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A week ahead of the company’s It’s Show Time event, Apple has quietly unveiled the much-anticipated updates to its non-Pro iPad lineup, surprising many with a new 10.5-inch “iPad Air” rather than the more iterative update to last year’s sixth-generation iPad that many were expecting. The new 10.5-inch model was also accompanied by the expected fifth-generation iPad mini, which was more in line with prior rumours of a smaller update to the four-year-old 7.9-inch tablet.
The new iPads were announced this morning via a press release, following the usual early morning Apple Store downtime that often precedes a new product unveiling. While the new iPads weren’t expected to be getting stage time at next week’s event, which will be almost certainly be focused on introducing Apple’s new video streaming and news/magazine services, the release of the new devices a week ahead of the event was a surprise.
The 10.5-inch iPad Air
The new 10.5-inch iPad Air was a big surprise on a few fronts. A rumour last week suggested that a 10.5-inch iPad was in the works, but had pegged it as a separate device from the more minor seventh-generation iPad that was otherwise expected. The theory at the time was that Apple was going to continue last year’s sixth-generation iPad, and then perhaps release a 10.5-inch mid-range model somewhere between the entry-level iPad and the iPad Pro, which could include features like Face ID and improved screen technology.
While that’s still not completely out of the question, it appears that what we’ve gotten instead is a new model of iPad — in the form of the resurrection of the old “iPad Air” name. It’s unclear right now whether Apple plans a return to simply calling its lower-end iPad models the “iPad Air” or whether it’s going to continue developing this as a separate lineup in addition to the lower-cost entry-level iPad models, although the difference in price would suggest the latter approach — the new iPad Air starts at $499, as compared to $329 for the sixth-generation iPad, which Apple is still selling.
As to the device itself, the new 10.5-inch iPad Air features Apple’s latest A12 Bionic chip, with the ultra-thin design that distinguished the original 2013 iPad Air from the prior fourth-generation iPad. Apple promises that the new chip promises a 70 percent boost in performance over prior models, but it’s less clear whether it’s talking about an increase over last year’s sixth-generation iPad, or the 2014 iPad Air 2 — the last model in the iPad Air family.
In addition to a boost in screen size, the iPad Air also gains a couple of the original iPad Pro features, such as a True Tone display, wide color gamut, and anti-reflective coating, along with Smart Keyboard support. The Apple Pencil is supported, but only the first-generation version. Other than the improved screen and slimmer design, however, which mirrors what Apple did with the smaller iPad Pro in 2017, the iPad Air basically follows the design and feature set of non-Pro iPad models. There’s no Face ID here, but rather still a home button with Touch ID, and the camera specs for both the front and rear cameras are identical to last year’s 9.7-inch iPad.
That said, the new iPad Air is actually a lot closer in design and specs to the 2017 10.5-inch iPad Pro than it is to the rest of the iPad family, somewhat justifying Apple’s decision to place it in an separate family. Essentially, it’s the 10.5-inch iPad Pro from two years ago with Apple’s latest A12 CPU, although it still lacks a few of the Pro’s features, such as the four-speaker audio system and ProMotion display.
The new iPad Air models are available in silver, space gray, and gold finishes, in both 64 GB and 256 GB capacities, starting at $499 for the Wi-Fi version and $629 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model.
The iPad Mini 5
The iPad mini 5 is less of a surprise, with Apple releasing the expected iterative update to the 2015 fourth-generation model. The new version does gain Apple’s latest A12 Bionic chip, which is a nice touch considering that the iPad mini often ran a version behind the CPU used in Apple’s latest iPhones — although to be fair, we’ll almost certainly be seeing the A13 in this year’s iPhones long before we see another iPad mini refresh.
With the new chip, Apple promises a performance boost of three times and a graphics boost of nine times over the prior iPad mini — a nice but unsurprising boost considering how long it’s been between updates. The display has also been updated with a 25 percent increase in brightness, along with the same True Tone technology and wide color support of the new iPad Air. The camera specs — both front and back — are also identical to those of the iPad Air. For all intents and purposes, the new iPad mini is identical to the iPad Air in almost every way except for its size.
As previously rumoured, the new iPad mini also gets support for the first-generation Apple Pencil, but not Apple’s Smart Keyboard. With the smaller size of the iPad mini, we can’t say we’re too disappointed by the lack of a Smart Keyboard connector, especially since it’s only ever been used by a handful of accessories. As with every iPad model, however, Bluetooth keyboard support is available, of course.
The new iPad mini can be ordered from Apple’s website today, and is available in the same silver, space gray, and gold finishes and 64 GB and 256 GB capacities as the iPad Air. Pricing starts at $399 for the Wi-Fi model and $529 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular version.
One smaller surprise is that both of the new iPad models also gain Gigabit LTE support and eSIM technology, in addition to having a slot for a standard Nano-SIM. Alongside the full range of Wi-Fi connectivity specs, this basically means that both the new iPad Air and iPad mini 5 feature the same wireless capabilities — both for Wi-Fi and Cellular — as the current iPad Pro models.