The iPad in 2020

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After summing up the iPad over the last decade yesterday, now it’s time to turn to the platform’s immediate future. So what can we expect as far as new hardware and improvements to iPadOS? Here are a few completely unscientific predictions with absolutely no sources for the new year ahead.

Splitting up

There have been rumors that Apple will release new iPad Pros this year, but they have been a bit inconsistent and conflicting. Early last Fall, Ming-Chi Kuo predicted that Apple will release new iPad Pros in the first quarter, which sounds about right. This matches up with with typical 18 month release cycle that Apple tends to stick to.

That said, the same Ming-Chi Kuo also had another prediction later on saying that a new iPad Pros with new screen technology would be coming out in the Fall. He later clarified further that it would be the 12.9″ iPad Pro that gets a new A14X processor and Mini-LED screen.

If we take all of these predictions at face value, then we could have a situation where Apple releases an 11″ iPad Pro with an A13X processor around their typical March window. It would like come at the same time as the heavily rumored iPhone 9 SE replacement. Maybe there will be some Mac updates around the same time, as well. Then we would get a new and much improved 12.9″ iPad Pro in the Fall.

What does splitting up the lineup do for Apple? It would allow them to get an iPad Pro out in their 18 month window with some solid AR/VR improvements and a current gen processor ready to handle the load such features require. This new Pro is rumored to have the same cameras as the iPhone 11 Pro, plus a new Time of Flight camera. With the same price tag that the 11″ sells for now, this new model ought to sell well at the higher end of the iPad lineup.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that separating the 12.9″ iPad Pro and making it a super-premium model is a good idea for Apple. It’s always been the most expensive iPad due to its screen size. This model is typically preferred by artists and those who are using the device within a professional workflow of some kind. Giving it the better screen and the next gen processor to set it apart a bit makes sense. The people who want the 12.9″ model are going to be more likely to pay extra for these improvements.

There is one more advantage to Apple waiting to release one or more iPad Pro models. They will get to take full advantage of the new features announced for iPadOS at WWDC. A Fall launch means the new hardware will release after the new software is ready to roll. With the iPad now having its own OS track, I expect to see Apple get a little  more aggressive in adding new features and capabilities. While it will obviously work with older Pros, I expect one released after the new OS to have hardware features and accessories to take advantage. More on this in a bit.

So I believe that Apple is going to take this route in 2020. They will split the iPad Pro lineup and release schedule and it will keep the iPad Pro lineup fresh and more in the the public eye.

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.

Mouse Support

I can’t help but think back to the way Apple soft-launched a precursor to Dark Mode as an Accessibility feature. A year later, we got a full Dark Mode that was available throughout iOS and iPadOS without any concessions or limitations. Considering that the new Accessibility feature was no secret among Apple fans and that many used it in spite of its limited nature, I absolutely believe that Apple hid it in plain sight to gather data on how, how often and when power users chose to enable and use it.

In 2019, we got what feels like a similar addition of mouse support as an Accessibility feature in iPadOS. As with the previous trial run of Dark Mode, there are definitely limitations with this new feature. In its current form, it won’t allow you the full control and navigation of the OS that a mouse or trackpad will in macOS or Windows. That said, a new navigation paradigm is enticing enough that many power users are still kicking the tires on it. Accessory makers are even making new keyboard cases with trackpads to try to take advantage of what’s possible.

I am 100% convinced that Apple is going down the same road with mouse support that they did with Dark Mode. I believe they will add full support for both wired and wireless mice to iPadOS in 2020. The features we saw added to iPadOS 13 showed me that Apple is finally getting serious about making the iPad, especially the iPad Pro, a more fully-featured computing device. To get there and more closely match its most obvious closest competition, the Microsoft Surface, Apple has to add fully-featured mouse support. This is the year. It’s time.

Handing over the keys

This prediction goes hand in hand with the one above. If Apple adds mouse support to iPadOS, then they need to provide accessories that take advantage of it. The Magic Mouse is all fine and good, but that isn’t enough. As I said above, the natural comparison for the iPad Pro is to the Surface. Like that device, mouse support for the iPad demands a trackpad.

I think Apple has too much invested in the Smart Keyboard and Smart Keyboard Folio to just abandon them. I’m not predicting that. I’m also not predicting that Apple will add a trackpad to either of them. Rather, I think its time for Apple to release a new product in addition to the Smart Keyboard Folio- a professional quality keyboard case that is more in line with what we usually expect from Logitech, Brydge or ZAGG. It would fully enclose the iPad, provide a hinge that allows the it to be positioned at any angle, include backlit keys (for the love of God, please) and the same scissor key mechanism that the Magic Keyboard and latest MacBooks have. A great bonus feature would be one or more additional USB-C ports to add additional peripherals without the need for a hub.

Last but not least, this high-end keyboard case needs to have a trackpad worthy of the Apple name. They were the first laptop manufacturer to truly perfect the trackpad and they still make some of the best in the business. While I have typically been a big fan of Logitech and Brydge, it’s high time for Apple to step up and deliver something more than the Smart Keyboard Folio with all of the features listed above.

I don’t think a product like this fits with the low-end iPad or the iPad Mini. It would likely be a bit much for the Air, as well. I could see one eventually being made for the 11″ iPad Pro, but my prediction is that Apple will bring out a deluxe keyboard case for the new 12.9″ iPad Pro I think we will see in the Fall. If full trackpad support comes, it will be announced at WWDC in June. The rumored 12.9″ Pro is supposed to come later in the year and it makes sense that this keyboard case would come with it. This iPad’s larger screen and overall size provides adequate room for the trackpad and buttons, so it’s a great fit, all around.

A new year of iPad awaits!

As for the rest of the iPad lineup, I think we’re set for 2020. Considering that the iPad and iPad Mini were both upgraded in 2019, I would expect both to continue as-is until next year. I also expect Apple to stick with the Lightning Port for these two iPads for the next year or two.

So that’s what I think is coming in 2020. If Apple delivers all I am predicting over the course of the year, it will be a big one. That’s especially true since I don’t think we will see any major hardware re-designs this year. It is far more likely that Apple sticks with the same basic iPad Pro design for one more run. The new Mini-LED screen tech that should come to the 12.9″ Pro should be a significant upgrade, but I wouldn’t expect any radically new hardware re-designs in 2020. The only possible shape change I could see would be the iPad Air, if Apple does give it Apple Pencil 2 and Smart Keyboard Folio support, like I predict.

Happy New Year, iPad Fans! I hope it’s a spectacular 2020 that’s full of iPad releases and news.

James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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2 thoughts on “The iPad in 2020”

  1. I do love my iPad Pro 2018 12.9”. Your predictions on the hardware seem reasonable. But, Apple really needs to take the Pro line to the next level by developing iPad OS further. If people want to use it as a laptop replacement then give the the software and hardware to do that without bending over backwards.

    1. I totally agree. I didn’t go into detail on what I think they will add beyond trackpad support. That will require a ton of OS work, as well. To me, the most important things are to smooth out the rough edges in the new multitasking features, allow multi screen support with external monitors (which becomes viable with a mouse), Notification Center improvements, and more flexibility in how the main Home Screen works.

      What do you want to see added to iPadOS?

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