So, here's the question: what do these mean about the next iPads?
We know there will be new iPads. We expect they'll be released very soon -- October, most likely. And just like the new iPhones, expect two models: a new iPad Mini and a new 9.7-inch iPad. This is nothing new; the iPad line split last October. But, the fourth-gen Retina iPad felt like an afterthought compared with the iPad Mini. This year, that shouldn't be the case.
Drawing a connection between two different product lines doesn't always work, but this latest batch of iPhones does seem to suggest a few possible trends.
Processor split: A6 for the
iPad Mini, A7X for the 'iPad 5'
The iPhone 5C has last year's A6 processor, whereas the 5S has an A7. Last year's iPad Mini had an A5 processor, and the fourth-gen iPad had an A6X.
Processing power is a useful "step-up" selling point; expect the Mini and its larger iPad sibling to keep that divide.
The larger iPad will feel like the 'iPad Pro'
Using both iPhones, I kept getting the sense that the 5S was a little like the "iPhone Pro," with its crisp metal lines and more "hard-core" features like a fingerprint sensor and the promise of 64-bit computing. The 5C felt like the "everyday" iPhone.
Now that there are two iPad models, expect the iPad Mini to continue its "everyday iPad" route: color casings, most likely, and an emphasis on basic, everyday fun. And, this year, most likely the addition of a Retina Display.
Meanwhile, the larger iPad feels like it needs a new identity. Maybe it'll get the iPhone 5S' new features, while the Mini stays largely the same. With the well-documented rumors of its new design seeming all but certain, it's likely that 64-bit computing and a Touch ID fingerprint sensor surface on the iPad 5 will serve as extra differentiators.
iOS 7: Probably not as big a deal on iPad as iPhone
So far, iOS 7 just doesn't feel as essential to an iPad as it does on iPhones: many of the killer features, like Control Center, notifications, and the Camera app, are better for smaller, camera-equipped phones. Maybe Apple is reserving a surprise feature or two. If not, the bigger story could be Apple's free iWork and iLife suite of apps announced during the September iPhone event. It amounts to $40 in free apps once any new iOS device is activated, but those apps (Pages, Numbers, Keynote, GarageBand, iMovie, iPhoto) are far more useful on iPads than iPhones, and set up the new iPads as productivity devices.
Both iPads will handle basic everyday tasks equivalently well (for now)
The interesting part about both new iPhones is that, despite the difference in processors, both handled "everyday" tasks with current nonoptimized apps in similar fashion. I didn't feel like the 5C was a sluggish phone compared with the 5S, and the 5S didn't feel that speedy in everyday use compared with the 5C.
Chalk this up in part to Apple optimizing iOS 7 and making sure that both phones offered a clean, compelling experience. It's pretty much a sure bet that a new iPad Mini and iPad 5 will be able to juggle everyday tasks in ways most people will find equally competent.
64-bit and gaming: A bigger deal on the iPad 5
The iPhone 5S' technological promises were sometimes hard to appreciate on a 4-inch screen, and in an app landscape that's often focused on simplicity and minimalism rather than hard-core computing: games and photo/video apps show off some of what the 5S can do, but you have to hunt for the improvements.
A 64-bit iPad, however, could get interesting. Assuming it has more RAM (we still don't know for sure how much the iPhone 5S has), larger-scale apps on iPads would be ideal for showing a "next-gen" leap in tablet computing power. That larger Retina Display would also be better for displaying gaming graphics and photo/videos, obviously.
Larger iPad the hotter product?
Whether because of supply or demand, it looks like the iPhone 5S (or at least, the gold one) became the hot ticket over Apple's initial three-day weekend. If the iPad 5 gets the more substantial redesign this time around and some of the newer features, could the iPad balance get tipped back toward 9.7-inch versus 7.9-inch?
The fourth-generation iPad took a back seat to the Mini last fall despite an updated processor; it didn't have a new design, and it fell into a weird update cycle since the original Retina iPad debuted just seven months before it in March. This time around, that larger iPad should be ready for the spotlight.
Colors, colors everywhere?
Gold iPad, anyone? Between the 5S and 5C, Apple introduced eight differently colored iPhones. The next iPads might not go to the same extremes, but considering what a big deal the gold iPhone seemed to become (at least, for now) and how colors made the iPhone 5C feel new, it seems like at least a new shade or two would appear this year. Or, maybe colors belong to iPhones in 2013, just like last year's iPod Touch in 2012.
Once again, no surprises?
Apple events seem to be unfolding as predicted lately, with many blogs leaking details and pictures that turn out to be 100 percent accurate. Maybe the new iPads will be equally predictable. That doesn't mean they won't be strong improvements, but can Apple introduce something new, like an accessory, that makes these iPads feel fresh again? Perhaps a keyboard case for the larger iPad? I'm hoping a new accessory debuts, but that could just end up being a formal introduction of third-party game controller accessories that, to date, have been invisible.