With every new product announcement, Apple Inc. appears less concerned with changing the game than with simply winning it.
The biggest tech company in the world ended months of speculation on Wednesday by unveiling the latest iteration of its iPad – a device that appears to be aimed at capitalizing on Apple's early lead in tablet category, rather than shaking up the industry again.
While the first iPad, released in 2010, was seen as a groundbreaking innovation that single-handedly created a new product category, the latest version of the tablet – like the most recent iPhone upgrade – contains a slew of evolutionary changes, rather than any revolutionary ones.
Despite months of rumours about everything from smaller tablets to Apple-branded televisions, the company presented a device that looks and feels very much like its predecessor.
The tablet will have a much clearer display, with four times as many pixels as its predecessor. It also boasts a much brawnier processor, a new camera and the ability to run on the latest-generation wireless networks.
"Everyone has been wondering who will come out with a product that's more amazing than the iPad 2," Apple chief executive Tim Cook told the press in San Francisco. "Stop wondering. We are."
The new iPad hits stores in the U.S. and Canada on March 16, with the same pricing as the previous version. The now-dated iPad 2 line will see a $100 price drop, giving Apple an entryway into the lower-end tablet market, where a slew of competing devices have slowly started gaining traction.
While the upgrades represent some of the most significant changes to Apple's popular tablet, they also suggest Mr. Cook is mostly concerned with maintaining dominance in a rapidly maturing market – which includes such heavyweights as Samsung and Amazon.com Inc. – instead of swinging for the fences with new, risky products.
"Why change the format when it continues to be the most coveted tablet on the planet?" said Andy Castonguay, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.
Apple shipped almost 15.5 million tablets in its last quarter – more units than any PC maker managed to sell in the same period. According to research firm Forrester, one-third of all Americans will own a tablet by 2016. The product many people thought was a novelty when Mr. Cook's predecessor launched it two years ago appears well on its way to replacing the desktop as the standard personal computer.
Rather than naming its new device the iPad 3, as most observers expected, Apple is simply calling the tablet "the new iPad."
While the new naming convention may seem confusing to some, given that Apple continues to sell the iPad 2, the lack of specific version numbers is likely to reduce the pressure on Apple to unveil blockbuster-scale innovations at every future product announcement.
"We've gotten greedy," wrote Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. "We – the media, the industry watchers, the tech enthusiasts – have an insatiable hunger for novelty."
Reluctant to change the fundamental design of its bestselling hardware, Apple has instead sought to enhance its recent product launches with myriad software announcements.
At Wednesday's iPad event, company executives spent much of their time talking about upgraded tablet versions of Apple music, movie and photo apps that will be available for the new version of the tablet.
But it appears that gradual, smaller-scale improvements to the iPad and iPhone lines will constitute much of Apple's strategy for as long as it continues to lead the mobile device industry. The company made relatively few changes to the iPhone when it introduced the latest version in October. Still, that device became the fastest-selling iPhone ever.