The Magic Keyboard case (left) next to the Smart Keyboard Folio. Both units are 12.9-inch iPad Pros.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Okay, for most of us 2020 wasn’t the best of times. But on the iOS front, Apple definitely seemed to be in a feast-or-famine mode.
The company released five new iPhone models (did you forget the second-generation iPhone SE?), and there was a major iPad Air revision that basically turned it into a low-end iPad Pro. The iPad Pro got an underwhelming update—but an amazing new accessory in the Magic Keyboard for iPad!
There was more to cheer than boo in the iPhone and iPad world in 2020, and that puts it pretty much ahead of most of the world. But can 2021 deliver something better? It’s time for some predictions.
Lucky number 13
The last two years have seen Apple increment the iPhone’s name by a single number, going to iPhone 11 and then iPhone 12. This would normally make me certain that an iPhone 13 was on the horizon, rather than an iPhone 12S. But we live in a world where some buildings don’t label their thirteenth floor as the thirteenth floor because of… boogins? Bad mojo? Superstition, that’s the world.
Will an iPhone 13 ever exist? I can’t see Apple jumping over it and going straight to 14, and Apple can’t tread water by adding letters to the end of the iPhone 12 forever. My money is on Apple calling it the iPhone 13, making a joke about superstitions at the product roll-out, and moving on as usual.
After a major exterior design refresh with the iPhone 12, I expect Apple to leave things be in 2021. The new iPhone will look more or less like the current models, albeit with some new colors, some textural variations, and maybe a smaller “notch” for the TrueDepth camera stack.
It seems like it’s probably going to be another year or two before Apple tries its hand at a folding iPhone, but I wouldn’t be shocked if we got a”portless” iPhone created by omitting the Lightning port. If it happens, Apple would probably revise the MagSafe connector introduced this year to also support data transfers and toss one in the box. But if I had to predict—and I do, that’s why I’m here—I’d guess that the much-rumored portless iPhone won’t happen in 2021. Why force yourself to include a MagSafe charger when you can sell them as lucrative add-ons?
If you wager on Apple rolling some camera improvements into the new iPhone you’ll never go broke. I’m sure the next iPhone cameras will be better, bigger, more capable of capturing stills and video, you name it. The sensor stabilization feature introduced this year in the iPhone 12 Pro Max might find its way down to the iPhone Pro. And I do predict that Apple will keep rolling super-high-end features into the Pro Max.
Finally, I’m going to predict that the global pandemic will finally have its impact on the iPhone product line. Thanks to the prevalence of masks in society, and the unfortunate barrier they form to Face ID scans, I predict that Apple will roll the button-embedded Touch ID from this year’s iPad Air into the next iPhone, as a complement to Face ID.
iPad updates for sure
I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but that 2020 iPad Pro update was underwhelming. The iPad Pro’s A12Z processor is now based on two-year-old technology. The whole update felt like a placeholder, and in 2021 we should get a proper iPad Pro update, one that uses an A14X processor that offers performance similar to what we see on the Mac with the M1.
The other addition I’d like to predict for the iPad Pro is its display. I don’t think the iPad Pro will get larger—as someone who uses a 12.9-inch model every day, it’s already quite large. Making either model any larger would force Apple to also produce new models of the Magic Keyboard, which is a pain.
But what about the display tech inside the iPad Pro? There are conflicting rumors about whether Apple is going to use mini-LED technology in the iPad Pro. But it sure seems like being able to declare the iPad Pro a true HDR display would be something Apple would shoot for, no?
OS updates coming
Apple always surprises us with OS updates, and iOS 15 will undoubtedly bring some surprising new features and tweaks of old standards.
What I’m most interested in, however, is an iOS 13 feature being brought to the iPad for the first time: A redesigned home screen with the ability to place Widgets anywhere, rather than in a sidebar on a single page. I can see why Apple didn’t attempt to rebuild the iPad’s home screen during the same cycle as the iPhone’s, but now’s the time. It’s time for a rethinking of the whole thing, perhaps diverging even more from the iPhone’s design than one might expect. I think it’ll happen.
Beyond that, though, I think we may be in a relatively quiet year for iOS. To be sure, an enormous amount of work will be going on under the surface—Apple needs to improve the flow of apps from iPhone and iPad to the Mac, work to better unify iPad and Mac Catalyst development, and develop SwiftUI as the multi-platform future of writing software for Apple software platforms.
But to the regular user, I think it will seem like a smaller update year. A few unexpected fun additions, developer upgrades, and bug fixes. After a year like 2020, I think it might be wise for all of us to focus on healing wounds, fixing bugs, and adding as little drama as possible to the proceedings.
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