This week Apple gave us a nice surprise with the debut of a new iPad Pro that features a dual-lens camera and a new LiDAR scanner, along with a cool new Magic Keyboard accessory and substantially improved mouse and trackpad support.
However, it’s still early in the year, and there were a few things we’ve been expecting on the new iPad Pro that didn’t arrive with these new models. While these could simply be held off for a 2021 model, we’ve already heard supply-chain reports that a 5G iPad Pro could be launching the fall, and might even feature a triple-lens camera.
To be fair, the year isn’t anywhere close to over yet, and as exciting as the new iPad Pro is, when you sit back and look at it a bit more soberly, the only major new features are the additional ultra wide lens and the LiDAR scanner. The cameras still lag behind the iPhone 11, with no actual upgrades from the 2018 iPad other than the addition of the 10MP ultra wide sensor, and it looks like the LiDAR scanner will be solely focused on augmented reality experiences for now, rather than enhancing photography in any way.
Other features are either iterative, like the A12Z Bionic CPU, or they’re actually things that Apple will be introducing in iPadOS 13.4 next week; mouse and trackpad support is coming to all iPad models, even the entry-level 10.2-inch iPad, and Apple’s new Magic Keyboard will work with the 2018 iPad Pro just as well as it does with the new model.
So needless to say, this spring’s new iPad Pro is really a more iterative upgrade when compared to what Apple unveiled the last time around, meaning that there’s still room for Apple to do something else.
Fall iPad Pros
The first point of confusion came about a month ago, when one supply chain source suggested that we wouldn’t see a 5G iPad until this fall. This flew in the face of several other rumours that suggested an imminent release, but based on Apple’s roadmap for 5G technology, along with some other rumours we’ve heard about Apple’s display technology plans, it seems like more than just a specious rumour.
For one thing, although Apple releasing a 5G iPad Pro now wouldn’t be out of the question — Apple’s first LTE device was the third-generation iPad back in early 2012 — it’s not clear if Apple’s 5G technology is ready yet, and of course that was borne out by the fact that the cellular iPad Pro models just released continue to be LTE only. This led to speculation that Apple could still refresh these with 5G cellular versions of the same iPad Pros in the fall, but with other recent reports we’re starting to wonder if the company has something else up its sleeve.
5G, Mini-LED, and More
Venerable and reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has been maintaining for a while that Apple is working on new mini-LED displays, and back in December he predicted that a 12.9-inch iPad Pro would feature the new display technology sometime in 2020. Kuo doubled-down on this report earlier this month only two weeks ago, adding that Apple actually has six Mini-LED devices in the pipeline.
Now we have DigiTimes (via MacRumors), which originally reported on the fall 5G iPad Pro launch, coming up with yet another report that says that LED suppliers are ramping up production for “an iPad Pro with mini LED backlighting in the fourth quarter of 2020,” adding that Apple “prefers mini LED to OLED for its medium-size devices.”
A separate paywalled article from DigiTimes adds more weight to the claims, citing Apple’s enthusiasm for mini-LED technology due to its thinner and lighter design that offers the same colour and contrast benefits as OLED displays.
Perhaps ironically, in much the same way that a 5G iPad would have repeated history from 2012 — had it arrived — the release of two iPad models in the same lineup so close together would also have precedent from the exact same year. The third-generation iPad released in early 2012 introduced LTE support, but still maintained the older 30-pin Dock Connector and featured an A5X chip based on the iPhone 4S released the year before. After Apple introduced the Lightning Connector on the iPhone 5 that fall, however, it also debuted a fourth-generation iPad with a faster CPU — an A6X to match the iPhone 5’s new A6 — along with the new Lightning Connector.
What Could Be Coming This Fall
Right now, the reports suggest only a 12.9-inch iPad Pro using mini-LED technology, but there’s not yet any mention of an 11-inch counterpart. This could be a matter of Apple trying to position it as a higher-end, even more premium model, like an “iPad Pro Max” or “iPad Pro Plus” and it seems likely that in addition to the promised mini-LED display technology, it would also feature ultra-fast mmWave 5G.
Other possibilities include an actual triple-lens camera system. Although we’ve generally believed that early rumours mistook the LiDAR Scanner on the new iPad Pro for a third camera, it’s not impossible that a higher-end model could still include a third camera. We’d also suspect that this model would herald Apple’s move to an A13X chip for its iPad Pro, which would help to explain why it didn’t make the jump with the two models that have just been released.
Like most supply chain sources, however, DigiTimes has a mixed track record, often having a pretty good view of the big picture, but not so much the details. So it’s possible that the predicted 2020 launch of these new iPad Pro models might be slated for early 2021 instead. So far, although the rumours are backed up by Kuo, he hasn’t pegged any actual launch dates for a new iPad Pro except to say that Apple is working on the technology.