There's been plenty of rumor about the iPad Pro line expanding and its screen size shrinking with Apple's latest product announcements today. Nobody seems to doubt that bringing some of the "Pro" features of the largest iPad to the "regular"-size model is a move in the right direction. What remains an open question is what having two parallel lines of iPads, Pro and consumer, means for the future of the platform.
To me, the biggest question is whether consumer iPads (likely with no postnominal modifier) will be defined by the presence of consumer-oriented features or solely by their lack of Pro features. Looking at the MacBooks Pro and non-Pro, it's clear that the computer simply known as MacBook is designed in its own right, prizing certain features like thinness and lightness over pro features, like greater computational power. So what does an iPad even more specifically designed for consumers look like? Cutting size and weight surely isn't the answer — the possible gains there are already down to tiny shavings of aluminum.
Not to cleave to the etymology too strongly, but perhaps the definition of a consumer iPad is one that is unapologetically for consumption. It's more possible than ever for primary media consumption, especially video, to take place on an iPad. However, it's up for debate whether it's a great video device, or even a replacement for a television in the home. There's a fundamental disconnect, though: the iPad screen is 4:3, while modern TVs and all the content designed for them is 16:9.
Apple has made special accommodations for content viewing in the past when the iPhone 5 got taller, hitting a nearly (but not perfect) 16:9 ratio. Have they really never even considered the possibility for an iPad? If my back-of-the-napkin math is right, at the current pixel density of the iPad Air 2, a 16:9 device would have a 9.1" screen and be about 10.4" on the long dimension, provided the bezels didn't shrink. Bump it up to a 10.6" diagonal and 11" on the long dimension, and it's big enough for a full-size Smart Keyboard cover, using the size of the Magic Keyboard as a guide. Heck, go ahead and make it a real Magic Keyboard. Wait, this great new content consumption device sounds a lot like a new MacBook, not an iPad at all. I've clearly figured this all wrong, but I hope that Apple has figured it right, so whatever the new iPad Consumer brings is not just a dumbed-down Pro, but exactly what its consumers need.