In a report that shouldn’t come as a big surprise, it looks like Apple’s upcoming refreshed iPad and iPad mini are not going to include the kind of radical design changes and features that many had been hoping for.
Japanese blog Mac Otakara reports that Apple’s new entry-level iPad will likely be visually indistinguishable from the prior two models, using the same basic casing and continuing to use Touch ID, rather than Face ID, as well as still incorporating the 3.5mm headphone jack.
While some rumours had suggested that Apple would release the new iPad model with a 10-inch screen, the report by Mac Otakara cites sources as indicating that the screen will remain at 9.7 inches, while others said that it will be 10 inches, but that neither has been confirmed at this point. Regardless, a 0.3-inch difference in screen size would be negligible, and would probably simply be accomplished by using a slightly smaller bezel, similar to what Apple has been doing with its iPad Pro, which moved from a 9.7-inch screen in early 2016 to a 10.5-inch screen in 2017, to an 11-inch model last year, all while retaining basically the same physical dimensions.
As already reported, Apple’s fifth-generation iPad mini is also expected to be a relatively minor update to its 2015 predecessor. In that sense, the fifth-generation iPad mini will likely follow the trend of Apple’s fifth-generation 9.7-inch iPad — a minor update that came after two years of silence on the lower-end iPad front, during which many believed that Apple was abandoning lower-cost iPads in favour of its “Pro” lineup.
Many had similarly abandoned hope for a refreshed iPad mini — especially as Apple’s Plus and Max iPhone models continued to close the gap in screen size; at this point, Apple’s 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max is only an inch and a half smaller than the iPad mini, although the two devices still have an obviously different form factor.
Although Apple continues to put most of its engineering muscle behind its iPad Pro devices, there’s also clearly a need for a lower-cost option. Many users don’t need the kind of features that the iPad Pro offers, and the inclusion of features like higher-quality screens, Face ID, and advanced processors price the iPad Pro well out of reach for deployment in businesses and educational organizations. In fact, Apple basically acknowledged the role of the its $329 9.7-inch iPad in education when it chose an education-focused event to unveil the new model last year.
While the seventh-generation iPad will almost certainly get a spec bump, and we can’t yet rule out a slightly larger screen, it seems that it will mostly just be a way for Apple to keep its entry-level lineup fresh. On the other hand, the iPad mini may gain support for the Apple Pencil — a move that seems likely after Apple added the previously “Pro-only” feature to last year’s sixth-generation iPad — it seems likely that it’s going to otherwise mostly be the same iPad mini that we already know. There have been rumours of smart keyboard support as well, but this seems considerably less likely considering how little uptake there has been on smart keyboard support even among Apple’s iPad Pro models.
In fact, it looks like it may be a rather pedestrian year for Apple’s entire iPad lineup. With the iPad Pro models having gotten some pretty major updates last fall, it’s reasonable to assume that any new iPad Pros released later this year will also likely be more iterative than radical upgrades.
What’s still a bit less certain is how and when Apple will choose to unveil its new iPad lineup. Most reports still point to a spring release, but Apple’s March 25 event is expected to be entirely focused on the new video and news services, which could make an iPad announcement out of place. However, if the new models are as underwhelming as most reports are now suggesting, it’s likely that they won’t get any stage time at all — Apple surprised everyone with its fifth-generation 9.7-inch iPad with nothing more than a press release two years ago, and even last year’s sixth-generation was announced almost as an aside at Apple’s spring 2018 education event.