Apple has big ambitions for tablet sales with iPad Mini

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Apple’s counting on the $249 iPad Mini to draw you into its stores. But it’s hoping you end up buying a $499 iPad Air instead.

Apple usually looks to its next new thing to drive sales. In the case of the iPad, it’s counting on the two-year-old iPad Mini, now selling for just $249, to draw you into its stores — and convince you to buy a more expensive iPad instead.

The Cupertino, Calif., consumer electronics giant on Thursday unveiled new designs of its tablets — the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3. But the company also said it would continue to sell its first iPad Mini for $50 less than before. The 7.9-inch device, introduced in late 2012, now becomes the cheapest tablet Apple has ever offered, at $249 with 16 gigabytes of storage. The 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 starts at $499 for the same amount of storage, while the iPad Mini 3, the latest design in the 7.9-inch line, is $399.

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Apple has never been the low-cost player. Its devices, from the iPhone to the iMac desktop computer, carry premium price tags. And it’s long vowed to remain that way, putting its focus on protecting profitability rather than expanding its market share. But Apple’s facing sales slowdowns in the tablet market that have caused it to expand its iPad line by offering an older product at a lower price.

Apple still may not be the “value” provider, but it’s sure getting closer.

“For somebody that is looking for something very affordable, there’s something,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told CNET News after Thursday’s product debut in Cupertino. “For somebody who’s going to spend a bit more, you can get an iMac with a beautiful Retina display [for $2,500].”

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