I owe you, dear readers, an explanation. After the launch of the seventh-generation iPad, I got mad at Apple charging $160 for the accompanying keyboard folio. For a slate designed for school kids, I thought it was outrageous to charge that much to make a $329 tablet useful. It made no sense morally, or economically, to start gouging folks who may not be in the position to spend more.
Then I bought one.
Notable exceptions aside, Apple has always avoided discounting its products to juice sales (the $100 off the first iPhone being the one I could call to mind). Even during sales holidays, it often adds on longer trials for Apple Music, or headphones, rather than slash sticker prices. So I took it on trust that Apple would never deign to cut the price of the 10.2-inch iPad and its accessories.
But that doesn't seem to be the case these days, at least with third-party retailers. Perhaps Apple knows the prices are a little too high but won't publicly dial them down, or maybe it made a deal with Amazon, Best Buy, and other stores. Either way, if you're patient enough to wait for deals, you can likely get an iPad with a fairly deep discount.
Take last Black Friday, for example. Best Buy discounted the 32GB, 10.2-inch iPad to $249.99, with the folio's price falling to $99.99. $349.98, even with New York's online sales tax, made the package a no-brainer. When I'd written that original piece, I had no idea that Apple would let the iPad price be cut so savagely. I had to get it.
My own history with the iPad is rather mixed. I've always loved the idea of the iPad more than its execution, especially in the pre-smart connector days. I bought the third-generation slate on launch day, excited to see if it could bridge the gap between my iPhone and iMac. But it never did, and quickly got relegated to bathroom duty for reading the news and playing Angry Birds Space. For all of the claims that the iPad was a useful machine, its virtual keyboard was neither easy enough to use with two thumbs nor when touch-typing.
That's why the folio is so welcome: That physical keyboard fixes the iPad. Despite the company's terrible reputation with the MacBook Pro's butterfly switches, the folio's keys are surprisingly tactile and responsive. It's covered in fabric, meaning that the risk of dust ingress is much lower. And it's the right mix of travel and thinness, especially for a machine you can use when you're on the go. Suddenly, I don't hate responding to emails in my off hours, because it's so delightful to type with this thing.
The 10.2-inch size, while not a massive departure from the 9.7-inch iPad, also makes a big difference with usability. I've used it to work while on the train, and never felt it was much worse than using my Macbook Air. Not to mention that the narrower profile means there's less risk of getting my elbows wedged in my seat mate's side.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not using the iPad and folio combination to the fullest of its ability, so I've never stressed about its relatively old chipset. Based on my usage, the iPad handles Pages, Spotify, Google Docs, gMail, YouTube and Apple TV+ with aplomb, and everything is zippy and fast. And because it's an iPad, you have that instant-on, instant-use nature that makes my laptop feel so damn aged.
A couple of weeks ago I was doing a stand-up gig and realized that I had a line that wasn't working. My usual pattern when knocking out new material is to put screenshots of the text on my phone, so that I can swipe between the pages to aid my memory. But here, minutes before I went up, I could flip the tablet open, make a last-minute re-write and then have the notes in my left hand as I performed.
I do, of course, have niggles, One of which is the display lamination and the dreaded air gap that Apple fixes on its pricier machines. It's certainly not the worst thing in the world, and it rarely becomes capital-N noticeable, but I do wonder about how sturdy the panel is. My paranoia that it'll deform isn't borne out by other people's experiences, but it still tickles my subconscious.
Oh, and here's the other thing that bothers me. When you open the folio and the display wakes, there's a warning about a rogue USB accessory that needs unlocking to use. I feel like the Apple of years ago would have taken the care to kill off such a redundant alert for a component that uses an integral connector.
Fundamentally, whereas the older iPad shrunk itself out of my life (it's now the Netflix box for my kitchen), the new one has expanded to fill every corner of it. I use it to watch TV (Mythic Quest is great to fold laundry to), even when there's a 40-inch TV stood behind it. I use it to write, and chat, and work, and it helps me focus, making me more productive and get more done. If Best Buy offers that deal again, and you've got the cash, you'd be silly not to buy one.