Apple’s diminutive iPad mini is one of the products we’ve heard the least about from the rumour mill over the past few months, but now new information suggests an update to the smaller iPad could be just around the corner, but it could end be being a more modest update than many have been expecting.
According to Japan’s Mac Otakara, Chinese supply chain sources have offered up some interesting information on the new tablet, which could gain a nice boost to an 8.4-inch screen, thanks to smaller bezels.
Some rumours have suggested that the iPad mini will take a cue from last year’s fourth-generation iPad Air, which got bumped to an 11-inch display and a design that’s very similar to the more expensive iPad Pro lineup.
After all, the fifth-generation iPad mini was released in early 2019 alongside the prior iPad Air, with virtually identical specs — it was basically just a smaller version that still fit into the mid-tier of Apple’s iPad lineup, rather than the entry-level models that its predecessors had been.
That said, before the March 2019 release, the iPad mini had been all but abandoned, having seen its last refresh almost four years earlier in late 2015. To put this in perspective, that was two months before the very first iPad Pro was released, solely in the larger 12.9-inch size, so it was a very different era for Apple’s iPad lineup.
When the iPad mini resurfaced almost two years ago, Apple had clearly decided to add a middle tier to its lineup to close the gap between the iPad and the iPad Pro. In doing so, it resurrected the name “iPad Air” — a name that had previously been used for Apple’s standard iPad models — to distinguish the version in the 10-inch size class from the more affordable entry level “iPad” models that it had been releasing since early 2017. For whatever reason, the iPad mini was placed in that slot, offering users an alternative size option only if they were willing to pay a premium.
It made for a slightly confusing transition as it wasn’t clear whether the new iPad Air was going to become the base model until Apple released a new 10.2-inch version of the standard iPad later that year, confirming that the iPad family had in fact grown larger.
While it stands to reason that the new sixth-generation iPad mini will follow in the footsteps of its 2019 predecessor, once again offering a smaller version of the current iPad Air, rather than the standard iPad, the report from Mac Otakara suggests that it won’t be adopting the same physical design as the fourth-generation iPad Air and iPad Pro, which we found somewhat surprising.
Instead, the report says that Apple will narrow the bezels to get the screen size up to 8.4 inches, much like it did with the transition from 9.7 inches to 10.5 inches with the 2017 iPad Pro, which was the same design used for the 2019 iPad Air.
Otherwise, however, the new iPad mini will reportedly maintain the same design as the iPad Air 3, including a Touch ID Home button with top and bottom bezels, and a Lightning port, rather than USB-C.
It’s a narrow frame like iPad Air (3rd generation), and the design goes with iPad (9th Generation), which continues to use Touch ID and Lightning port.Mac Otakara (translated)
It’s also expected to launch as soon as March, although it’s unclear whether it would be unveiled at an event or simply slipped out via press release.
Frankly, if the rumours of the minimal redesign are true, we wouldn’t expect Apple to make a big deal out of this one, however Mac Otakara’s information also conflicts with a report by oft-reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo from last spring, where he indicated that Apple was working on a next-generation iPad mini that would have a display measuring in the 8.5 to 9-inch range — a size that wouldn’t be achievable without eliminating the bezels entirely and going with the more modern design of the iPad Air and iPad Pro. Kuo also pegged early 2021 as a release date.
More recently, Kuo has also added that Apple is working on bringing Mini-LED to a new iPad mini, although it’s less clear if he’s referring to the early 2021 version or a future model that Apple has already begun working on, however with most rumours suggesting that even the 11-inch iPad Pro won’t be getting a mini-LED display, we’d lean toward the latter interpretation.
This could suggest that Apple is saving the iPad mini redesign for when it plans to switch to new display technology, but in light of last year’s release of the 11-inch iPad Air, that seems unlikely.
Our take is that if Apple is going to go with the older design for the iPad mini — and that’s still far from a certainty — the more likely outcome is that it’s decided to move the smaller tablet down a notch into the entry-level tier, alongside the standard 10.2-inch iPad. This could be borne out by Kuo’s comments last spring that it would also have an “affordable price tag,” which would make sense if the more expensive mid-tier iPad mini 5 hasn’t sold as well as Apple may have hoped.