When I saw rumors of an iPad Air with Mini-LED after we got the news that the iPad Pro with the same screen tech had slid into 2021, I was very skeptical. It made absolutely no sense to me that Apple would release a new technology like this on what is ultimately a mid-tier device. However, it looks like they were just behind the curve, as the China Times reported yesterday that Mini-LED has been scratched from the coming Air, as well.
Then there is also the odd rumor of Apple going with an under-screen TouchID sensor. However, that one may make more sense than I initially thought. More on that in a moment.
Before talking about the rumored design of the 2020 Air, I want to refer back to my New Year’s predictions post from a few months ago. I nailed the Smart Keyboard before any of the rumors started. It’s starting to look like I got another one, as well. Here’s what I had to say about the iPad Air back in early January:
Something in the Air
I know that the iPad Air was just re-branded and re-released last year, but it is already badly in need of an update. Let’s be honest. It was not a new device. It was a stripped down version of the previous gen 10.5″ iPad Pro built to fill the middle of the iPad lineup.
The Air held this ground well for several months, but it is far less of a value since the release of the latest iPad. With the iPad getting a screen almost the same size and Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard support, the only thing that differentiates the Air now is a better processor and a nicer laminated screen.
While I’m not sure how much Apple will change the device, I do expect them to release a new version that adds enough features to set it apart from the iPad and iPad Mini again. I think the best route would be to add support for the Apple Pencil 2 and the Smart Keyboard Folio. This would give the Air a more attractive feature set with not only a better processor, but also access to the more premium iPad accessories. Another possible enhancement would be shifting this tablet to USB-C like the iPad Pro. However, Apple might prefer to reserve that feature for its Pros alone.
As it stands today, there isn’t much about the Air that will make buyers pay more for it over an iPad. A few improvements and spec additions can change all of that for buyers who need more power than the lower-end iPad provides.
Looking back, I didn’t spell it out very well, but what I had in mind was the Air shifting to looking like the current 11″ iPad Pro. Then current iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard Folio and the Apple Pencil 2 would naturally fit the new design.It made sense to me that, with the iPad having expanded to 10.2″, that the Air would likewise take a step forward to look closer to the iPad Pro.
Well, if you look at the current rumors, one of them is that Apple will move the 2020 Air to an 11″ screen. If so, I think the implication is that it will take on the design characteristics of the iPad Pro. Just like the current Air, its design will most likely be re-purposed from an existing device.
As for the rest of the features I predicted, I think the Smart Keyboard Folio would be a no-brainer. And if it is compatible, then the new Magic Keyboard will be, as well. That would cost about half as much as a new Air, but it would still be smart to have it as an option for those who want it. It would definitely drive additional sales of Apple’s new keyboard accessory.
Looking back, I’m a little less certain of the Apple Pencil 2. If Apple is looking to cut costs from the Pro’s design, the Pencil’s magnetic charging connector could get the ax. Here’s the dividing line- if the new Air does get a USB-C connector, then the first-gen Apple Pencil is out, as it wouldn’t have a way to re-charge via the iPad. If the Air does have a Lightning port. then Apple could go either way with the Pencil. I’m still thinking that they include Pencil 2 support, but I’m less certain than with the keyboard accessories.
Speaking of cutting costs, the China Times also predicts that Apple will cut Pro Motion from the Air’s display, which makes sense. This is where the under-screen TouchID comes in, as well. Another cut that seems likely is Face ID, which requires an expensive camera array. Under-screen fingerprint tech has been out for a couple of years now, so that should make this new version of TouchID a great value option here while still allowing it to stand out as unique in the iPad lineup.
I think the 2020 iPad Air that we see taking shape in these rumors looks like a winner. Having it share the design language of the iPad Pro will give the device a more premium feel that will give it some separation from the iPad and iPad Mini. That’s a smart move and it should make the Air a device that’s easy to recommend anytime, not just when it’s on sale. The Air also gives us iPad fans a little something to look forward to, with a release window currently predicted for the Fall.