Heavier and thicker than an iPad Air 2, with a worse screen, but faster CPU and most likely the same 2 GB RAM. The big difference is the price, the new iPad starts at $329 for 32 GB configuration.
People wanting a tablet to watch videos and check Facebook can be perfectly satisfied by this iPad (which I consider an ‘iPad SE’ to clarify things in my head). The price cut helps drive adoption by schools and educational institutions, as well as make it an easier sell for mainstream customers. Heavy iPad users will obviously want to wait for the updated iPad Pro lineup to get their hardware fix, which is obviously in the wings but not quite ready for launch.
Even though the $329 iPad isn’t unequivocally superior to the iPad Air 2, Apple still opted to discontinue the Air 2. This is fine, I think. Apple has sacrificed some elegance in the mid range to create a $270 price gap between the 9.7-inch iPad and the iPad Pro. It’s up to the consumer if they want to pay the Pro premium for the additional features, which often requires additional purchases to take advantage of ($99 Pencil and/or $169 Smart Keyboard).
With the replacement of the iPad Air 2 and removal of the iPad Mini 2, Apple has simplified the overall lineup from five iPads to four: two sizes of iPad Pro, the iPad, and iPad mini 4. I think it won’t be long before the iPad mini is dropped too. It sticks out as ‘unfinished business’ purely from its name, now the only iPad with a number in its title, and I think Apple’s ultimate move will be to cull it and position the cheap 9.7-inch iPad as a ‘good enough’ successor.