A 12.9-inch Mini-LED iPad Pro Could Be Just Around the Corner

iPad Pro screen corner with Apple Pencil on top Credit: Daniel Korpai
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We’ve known for a while that Apple is actively working on Mini-LED display technology for a number of upcoming products such as MacBooks and iPads, but it’s looking more and more likely that the 12.9-inch iPad Pro may be the first in line for the new screens.

According to reports as far back as March, Apple is planning to use the new Mini-LED technology in at least six new devices, from redesigned 16-inch and 14-inch MacBook Pro computers right down to a 7.9-inch iPad mini. As 2020 continued, however, it became apparent that Apple was focusing the first round of its efforts on the iPad Pro.

Now a new report by DigiTimes seemingly confirms what we previously heard in September from reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who had noted that Apple had already begun placing supply chain orders for components for the 12.9-inch version of its high-end tablet.

While Kuo suggested the possibility of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro being released by itself before the end of the year, we now know that hasn’t happened, and we were skeptical of that idea to begin with, since it would be unusual for Apple to release that one separately from its smaller 11-inch counterpart. In fact, the only time that ever happened was with the original iPad Pro back in 2016, but of course that was the only iPad Pro at the time; Apple didn’t surprise us with a smaller model until a few months later when the original 9.7-inch version was released.

The DigiTimes report adds more fuel to the rumours that Apple is planning its refreshed iPad Pro lineup early next year, however, with a passing mention that Apple’s display supplier GIS has been fulfilling orders for the Mini LED screens to be included in an iPad Pro to be “launched in first-quarter 2021.”

Mind you, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise for Apple to debut new iPad Pro models early next year, since it would be about a year after the relatively modest 2020 iPad Pro updates arrived. Although Apple’s iPad Pro has previously been on approximately an 18-month cycle, with new models coming out in September 2016, June 2017, October 2018, and March 2019, there’s no reason that Apple needs to stick to that.

In fact, this is especially true considering that the new fourth-generation 11-inch iPad Air, which now bears a striking resemblance to the 2020 iPad Pro, is effectively the most powerful iPad that Apple has in its lineup, at least in terms of CPU specs. The 2020 iPad Pro got a minor chip upgrade from the A12X of the 2018 models to a newer A12Z, while the new iPad Air features the same A14 chip as Apple’s iPhone 12 lineup, so it seems unlikely that Apple will wait any longer than necessary before releasing a similarly A14/A14X equipped iPad Pro.

12.9-inch Only?

What’s still much more of an open question right now is whether the 11-inch iPad Pro will be getting the new Mini-LED displays at all. Every report we’ve seen over the last few months emphasizes that Apple will be leading with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, suggesting that either that model will be updated by itself, or more likely that Apple will stick with its Liquid Retina LCD screens in the smaller 11-inch iPad Pro.

With Apple reportedly continuing to pursue adding Mini-LED screens to its MacBook lineup, it’s possible that it’s either been facing challenges creating smaller versions of the Mini-LED screens, or that it simply wants to focus its efforts on larger-screened devices.

While Mini-LED is really just a new style of LCD screens, it offers many of the same power-efficiency benefits of OLED, however several recent reports have also suggested that it could just be a stepping stone on the way to full OLED screens for Apple’s larger devices. If true, this might mean that Apple’s 11-inch iPad Pro could skip Mini-LED entirely, and simply transition directly to OLED by early 2022.

It’s uncertain at this point what else is coming to the new iPad Pro, although it’s obviously going to get a souped-up version of Apple’s newest A14 chip — likely an A14X — and rumours persist of Apple rolling out 5G technology on the cellular-capable models as well.

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