As we close the book on January, the rumors of a March Apple event centered on the iPad are coming fast and furious now. There are multiple reports of a new iPad Pro in a different size, an Apple Pencil refresh, and potentially some other Apple device updates, as well. With the iPad line progressively trending away from the Air and Mini and toward the Pro line over the last year, this next event should give us some clarification as Apple’s intentions for the tablet category going forward. This will be especially interesting given the continuing declines in year over year sales and profits for the iPad line that we recently learned about during Apple’s quarterly sales call.
Endings before Beginnings
One thing seems to be clear as we head toward the next Apple event. It looks like both the iPad Mini and Air are headed into the sunset. The Mini 2 was released in November 2013 and the Air 2 in October 2014, so they have fallen far enough out of date that it no longer makes sense for Apple to keep them around as they currently stand. With the release of the 9.7″ version of the iPad Pro, the Air 2 already looked to be heading into the sunset. With the 9.7″ Pro coming up on its one year anniversary and a new device potentially on the way, a price drop could be in order, eliminating any need for the Air 2.
The Mini 4, which was released in September 2015, could potentially hang on for another year as a value option in the iPad lineup. However, while the Mini made a big splash when first released, the increasing size and capability of Apple’s iPhones quickly undercut its popularity and sales. Based on a combination of this and one of the rumors going around (discussed in just a moment), I personally think we will see the book closed on both the Air and Mini lines permanently.
All Shapes and Sizes
As we get closer to a potential event in March, the news coming from the supply chain is starting to coalesce around a few recurring themes. The one repeated most by noted supply chain watcher and analyst Ming-Chi Quo, as well as Digitimes (link is limited to Digitimes subscribers), is that we will get a new 10.5″ iPad Pro. It seems that this device will be the same size as the current 9.7″ iPad Pro, but similar to the rumors of the upcoming 10th anniversary iPhone, will have an edge to edge screen with no bezel and no Home button. If this is the case, the new Pro will give us a preview of Touch ID functionality built into the screen, and for what an iOS device with no Home Button will look like. If this new iPad Pro size is announced, I think my earlier prediction of a reduced price 9.7″ Pro from last year will go hand in hand with it as a value offering.
While the 10.5″ Pro rumor is the one with the most traction right now, it isn’t the only one out there. Another that seems to have legs is an updated 12.9″ iPad Pro. There hasn’t been any mention of an edge to edge screen at this size, so if this upgraded Pro is announced, it will probably just be a spec bump. Another enhancement that has been mentioned is the addition of a True Tone display, which made its appearance in last year’s 9.7″ Pro. With the original 12.9″ Pro coming up on two years old, I have a feeling that it disappear from the lineup in favor of the new model.
Another rumor that seems to be tapering off as we get closer to March is that a Pro version of the 7.9″ Mini will make an appearance. The waning popularity of this form factor may point to it being a prototype that Apple decided to not be put into production. However, the addition of Apple Pencil support for such a device would actually be pretty intriguing. The Mini is closer to the size of a traditional notepad, and it would undoubtedly cost less than the rest of the Pro lineup.
Pencil This In
Another rumor that seems to be gaining steam as we move along is that Apple will be releasing an updated version of the Pencil. However, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on new functionality or what exactly will be upgraded over the original. One potential improvement could be extended use capabilities throughout iOS, rather than just in certain modified apps. This would bring the Pencil more in line with the stylus that Samsung includes with their Note line. An Apple patent from 2015 also points toward embedded magnets that would allow the Pencil to attach to the iPad, but those are really all we have beyond our imaginations at the moment.
One interesting detail on the Apple Pencil is that after this coming event, there is a good chance that the entire production iPad line will finally support the accessory. This could actually be important for the advancement of support for the Pencil, as it was only supported by one device initially when released two years ago, and two for the last year. As is the case with 3D Touch on the iPhone, Apple has been slowly rolling out support for the Pencil, but this unfortunately limits the available number of users, which also limits opportunities for developers to take advantage. With iPad sales in need of a push, more developer weight behind the Pencil certainly can’t hurt.
This is only the beginning of the rumor run up to Apple’s next event, and we will certainly learn more over the coming weeks. Based on what we know right now, my personal prediction is that there will be an event in mid to late March where we will see a new 10.5″ screen iPad Pro with the same screen and Touch ID technology that we expect to see in the coming iPhone, a refreshed 12.9″ iPad Pro, a price drop for the existing 9.7″ iPad Pro, and the release of a new Apple Pencil. While I would love to see a Mini with Pencil support, I just don’t think the market is there for Apple, and he recent sales numbers seem to highlight that. Adding Pencil support to the upcoming iPhone would address the same need, and would make the tech more widely available, in the long run. Despite a couple of great Apple devices potentially heading into the sunset, this should still be a great refresh and completion of the iPad Pro lineup that covers most of the bases, and proves that Apple hasn’t given up on the device by a long shot.
Are you impatiently waiting for a new iPad Pro, or are you done with Apple’s venerable tablet line? Let us know what you think in the Comments below, or feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @jhrogersii.