won’t be one. Perhaps 2024 will bring us a new wave of iPads that will finally make the product line make more sense. But don’t get your hopes up too much: Apple will probably still keep selling some old models, too. It’s what today’s Apple does.

Off the top of my head, what I’d like from Apple on the iPad front next year:

  • Drop the old 9th-gen iPad from the lineup. That iPad is so old it still has a home button.
  • Lower the price of the 10th-gen iPad by $100. (And maybe give it a speed bump from the A14 to A15 chip? But it’s probably wishful thinking to hope for a price cut and a newer chip.)
  • Update the iPad Air (and Mini?) models to be more like today’s iPad Pros, with Face ID instead of Touch ID.1
  • Major revision of the iPad Pros, which haven’t seen a major form factor change since 2018. Put more pro in the iPad Pros, just like Apple has done with the iPhone 15 Pro models.
  • Update the Magic Keyboard, ideally in a way that continues to support both iPad Airs and 11-inch iPad Pros. The Magic Keyboard is a great idea, and I think a popular one. But it ought to be better — thinner, lighter, and more durable. (The white ones especially age quickly. Keep your eyes out for them in the wild, in cafes and airports — they often look quite grungy. Compare and contrast with MacBooks, which often look great even after years of daily use.) Mark Gurman has reported that just such a revision to the Magic Keyboard is in the works.

That would clarify the iPad’s three tiers: good (regular iPad, 10th-gen), better (iPad Air — the best choice for most people), and best (iPad Pros, with advanced new features and capabilities). The point should be to make the question “Which iPad should I buy?” as easy to answer as possible. I think Apple has made that question pretty easy to answer for iPhones, MacBooks, and Watches — and for peripherals like AirPods.2 Now do it for iPads.

  1. It feels like a very safe assumption that the issue here is cost: Face ID components are expensive, so the non-Pro iPads are saddled with Touch ID buttons instead. I’m sure there are many happy iPad Air owners who aren’t bothered by Touch ID. But if you’ve ever used an iPad Pro with Face ID, it’s impossible not to be annoyed when using an iPad Air. Face ID isn’t just a different form of bio-authentication than Touch ID, it a clearly superior one. When I’ve reviewed them, it’s been a large focus of my attention. From my year-ago review of the current iPad Air:

    For me, Face ID alone is worth $150. I use my iPad in a Magic Keyboard frequently, perhaps even a majority of the time. It’s my kitchen computer. And I find using Touch ID on the power button somewhat awkward when the iPad Air is in the Magic Keyboard. But the Magic Keyboard is a $300 peripheral. It’s not a niche product but it’s certainly not for everyone. iPads are fundamentally handheld tablets, and handheld, the iPad Air’s Touch ID instead of Face ID is much less of a difference. I still decidedly prefer Face ID, though. Touch ID on the iPad Air makes it feel easy to unlock. Face ID on the iPad Pro makes it seems like it wasn’t even locked in the first place.

    With iPhones, Face ID is now in every model they sell but the SE. That’s how it ought to be for iPads too: in every one of them but the price-focused entry model. It’s too good of a feature, and a key advantage for iPads when compared to MacBooks. ↩︎︎

  2. The one weird MacBook is the 13-inch MacBook Pro. From a purely logical perspective, I don’t think Apple should even sell that device. The M2 MacBook Air is cheaper, lighter, and equally capable. Study Apple’s tech spec comparison page for 13/14-inch MacBooks and it’s hard to find a reason to recommend the 13-inch MacBook Pro. But I do think it sells surprisingly well. My theory is that there’s a segment of the market that would be served better by the MacBook Air but who believe that they need a “Pro” MacBook. The specs don’t matter to them — it’s the name. Or maybe there are a surprising number of Touch Bar fans out there? ↩︎