You might have missed it but a new iPad was unveiled a few weeks ago. The new 9.7" iPad is a slightly dumbed down, and significantly less expensive version of the $599 iPad Pro of the same size.

But what was surprising was Apple's lacklustre announcement to the media through a press release.

The nature of the press release seemed to suggest a marked lack of interest on Apple's part. It came off almost like an aside, especially compared to the splashy live events that have marked Apple's other Big Reveals all over the globe. These spectacles have never failed to bring a collective swoon to the tech world.

Not this time. Even Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller seemed to present his enthusiasm in a minor key, issuing a flat statement that did nothing to energize either market observers or the company's rabid fan base.

There was a time when it would have been unthinkable to question Apple's ability to stay on the bleeding edge of personal computing innovation. Yet that's exactly the question that many observers are now asking.

Have Apple developers hit some sort of wall in terms of tablet innovation?

Has Apple Reached the End of a Marketing Era?

Do you remember way back in 2014, when every new Apple product required a live international event? Even a minor update for an iPad seemed like a historic moment. At the time, overall tablet sales were at their peak. Indeed, Apple thought highly enough of its own line to unveil the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3 simultaneously, with an incredible amount of hype.

But that's all changed in the last two plus years. Apple has been increasingly spending most of its marketing budget on cutting-edge gear like the Apple Watch and various incarnations of iPhone 6 and 7.

One Step Back and One Step Standing in Place

The latest Apple Tablet, simply dubbed The iPad, is a streamlined yet peppier version of the iPad Air 2, which it replaces in the Apple line-up.

The new iPad features a brighter version of the same screen as its predecessor, as well as an A9 chip under the hood for faster speeds and gameplay.

Performance wise, the understated new tablet seems like a mix of the iPad Air 2 (now defunct) and the high-end iPad Pro.

The A9 chip is a significant upgrade over the Air 2's A8x processor, but still lags far behind the Pro's A9x.

The key to the iPad is probably is its lower price point. Starting at $329, it retails at $70 less than the iPad Air 2 and costs just over half of the $599 price tag on the Pro model. With its pared-down design and rock bottom price, the new Apple tablet seems less interested in innovation than in reaching a small group of new consumers.

But these intrinsic qualities are actually beside the point, the real point at least. What seems much more important here is what both the product and its muttered press release signal for Apple in terms of innovation.

So What Should We Make of All This?

Even before the muted buzz of the March press release, some insiders were already issuing grim forecasts for the iPad line. One analyst went so far as to question if the device had a place (or even a purpose) in the current tech market.

Apple's blase approach did little to quell these growing concerns, resulting in more observers joining in with grim diagnoses of their own in the days immediately afterward.

Other analysts interpret the situation differently, suggesting that Apple is simply making the best of a bear market in the tablet industry. These voices are in the minority, however, and their defense of Apple's unquestioned status as an innovator is weakened by iPad's disproportionately lower tablet sales over the last dozen or so quarters.

My guess is the answer is probably somewhere in between these two poles.

Given Apple's unchallenged track record, it's premature to sound a death knell for their innovative future just yet, especially as their dip in tablet sales is part of a larger industry trend.

But, Apple's tablet sales still lag behind those of their competitors. That is a huge concern. A more affordable iPad presents a new entry point for a large segment of the buying public that's always viewed Apple products as innovative but pricey.

It's also worth considering, I think, that this announcement, coupled with last Tuesday's news that the current Mac Pro will be replaced by a new model next year, may actually be a sign of things to come. The unusual public admission by the company of the commercial failure of the Mac Pro, may be the harbinger of a back-to- business revolution going on behind the scenes.

It's about time. Even the most ardent Apple fans have voiced concerns over everything from lame cloud services and late shipping delivery to recent condemnation of the the news that future iPhones will lack a headphone jack.

My feeling is that if these recent developments mean that Apple is finally starting to listen to the critics, and raise customer satisfaction to the same level as innovation, that is a very good thing.

Published on: May 1, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.