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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple’s Sept. 15 event: Good, Better, Best

iPads

Good, Better, Best. It’s a classic approach to selling products. Get people in the door with a low price, and then steer them upward to a more expensive model with more features. It’s a technique that Apple has used quite frequently, and it’s present in both of Tuesday’s major product announcements.

While Tim Cook’s era has been marked by a strategy of lowering the prices on older products and keeping them on sale, sometimes the technology in that old product becomes a liability and needs to be phased out. That occasionally leads Apple to create a “new” product that’s actually a combination of modern technology and lower-end specs. The obvious example is the iPhone SE, which has twice replaced an aging product with a slightly updated set of specs within that old product’s design.

This led a lot of us to believe that the rumor that Apple was readying a low-cost Apple Watch would mean that the old Apple Watch Series 3 currently being sold for $199 would be phased out and replaced with an “Apple Watch SE.” The SE part came true—that’s the name of the new $279 watch that’s a mixture of Apple Watch Series 3, 4 and 6 features. But the “Series 3 phased out” part? It didn’t happen.

If replacing the old model with a new “SE” model is the Tim Cook doctrine, how do we describe what happened on Tuesday? Tim Cook Plus? He brought in the new model and kept the old one.

Watch SEs

Good, Better, Best. The $199 model gets people to consider an Apple Watch… but once you compare the three models side by side, that $279 model starts to look a lot more interesting. Perhaps that Series 3 will still bring people in to the Apple Watch world who might otherwise have passed it by for a FitBit or some other fitness band, but my guess is that it will ultimately be more important as a “good” product that makes potential buyers curious about the Apple Watch but then drives them toward the “better” end of the spectrum.

And if you’re thinking that the Series 3 might be a good watch for Apple’s new Family Setup feature, which allows parents to buy Apple Watches for their kids (or their aging parents) without requiring an iPhone—nope. The Series 3 is only available in a non-cellular version, and Family Setup requires a cellular Apple Watch.

Then there’s the iPad, which saw the updating of “good” and “better” on Tuesday. A few years ago the iPad product line was in disarray and sales were flat, but Apple has gotten things in shape. The eighth-generation iPad holds down the bottom of the line with a solid $329 price, but it’s now the only holdout (beyond the iPad mini, which lives in its own little pocket universe) in terms of having large bezels, a home button, a Lightning port, and support for the original Apple Pencil.

The new iPad has a slightly faster processor and… well, that’s about it. If it weren’t already called just “iPad,” it would be called iPad SE.

iPad Air
The iPad Air is sky blue? Far out, man.

But the “better” iPad… oh, that’s the iPad Air. And it got a huge update, picking up a whole bunch of iPad Pro features. While its limited storage options make it a questionable value for people who are torn between the $799 iPad Pro (128 GB) and the $599 iPad Air (64 GB), its audience is unlikely to come from iPad Pro users who have decided to save some cash. More likely, it will appeal to iPad users who want something nice, but aren’t willing to pay for the “best” of the iPad Pro.

Good, Better, Best. It’s good to be “better,” and the iPad Air is now a whole lot better than it was on Monday. And as for the “best,” well, I have to believe that Apple wouldn’t be so free with migrating iPad Pro-only exclusive features down into the “better” zone of the product line if it didn’t have a whole bunch of new features to roll out in the iPad Pro in the near future.

The product we didn’t see Tuesday that we usually see this time of year, iPhone, has its own good/better/best going as well. The iPhone SE1 is good, the iPhone 11 is better, and the iPhone 11 Pro is best. Rumor has it that Apple will be introducing two iPhone 12 models and two iPhone 12 Pro models soon. Even if that’s true, I expect that the larger shape of the product line—a low-cost model, a mid-range product, and a high-end one packed with cutting-edge technology—will win the day.

Good, better, best. You can’t fight it.


  1. Okay, the iPhone XR is still being sold and it probably also counts as “good.” 

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