Last year Apple introduced a new middle tier in its iPad lineup with the debut of the new iPad Air, which despite the name was far more of a scaled-down version of the 2017 iPad Pro than it was a true successor to the 2014 iPad Air 2.
Despite this, however, you’d be hard-pressed today to tell much difference visually from the 10.5-inch iPad Air and the 10.2-inch iPad that Apple introduced a few months later. The screen sizes are slightly different, and the iPad Air naturally has a much better display under the hood, but both models feature the same basic tablet design that Apple has used since the original iPad, with a large bezel and a prominent home button.
In fact, when Apple upgraded the entry-level iPad last year, it not only gave it a larger 10.2-inch screen, but added the Smart Connector to the edge — something that had until then been the exclusive domain of the more costly iPad Air and iPad Pro models.
Now, however, it looks like Apple is preparing to take the iPad Air to the next level, distinguishing it from the more traditional design and bringing a look that’s more in line with the 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro lineup.
A new report by the China Times (Google Translate), first discovered by Mac Otakara (Google Translate), says that Apple is working on a “low-cost iPad Air” that will increase the screen size to “almost 11 inches,” and would likely therefore follow the design of the current iPad Pro models, featuring a smaller bezel to make way for the larger screen, and the more squarish, flat edges.
In-Display Touch ID
This latest report follows on the heels of a series of leaks from Twitter user @L0vetodream, who also shared the interesting news yesterday that Apple could be working on its own game controller, and added that the new iPad Air would feature the mini-LED screen that we’ve been hearing about, and a full screen with no notch that would incorporate in-display Touch ID rather than a Face ID sensor.
The True Depth camera used for Face ID is said to be one of the most expensive components of Apple’s modern iPhones and iPads, so removing it could certainly help Apple to keep the costs down and distinguish the iPad Air from the higher-end iPad Pro while still delivering a similar design and other modern features like new display technology.
This would also help to separate the iPad Air from the entry-level iPad, where it’s difficult for many users to justify the higher price tag simply for a faster CPU and better display in a package that otherwise seems to be getting more similar to the entry-level iPad each year.
In fact, the move to a new design with the iPad Air would mirror Apple’s current iPhone tier more closely, where the low-end iPhone SE retains the original classic design, while the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro are expected to each move to a flat-edged designs similar to the current iPad Pro, and now quite possibly the upcoming 11-inch iPad Air.
It’s also a safe bet that if Apple went down this road, the new iPad Air would also be compatible with Apple’s new Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro — a product that Apple has actually pointedly avoided branding as specific to the iPad Pro.
Apple is said to be developing a whole slate of products with Mini-LED displays. We’ve been hearing since last year that this is in the works for the iPad Pro as well as the 16-inch MacBook Pro and possibly a new 14-inch MacBook Pro as well. This is the first that we’ve heard that it could be coming to a more affordable iPad model, however.
However, the China Times and other publications have been saying that the ongoing global health crisis could throw a spanner in the works, delaying many of Apple’s Mini-LED projects into early 2021.