The one thing stopping me from buying a new iPad

Side view of M4 iPad Pro
Nadeem Sarwar / Digital Trends

Want an iPad? Apple wants you to be paying attention to the new iPad Pro — and for good reason. It’s the thinnest product Apple has ever created, which is impressive considering it packs in a laptop-level M4 processor, a gorgeous display, and a number of new software tricks. But the announcement concealed something far more important: the dustbinning of the 9th-gen iPad. The last of the “retro” iPad designs, the 9th-gen is now finally retired from the stage, and for me, it means this is my last chance to grab a quick and reasonable upgrade for my 7th-gen iPad.

I figured I could grab the 9th-gen for a decent discount now that it’s on the way out — and to Apple’s credit, I absolutely could. But a realization began to sink in as I shopped, and I came away without making that final purchase.

There’s one thing holding me back from buying a new iPad, and it’s the feeling Apple wants me to buy something else.

The basic iPad is all most people need

The 9th-generation iPad looks and feels exactly the same as the previous two generations.
Adam Doud / Digital Trends

The Apple iPad is my go-to recommendation for anyone looking for a tablet, and that applies doubly so if they’re looking for a cheap one, too. Frankly, Apple has perfected the tablet, and the entry-level iPad represents everything great about Apple’s design. It’s a phenomenal device, with enough power to keep games chugging and apps singing, battery life that’s strong enough to forget about charging it every day, and strong accessory support.

All of this means I have a strong option where the iPad is concerned; the basic $329 iPad is all most people need.

Apple doesn’t want to admit this, of course. It would much rather you bought an iPad Pro or the iPad Air. They have more powerful specs, an even broader range of accessories, and feature upgraded cameras.

The iPad Pro (2022) sitting in the Magic Keyboard.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

But really, how many people actually need that? There’s a case the iPad Pro and Air are great for video editors and people who actually need that level of power, but if you’re just browsing the internet or playing a game every now and again, the basic iPad’s A-series processor is just fine. Support for the 2nd-gen Apple Pencil comes in handy for drawers and sketchers, but the 1st-gen Apple Pencil works well for everyone else. Most people simply won’t need the features of expensive iPads, and because of that, I will always argue the basic iPad is the best option for the majority.

Of course, I’m not going to call the police on you if you buy a more expensive iPad and don’t really need it. You need to be happy with your purchase, and it’s your choice at the end of the day — but it’s clear to me that the basic iPad is all I, and probably you, will ever need from a tablet. That’s why it’s one of my strongest tenets that I will only buy the basic iPad — it gives me everything I need.

But hoo boy, it’s become very clear to me that Apple does not want me to buy the basic iPad, and it means I’m not buying a new iPad at all.

Apple is testing me this time

iPad 7th generation hands-on corner view of buttons and camera
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends

My 7th-gen iPad needs an upgrade.

It’s not because it’s lacking in power, battery life, or software updates. True to my word, all of this is fine. Excellent even. I’ve not come across a game it won’t play, and I love sitting down and smashing out a session of Civilization VI, or Rome: Total War. It even puts in strong shifts as toddler entertainment on long car trips. It’s a fantastic tablet, and I wouldn’t need to upgrade it, but for one small problem.

The storage capacity.

I bought my iPad in 2019, and 32GB, while not a lot even then, was OK. It wasn’t anything special, but heck, I wasn’t going to be doing that much on the iPad anyway. Fast forward five years, and a combination of iPadOS 17 and system data are taking up a grand total of 15.48GB. That’s almost half of my tablet’s storage space being taken up by, well, my tablet. I’m at the stage where I have to clear out downloaded games and videos just to update iPadOS.

The storage settings on an iPad.
Mark Jansen / Digital Trends

I need more storage, and that’s the major draw of a new iPad. Only, the 9th-gen doesn’t really offer that.

Yes, the 9th-gen offers 64GB of storage as standard, and that’s double what I’m stuck with at the moment. But I view a tablet as a long-term purchase; will 64GB still be great in five years’ time? I very much doubt it. If I’m keeping it for as long as my last tablet, then 128GB is a must.

So I’ll buy the 128GB version instead. It’s the obvious upgrade from 64GB; surely, it won’t cost much more.

Well, it doesn’t cost much extra for the 128GB version because the 128GB version doesn’t exist. Your options are 64GB or … 256GB? That’s a big leap — and not just in storage. The only upgrade for the basic iPad takes the very reasonable $329 price to a pretty staggering $449. And as much as I love the basic iPad, a hair’s width away from $500 is just too much.

Someone holding the iPad (2022) with the display turned on.
Joe Maring / Digital Trends

Alright then, so what about going for the 10th-gen iPad instead? I’d been hoping to keep using my 7th-gen iPad accessories, but I’m willing to put that to one side if it means getting an iPad with decent storage that doesn’t cost $449.

“Tough luck,” says Apple. “Same story here: 64GB or 256GB. And the price is now $499.”

“Wh- but what do I do if I want a tablet with 128GB of storage?”

“Ah,” Apple said, opening a voluminous coat. “Do I have the tablet for you…”

If I just spent $100 more…

iPad Air 2024 color options.

I’m still strong in my belief that a basic iPad is all the iPad I’ll ever need. But — and this is important — if you’re going to charge me $450 for an iPad with a four-year-old mobile processor, a Lightning port, and an outdated design, then my dedication is going to waver. Even the $500 10th-gen iPad offers a three-year-old mobile processor, and while you get a USB-C port, a more modern design, and more storage than you’re ever likely to need, it still doesn’t feel like value for money.

Especially not when $100 shows you what else you could have.

The iPad Air has a larger display in a smaller, thinner, lighter body, a much more powerful M2 processor, and twice the amount of RAM. And you get 128GB of storage. Which, I’ll grant you, is half the amount the $500 iPad offers, but frankly, I’m unlikely to ever need that much anyway, so the difference is negligible.

An official photo of the 2024 iPad Air.

Yes, I don’t need the M2 processor, and 8GB of RAM is overkill for my needs. But when the iPad Air is so close in price to the upgraded iPad, it’s hard not to feel like you’re getting a really bad deal. And it works. I’m not buying the upgraded iPad because I’ll always feel like just $100 extra would have gotten me so much more.

Has Apple won? No, because I haven’t bought a new iPad … yet. Chances are I’ll be waiting for the 11th-gen iPad before I make my decision. But if there isn’t a 128GB option when that launches, then an iPad Air may be on the shopping list. Because really, what choice do I have?