While almost everyone in the universe is convinced tablets are dead, destined to be replaced by some hybrid laptop, Apple remains committed to the product category. If rumors are true, Apple is doubling down on its insistence that we all need new tablets. The company is rumored to be working on a brand new, ultra-slim iPad Air 3. Or maybe it’s a smaller version of the iPad Pro. Whatever it is—it’s bound to make a splash.
[Note: This story was originally published on March 8. We’ve updated rumors concerning price below.]
Apple has long championed the need for tablets in our everyday lives, touting them as a window to the internet. That’s part of why the iPad hasn’t changed for nearly half a decade: Aside from the steady climb in processing power and decrease in weight, the iPad continues to look (and generally perform) the same as it always has.
Then last year’s iPad Pro showed up. While sticking close to the design of old iPads, it at least demonstrated that Apple was ready to start toying with the idea that a tablet could do more. Now, Apple is ready to update its most popular iPad Air lineup, and that could mean the death of the iPad Air as we know it. Here is everything we know about Apple’s new 9.7-inch iPad:
What will Apple’s new tablet be called?
This one is a head scratcher. The most likely choice is the iPad Air 3 because those who count to two should then proceed to three. But 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman, aka the Apple soothsayer, says the new 9.7-inch iPad could be called “iPad Pro,” meaning it would be a smaller variation of the tablet that Apple released last year. And once you start digging into all the tech that Apple might bake into its new tablet, the “Pro” name starts to make more sense.
I know it may shock you, but yes—the new Pro looks just like the old Pro, but smaller. This leaked schematic from Engadget shows an iPad with almost the exact dimensions of 2014's iPad Air 2. This drawing is also one of the first looks at the rumored device, posted days earlier. Technically, there’s an extra 1/10mm across and an added 1/2mm of thickness, but let’s just round that off and say it’s the same.
The dimensions are the only thing that the new iPad has in common with its 9.7-inch predecessors. As its rumored name suggests, the iPad takes its looks from last year’s iPad Pro. The most notable feature are the four speakers stuck in each corner of the tablet, which was a new feature on the iPad Pro. You can also see the Smart Connector port on the far left, meaning Apple’s new iPad will probably be compatible with the Pro’s Smart Keyboard.
Really the only other cosmetic oddity—never found on any iPad before—is including a flash module, which you can see hanging out just below the main camera in this leak from @onleaks. Although the actual merits of iPad photography are up for debate, Apple may be putting an impressively good camera inside this thing. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There are’t too many surprises on the hardware side. Our mystery 9.7-inch tablet will likely come with the A9x processor, the same ARM silicon found in the Pro, according to 9to5Mac. It will also have the same screen technology to support the Apple Pencil stylus, but will not feature 3D Touch, according to MacRumors.
As far as the screen goes, we could see a big improvement with Chinese leakers saying 401 pixel density is coming, which would be huge compared to the Air 2's 264 pixels per inch. But right now the details are somewhat suspect.
Perhaps the most interesting—and perplexing—rumor is that Apple is basically going to bring over the same camera found in the iPhone 6s and pack it into the new iPad. That means a 12-megapixel camera with 4K video recording. That would also make the aforementioned camera flash much more likely.
Apple is reportedly set to reveal the new iPad at its March 21 press event, which means the tablet will most likely ship with iOS 9. In fact, if the Pencil support rumor holds up, it will be exactly like the iPad Pro. Of course, this is iOS built for tablets, which includes swipe actions for multitasking (like so):
And a picture-in-picture mode (also like so):
It’s significantly limited when compared to operating systems built for getting real work done, like OS X and Windows 10. But it’s at least a little better than the very best tablet OS Android can offer.
Price and Availability
Considering Apple’s track record with this stuff, we won’t know exact prices until those numbers get displayed across a giant, black screen somewhere at a press conference in California—but we can make some educated guesses.
The 128 GB Air 2 sold for $700. Seeing as the 32GB Pro starts at $800, I could see Apple adopting a similar approach for its new tablets. That means the iPad Air 3 would be around $550-600 for 32GB and the same $150 premium if you want to quadruple the storage, totaling around $700-$750 for $128GB.
Update: 9to5Mac reports that the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will cost $600 at 32GB. If Apple keeps the $150 price hike like it did with the larger pro, the 128GB model will come in at $750. That would make the new iPad the most expensive 9.7-inch tablet Apple’s ever made though it would thankfully not be starting at 16GB.
Apple was originally going to launch this iPad, as well as the much talked about 4-inch iPhone, on March 15. But reports from Re/code and Buzzfeed have separately confirmed the event will take place on March 21. And if the past tells us anything, Apple will be gladly accepting your $$$ for new iPad come April.
Illustration by Martin Hajik / Gizmodo