It also looks like I may be 4 for 4!
Just yesterday I was feeling pretty good because I got a third 2020 prediction right. The first was full trackpad support for iPadOS. The second was a new Apple keyboard accessory with a built-in trackpad. Lucky number three was the AirPods Studio arriving at or right around WWDC. Now it looks like we have number four.
There is new news on the iPad Air that seems to line up pretty well with what I was thinking a while back. Here is what I had to say about a new iPad Air back in 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.
And here is the next bit from April:
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.
Now Macotakara is reporting that the new iPad Air 4 that’s coming later this year will feature USB-C. They also project that the design will be based on the 11″ iPad Pro. That all sounds perfect to me, and very much like my earlier predictions.
The inclusion of USB-C also means something else- no first gen Apple Pencil for the new model. As I stated in the quote above, there wouldn’t be a built in way to charge one without a Lightning Port and that isn’t happening. Apple isn’t cutting stylus support either, so that leaves only one possibility. The new Air will work with the second gen Pencil, just like the iPad Pro. That’s two really solid upgrades to this new mid-tier tablet.
Based on this and USB-C support, I think we can also also expect the new Air to be compatible with the 11″ Smart Keyboard Folio and Magic Keyboard. This is still a guess on my part at this point, but if the new Air has the Pro-style shape and design, the original Smart Keyboard isn’t going to work.
The only thing left to find out is when this new iPad Air will be released. Considering that we haven’t gotten any production rumors from the supply chain sources, I expect that it won’t arrive in the WWDC window. We probably would have heard something by now. I think it’s far more likely to be released later in the year, either with the iPhone or maybe after, closer to the Christmas shopping season. Now that the rumor mill is picking up on the device, we should start getting information on the release timeframe soon.
Until then, I am actually looking forward to this iPad. I have a 12.9″ iPad Pro and definitely prefer it. However, I did love the 11″ 2020 iPad Pro that a briefly test drove. In the end, while I considered keeping it, it was just too expensive to hold onto as a secondary device. However, I think I can part with enough cash to get a base model Air with the same form factor. If Apple can keep the price point the same, I think this device could give the base model iPad a real run for its money in sales.