Apple's 128GB iPad is priced like a PC -- so who's it for?

Credit: NEXT Berlin via Flickr

This morning, Apple announced an iPad with a retina display and 128GB of storage.

The move came alongside the release of iOS 6.1, which adds LTE compatibility with a range of additional carriers worldwide. The new iPad will be available in one week on February 5th at a cost of $799 (Wi-Fi only) and $929 (Wi-Fi + Cellular). The move marks the first time that Apple has expanded the storage options since the original iPad was introduced with 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB capacities three years ago.

Apple is pricing the new iPad well above the current entry-level price point of its siblings ($329 for a 16GB iPad mini) and most competing tablets. While one can argue that the price is a natural progression based on the existing iPad pricing, where each storage tier is $100 above the model beneath it, it still places the 128GB iPad in a different price bracket than most of the non-Apple tablets on the market.

In fact, the price puts it in competition more with full-featured notebooks, ultrabooks, and hybrid PC/tablet devices, and even Apple's own MacBook Air than other tablets.

This sets up an interesting scenario because it positions the iPad as a PC replacement from a cost perspective. Most of Apple's iPads -- as well as tablets from Samsung, Google, Amazon, and others -- are cheap enough that they make sense as an add-on to a traditional computer for home or work. In these situations, any tasks that are suited to iPad or tablet use get shifted off a PC, but the PC remains available for tasks that aren't suited to a smaller screen with a touch interface.

The thing is, for most professionals, storage isn't the main factor in deciding whether an iPad can replace a personal computer. The question is more about functionality and how we use devices in our personal and professional lives. Functionally, there's no real difference between a 128GB iPad and a 16GB iPad.

Speaking from my own experience, I own a MacBook Air solely for researching and writing when I'm on the road. In theory, I can do virtually of that work on an iPad with a keyboard case -- after all, a web browser, email client, and text editing are the core tools I use most of the time. However, the iPad's approach of full screen apps and limited multitasking create make it cumbersome to switch between research and writing. Another challenge is that several web-based content management systems simply don't work as well with a touch interface as they do with a mouse or keyboard.

Could I replace my MacBook Air with my iPad? Yes, but it wouldn't an optimal solution. Can I augment my work experience by using my iPad to review content, make minor changes, and as a base for social media and email away from my office and my MacBook Air? Yes, and that is a much more optimal use for me.

But there are some professional uses where an iPad is still the best solution and where it is worth paying a premium for that extra storage capacity. For employees where mobility and large amounts of data are part of everyday life -- architects, media companies, doctors (radiologists in particular), corporate trainers, and so on -- the 128GB iPad might be a dream come true.

Apple even notes several of these situations in its press release, singling out professional users that need mobile or shared access to things like "CAD files, X-rays, film edits, music tracks, project blueprints, training videos, and service manuals."

In other words, Apple appears to be positioning the 128GB iPad as a business or professional tool for very specific scenarios, rather than as a consumer media device, although the ample storage would be a dream for many music buffs and hardcore movie fans -- or frequent business travelers wanting to carry a library of in-flight entertainment. This continues Apple's slow march upstream from consumers into businesses of all sizes.

The price will be prohibitive for many users, and the storage capacity will be overkill for many people. But in the end, the 128GB iPad diversifies Apple's tablet lineup and addresses the needs of certain professionals who previously might have used a PC. Those are good things for Apple, and for users and companies in those fields. 

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