As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I did pretty well in my iPad predictions last year. However, there were a few clues out there that pointed in potential directions that Apple could move in. I just followed the breadcrumbs. We only have a couple of those this year, so I don’t expect to do as well. However, here are a few of my guesses for the year ahead.
Barely worth mentioning
I think there are very clear indications that Apple will be releasing a new 12.9″ iPad Pro with a miniLED display sometime early this year. There’s really not much of a prediction to be made here, since this has been rumored for a while and the reports are picking up steam. However, I will make one modest additional prediction that this new iPad Pro will also be the first Apple tablet with 5G. Yeah, I know. I’m really going out on a limb there.
A little more interesting
Another, slightly more weighty prediction for this coming 12.9″ iPad Pro is that I believe it will have an updated design. I’m not sure what direction Apple will go with it, but I do believe it will be changed somewhat from the footprint that Apple has stuck with since 2018. However, I don’t believe it will be a radical departure considering that they just transitioned the iPhone lineup to this same basic design.
One thing that stands out about these reports of a new miniLED iPad Pro is that they only mention a 12.9″ version. So what’s the story with the 11″ iPad Pro? I wrote a bit about this last week and said that there are two ways this may play out if there’s no miniLED version of the 11″ Pro when the 12.9″ model is released.
First, Apple could kill off the 11″ iPad Pro in favor of making the 12.9″ version their only top-tier tablet model. The argument here would be that the current gen iPad Air overlaps enough that it would replace the 11″ Pro at a lower price. The other option would be that Apple will release a new 11″ iPad Pro, likely including a miniLED screen, later in the year. It is quite possible that miniLED displays will be in short supply early on as the supply chain ramps up, so a staggered release could actually make sense.
My prediction is that Apple will NOT kill off the 11″ iPad Pro. Whether a new model comes later in 2021 or sometime next year, I do not believe they will do away with the more popular version of their premium tablet. With the enhanced display, even better processor, and addition of 5G, there will be a few more spec items separating it from the iPad Air, giving it a reason to continue on in the lineup.
Speaking of miniLED
Apple gave the iPad Pros a very minor refresh and the iPad Air a complete overhaul in 2020, but the iPad Mini remained unaltered. While the internals got a significant upgrade in 2019, the exterior of the device has remained largely unchanged for the last nine years.
Considering that Apple has kept the Mini a tier above the base model iPad in terms of specs and price, I predict that another bump is coming this year to keep pace with the upper end of the tablet lineup. There were some rumors last year that miniLED would come to the iPad Mini at some point, and I believe that will happen sometime later in 2021.
However, a screen tech upgrade alone wouldn’t be enough and frankly wouldn’t make much sense. If the Mini is getting a new miniLED screen, then you can bet that the edge to edge screen and boxy design from the iPad Pros and Air would also trickle down. That would make a big difference for the smallest iPad, as the Mini could actually get noticeably smaller while retaining the same screen size by losing the large bezels and the Home Button.
A complete re-design opens up more questions about the design of the iPad Mini. If you lose the Home Button, what kind of biometric security will the tablet have going forward? Considering that Apple nailed putting the TouchID sensor on the Power Button of the Air, I think they will use the same solution for the Mini. It makes more sense than Face ID, cost-wise.
The last two items are tied together in my mind. They are the Apple Pencil and USB-C. The current iPad Mini has a Lightning Port and is compatible with the first gen Apple Pencil, which uses Lightning as its charging solution. If Apple changes the port on the iPad Mini to USB-C, then they will have to add the Pro and Air’s magnetic charging pad for the second gen Apple Pencil. Every iPad with Pencil compatibility has had a built-in charging solution for its stylus, and that won’t change at this point.
Personally, I think Apple will move the Mini to USB-C and the second gen Pencil this year. With all of the rumors that they will be making the iPhone portless in the near future, I think Lightning’s days are ultimately numbered. If they are going to overhaul the Mini, then it makes sense to go ahead and bring it in line with the iPad Pros and Air now, leaving only the base iPad with the old design and a Lightning Port.
I’m really interested in trying this device out if this upgrade occurs. A slimmer, lighter Mini with USB-C and the newer Pencil would be a real portable powerhouse. I think it will interest a lot of iPad fans, especially those who already love the existing Mini’s smaller size.
Software is the key
Other than a new iPad Pro and the possibility of a new iPad Mini, I don’t think we will see much else on the hardware side of the iPad front in 2021. I think Apple will stick with the current Air design until next year, and the base model iPad just got a spec bump, as well. It is also likely good until 2022.
The rest of the year in iPad will hinge on changes to iPadOS. And let’s be honest- after the huge changes in iPadOS 13 and the addition of mouse support before WWDC, iPadOS 14 was a bit of a letdown. There really wasn’t much added beyond the new Scribble handwriting recognition features. I do believe that will change this year.
I wrote an article last year just before WWDC with several predictions of things I thought might be announced. None of it was included in iPadOS 14, so here they all are again. Hopefully most of these features show up in 2021’s iPadOS 15.
- Multi-User Support- This is a MUST at this point, and has actually been rumored recently.
- Extended Multi-Display Support- After the addition of mouse and touchpad support, I thought this was a lock for iPadOS14. I have a feeling it may have been a COVID delay cut and will appear this year.
- Multitasking Improvements- Primarily smoothing out the rough edges and making it more intuitive and easy to use.
- Configurable Keyboard Shortcuts- This isn’t a huge item, but it would be welcomed with the Magic Keyboard’s lack of function keys.
- App Switcher Improvements- The App Switcher has improved over the last two years, but there are a few extra features that would really put it over the top.
- Home Screen Improvements- Add the freedom to place widgets across the Home Screens, which iOS 14 already got. I would also love to get the ability to organize icons across screens as we see fit.
Feel free to read the previous article for the details of what I hope we will get, but these are all fairly common requests to round out the feature set of iPadOS.
This is still a very ambitious slate, and it’s more of a wishlist than a prediction, but I’m going to stick with it. I do think Apple will want to bounce back strong after a fairly lackluster, obviously COVID-constrained iPadOS 14.
I had a fair amount of confidence in my iPad predictions last year, especially since they were just guesses. However, I at least felt they were educated guesses based on rumors and the general direction of the hardware and software leading up to the beginning of 2020. I do not have anything close to the same level of confidence in any of this year’s predictions outside of the most obvious ones about the coming 12.9″ iPad Pro.
Everything else I predicted is really a shot in the dark. Or maybe the predictions above are my wishful thinking of what I would like to see in 2021. This is especially the case with some of my software feature calls. However, I will stick to them until proven wrong.
What do you think of these 2021 iPad predictions? Too much? Too little? Do you have any of your own? Let me know in the Comments section below or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.
Happy 2021, everyone. Hopefully we iPad fans get all of the above and maybe even more this year.