Apple’s Entry-Level iPad May Finally Get a Performance Boost This Year

Ipad Ipados Ios Widgets Credit: David Švihovec
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The updates to Apple’s $329 iPad models in recent years haven’t been much to write home about, but it looks like things may be better this year, with an update to the lower-end model offering another possible bump in screen size plus a pretty solid performance boost too.

As it stands today, Apple’s iPad lineup consists of four distinct models: The top-of-the-line iPad Pro, the mid-range iPad Air and smaller iPad mini, and the entry-level seventh-generation iPad. Of these, the lowest-cost iPad has remained limping along with the 2016-era A10 chip while its more expensive siblings sport variations on the much faster A12 — the standard A12 in the iPad Air and iPad mini, and the souped-up A12Z in the latest 2020 iPad Pro.

In fact, when Apple released the 10.2-inch iPad last fall, it was a pretty disappointing update from the sixth-generation model that had come 18 months earlier, offering a 0.5-inch increase in the screen size plus the Smart Connector, the latter of which was of dubious value considering the only accessory for it is Apple’s Smart Keyboard that costs almost as much as the iPad itself. The performance specs remained identical to the previous model, thanks to its use of the same older A10 CPU.

A12 This Year?

Now the rather cryptic but oddly reliable leaker @L0vetodream has shared a prediction that the “2020 iPad” will include an A12 chip. Since every other iPad model already includes the A12, this report has to be referring to the $329 entry-level iPad, which would be a pretty significant boost for an iPad at that price.

This is even more meaningful when you consider that so far no other iPad has moved beyond the A12 chip. The 2018 iPad Pro used a A12X and the new iPad Pro uses the slightly-enhanced A12Z, but all of these remain based on the same A12 that was first introduced with the iPhone XS and iPhone XR. At this point, the newest A13 chip remains the exclusive domain of the iPhone 11 lineup, and although it’s certainly possible we could see the mid-range iPads adding it later this year, there have been suggestions that Apple is planning to skip the A13X entirely and move straight to an A14X for its next iPad Pro models.

What About the iPad Air?

At this point a bump to an A12 chip in the entry-level iPad Pro would bring it up to the same performance specs as the mid-range iPads, although of course it would still lack several other more advanced features of the iPad Air and iPad mini, particularly in terms of the display, which offers True Tone technology, a wide P3 colour gamut, and a laminated surface for a better Apple Pencil experience. These are all features that seem unlikely to come to the entry-level iPad.

Of course, Apple isn’t likely to sit still with the iPad Air either, and we’ve already heard reports that it could evolve into an 11-inch model with a physical design similar to the iPro Pro, but using in-display Touch ID instead of Face ID to keep costs down. If this is actually on Apple’s roadmap, it makes the improvements to the entry-level iPad even more logical, since it may be the only model left using the older, more traditional design.

To add even more to the mix, we heard a report yesterday from the oft-reliable Ming-Chi Kuo that a new 10.8-inch iPad might be just around the corner, however Kuo didn’t offer any insight as to which model this refers to. Although it could be a bump to the $329 iPad or the iPad Air, however, the fact that his note referenced it alongside an 8.5-inch iPad mini leads us to believe the latter, since those devices were released in tandem last year and feature identical specs, differing only in size.

We’re also getting into fractional screen sizes at this point, and it’s important to remember that Kuo gets most of his information from the supply chain, so he’d be looking at actual engineering dimensions, not necessarily “marketing” dimensions. Although the screen on the iPad Pro is actually 11 inches even (279.4 mm) with no rounding involved, a 10.8-inch display is close enough that it could still refer to the redesigned “11-inch” iPad Air that we’ve been hearing about. Note as well that Apple doesn’t normally advertise screen sizes for its product names unless it has to; only the two iPad Pro models use size designations for obvious reasons, whereas the iPad Air is just the “iPad Air” and not the “10.5-inch iPad Air.”

Either way, although it looks like we may have to wait until next year for another iPad Pro refresh, which seems logical anyway as the 2020 iPad Pro just came out, there are still some interesting things to come for the rest of Apple’s iPad lineup this year.

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