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With just under a week to go until Apple’s alleged March 23 product launch event was rumoured to occur, it’s starting to look like it’s not going to happen, and in fact sources are now suggesting that Apple could skip the month of March entirely and push its bigger product reveal into April instead.
Although Apple does typically hold its spring events in late March, that’s by no means nearly as locked in as Apple’s much more heralded September iPhone events. Although Apple split up its product launches last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it still managed to hold a virtual event in September to unveil new Apple Watch and iPad models, simply separating the iPhone 12 lineup into a separate event a few weeks later, in October.
Before that, however, Apple’s fall iPhone launch events had been held every September like clockwork with only one exception. The first iPhone event Apple ever held in the fall, which was to launch the iPhone 4S, came on October 4. Apple had previously launched its new iPhone models in June at its Worldwide Developers Conference.
March events are much more of a mixed bag, however. Apple didn’t hold any spring events at all last year, choosing to quietly release the 2020 iPad Pro and the second-generation iPhone SE via individual press releases in March and April, respectively.
The year before that, it did the same with the second-generation AirPods, and the third-gen iPad Air and iPad mini 5, since it obviously wanted to clear the stage for its March 25 “Show Time” event, which was focused on new services such as Apple Arcade and Apple TV+.
So, arguably the last time we saw a product-related March event would have been on March 27, 2018, when Apple unveiled the sixth-generation iPad. However, this was a unique event that was focused on education — it was even held at a Chicago area high school, rather than in the Steve Jobs Theatre at Apple Park — so arguably the new iPad was incidental to the larger event.
Looking at it this way, it’s actually been five years since Apple last held a product-focused March event — the last one would have been on March 21, 2016 when Apple unveiled the original iPhone SE and the first smaller version of the iPad Pro.
All of this means that there’s really no reason to believe that Apple must hold a March event at all just to keep with some kind of tradition — because there really isn’t one.
Nonetheless, back in mid-February the first rumours appeared trying to nail down a date, beginning with March 16th. That date was later quashed by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, who tends to have better knowledge of such things. However, Gurman didn’t rule out a March event entirely — he just said it wouldn’t happen on March 16.
This led to several other leakers predicting March 23 instead, which certainly sounded reasonable — it was more in line with the few past March events, and only a week off the originally predicted date.
At this point, however, that’s starting to look considerably less likely.
No Event in March?
Firstly, Apple pretty much always sends out invites to the press a week before holding any event — even its virtual events. That would have been yesterday, and of course, there was no invite forthcoming.
Additionally, prolific leaker Jon Prosser, who had joined others in predicting the March 23 date, back-pedalled on it early this morning, saying that he now believes the event won’t be held until April.
While Prosser has had a somewhat mixed track record when it comes to actual product leaks — his predictions on Apple Glasses were way off the mark, and he was duped last spring by a fake AirPower photo — his timelines for actual Apple events and release dates have been considerably more reliable.
For instance, he nailed the release dates for the second-generation iPhone SE and the 2020 iMac last year, and was close enough on Apple’s September event press release that we’d give him credit for that one also. So, there’s every reason to believe that he has some good knowledge of Apple’s early 2021 event plans as well — especially this close to the anticipated event.
New Products Not Quite Ready
The second factor is whether Apple actually has anything ready to ship at this point. While it’s entirely possible that Apple had tossed around the idea of a March event, perhaps even discussing March 23 as the potential date, the powers that be may have decided that the timing just isn’t quite right.
There’s every indication that Apple’s AirTags are ready to go, and even Apple’s new Find My Items feature has been fully revealed in the latest iOS 14.5 betas, but a single product isn’t necessarily enough to justify an entire event. Plus, Apple could still be working on a few third-party agreements for other products that it wants to highlight alongside the new Find My Items feature to make sure it’s about more than just AirTags.
However, there were at least three other products that were widely expected to take the stage this month, and we’ve recently heard that none of them are ready.
Well, more to the point, we’ve heard that two of them aren’t ready. As for the third — a new Apple TV — we’ve heard basically nothing at all, which is an omission that suggests it’s not on the radar either.
As for the other two, Apple’s third-generation AirPods, which multiple reports had previously said would be coming this spring, appear to be nowhere near the mass production stage yet. This came from the very reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who would almost certainly know if Apple’s supply chain was already preparing to crank out new AirPods, and was also more recently confirmed by the inscrutable leaker, @L0vetodream, whose cryptic tweets are often more right than not.
Then, seemingly driving the final nail into the March event’s coffin, multiple sources suggested that the highly anticipated mini-LED iPad Pro was further around the corner than many had anticipated, with suppliers telling DigiTimes that it’s not expected to ship until “the second quarter of 2021.” This means April at the very earliest, but that could also push its release into May or June.
The issue here, however, appears to be simply a capacity problem in Apple’s supply chain, as opposed to the kind of engineering roadblocks that Apple hit with the AirPods Max last fall. In this case, DigiTimes simply says that Apple’s exclusive supplier of mini LED chips for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro — a company called Epistar — simply can’t crank them out fast enough, despite running at maximum capacity.
It’s not unlike the problem Apple encountered with the iPhone 12 Pro last year, where it was forced to nix the 120Hz “ProMotion” display technology due to a shortage of driver chips. In that case, Apple was unwilling to delay its flagship iPhone release, so it simply went with the older display technology. For the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, however, there’s a good chance the new display will be one of the marquee features. Further, this isn’t so much a component shortage as a production delay.
What’s interesting is that it seems unlikely that Apple would delay its event if the new iPad Pro were going to be ready to ship in April, as it could still announce the model next week with an April launch date, just like it did with the iPad Air last fall.
This suggests that either Apple hasn’t managed to nail down the availability for the new iPad Pro, or it never planned to hold a March event in the first place.