Subjectively, I find myself a bit bemused by the concept of a 128 GB iPad. After more than a year and a half of intensive daily use—partly for production work—my 16 GB iPad 2 still has greater than 8 GB free memory left (although I am pondering whether to go with 32 GB when I upgrade).
However, I’m skeptical that more than a small minority of iPad users would ever get their money’s worth from an $800 128 GB iPad. How many of us have huge collections of photos, music, and/or movies that we really want to pack around with us? Okay, there are probably some folks who do, but I can’t think there would be that many.
And yet, I don’t imagine Apple expects there will be. My guess is that what they’re hoping that the 128 GB iPad will serve more as a halo model, an affirmation that iPads can be taken seriously by enterprise and power users, with an eye to the release of Microsoft’s new Surface Pro tablet PC on February 9. The peculiar (or at least atypical for Apple) timing of a January 29 iOS product announcement closely followed by a February 5 consumer release can hardly be coincidental. (February 5 is going to be a big day in portable IT with BlackBerry (formerly RIM) also to start selling its new BlackBerry 10 product that day).
Apple’s enterprise intent and aspirations for the 128 GB iPad were signalled by mention the press release noting that “the iPad continues to have a significant impact on business, with virtually all of the Fortune 500 and over 85 percent of the Global 500 currently deploying or testing iPad. Companies regularly utilizing large amounts of data such as 3D CAD files, X-rays, film edits, music tracks, project blueprints, training videos and service manuals all benefit from having a greater choice of storage options for iPad. The over 10 million iWork users and customers who rely on other productivity apps like Global Apptitude for analyzing team film and creating digital playbooks, Auria for an incredible 48 track recording system, or AutoCAD for drafting architectural and engineering drawings, will also benefit greatly from having the choice of an iPad with more storage capacity.”
I think the 128 GB iPad will enhance the machine’s appeal to enterprise users, and Apple will probably sell enough of the devices to make the addition to the lineup worthwhile and profitable. However the iPad’s other, and arguably more problematical for many productivity-oriented users have not been addressed. It can’t run OS X and remains an iOS device with an Apple A-series system-on-chip processor, offers no external pointing device support, no real multitasking or multi-window views, no expansion slots, and I/O connectivity is limited to what Apple’s proprietary Lightning connection cable can provide.
Part of the plan is to compete with the Surface Pro, which should be attractive to enterprise users as a credible laptop substitute, which the iPad, even with 128 GB of storage capacity, really isn’t. The iPad can be used for some productivity tasks, but it involves a lot of workaround and compromise.
By contrast, the Surface Pro addresses most of the iPad’s shortcomings as a content producer device. It runs the full desktop version of Windows 8, and therefore a vast array of current and legacy Windows productivity apps. It supports real multitasking multiple open windows, and file system access, is powered by an Intel Core i5 processor and ships with 4GB of system RAM. Also in its favor is that the Surface Pro also supports the external pointing devices some of us still prefer for precision and speed in production work in addition to external keyboards. It offers decent connectivity via standard I/O ports, including USB 3.0 devices like external hard drives and USB flash drives, and also has an microSDXC card slot that lets you store up to 64GB of additional content.
That said, I think adding the 128 GB iPad model is a good move for Apple, and I won’t be at all surprised if when the 5th-generation iPad debuts—probably next fall—Apple returns to a traditional three-model lineup, but with the memory specs kicked up a notch, the 32 GB model becoming the entry level at $499, 64 GB at $599, and the 128 GB model price point dropping to $699.