I think we can all agree that it’s about time for an iPad update. The most recently updated model, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, is approaching the year-old mark. And far be it for me to argue that every Apple product needs to be updated every year, but the iPad, well, the iPad has struggled a bit over the last few years, and it could use a jumpstart.
Apple’s slowly been transitioning its iPad line to the Pro moniker, starting with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro released in November of 2015. But it’s still not clear what distinguishes a pro iPad: Apple Pencil compatibility? The Smart Connector? Four speakers? Even the current models don’t have parity, with the 9.7-inch boasting several features that the 12.9-inch model lacks, like a wide color gamut, True Tone display, better cameras, and broader LTE support.
I expect to see a revision to both Pro tablets that brings the specs a little closer together. The 12.9-inch Pro shouldn’t lag behind the 9.7-inch model, even if the smaller tablet is probably more popular. In general, Apple offers more in bigger, costlier models, not less—just look at the Plus series of iPhones.
The iPad Pro is ready for a performance bump, too. Both models are currently built on the A9X system-on-a-chip, but the iPhone has moved on to the A10 Fusion and will probably this year sport an A11. The question is whether Apple will follow its pattern of updating the iPads to an A10X, or simply jump ahead to the A11X. My bet would be the former, if only because the iPads come first, amd it’s hard to imagine the company stealing the thunder of an iPhone launch this fall.
New iPads tend to bring new cameras, as well as a potential upgrade to display quality. But for anything beyond that, you’ll have to get a peek behind Apple’s curtain.
Expanding the family
Beyond individual specs, it’s worth wondering what the overall 2017 lineup looks like. The biggest rumor is a new iPad model featuring a 10.5-inch display. Studio Neat’s Dan Provost made a compelling argument that a 10.5-inch display could fit in a chassis very similar to the 9.7-inch model. But then what happens to the smaller one? Because having 10.5- and 9.7-inch iPad Pros would seem to needlessly complicate the lineup.
What could happen is that the 10.5-inch model becomes the flagship iPad Pro, leaving the 9.7-inch version as the older, discounted model, where it will, in turn, displace the iPad Air 2. (The other possibility is that the 9.7-inch Pro vanishes completely, leaving the iPad Air 2 as the budget model.)
Then there’s the iPad mini, which was lasted updated back in 2015, and uses the A8 processor that debuted in the iPhone 6. It’s about time for the mini to get updated or to shuffle off this mortal coil; my money’s on the first option, since there have been some rumors floated about a 7.9-inch iPad Pro. That makes sense, since it would unify specs across the line, but also allow Apple to keep the iPad mini 4 around as a low-cost option.
As neat and tidy as it would then be to have a non-Pro 12.9-inch model, don’t hold your breath—right now, that seems like a Pro-only size.
Given the timing, it seems unlikely that a major iOS release will launch with these iPads, but we’re likely to see the official release of iOS 10.3, which has been in beta for several weeks.
But iOS 11 should down the pipe in short order, and hopefully it pays attention to the iPad, which got short shrift in iOS 10. The multitasking features in iOS 9 were enough to tide us over while showing a glimpse of what could come, but the tablet is clearly a second-class citizen compared to the Mac when it comes to real, honest-to-goodness multitasking.
So really, any iPad announcement that might arrive in the next few weeks is only the first shoe to drop. We’ll have to wait until iOS 11 debuts at WWDC this summer to get the whole story.
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Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.