Recent reports have made a strong case that Apple plans to release a new fifth-generation iPad mini sometime this year, making for a significant refresh to the the seven-inch tablet that many had thought Apple had abandoned. Now, more code found in recent iOS 12.2 betas suggests the possibility that the new iPad mini may also gain support for Apple’s other recent iPad accessories — the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard.
Developer Steve Troughton-Smith, who has built a reputation for making predictions from digging through iOS code, has suggested that both of the new iPad models rumoured for this year — the iPad mini 5 and a new seventh-generation iPad — will include support for the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil.
The Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard were the exclusive domain of Apple’s iPad Pro models for a long time, and when Apple released a refreshed 9.7-inch iPad in early 2017 without adding Apple Pencil support, many expected that it would stay that way. However, last year Apple surprised people by releasing a sixth-generation successor to that model — a low-cost iPad with Apple Pencil support baked in. While it’s no surprise that Apple Pencil support will continue with this year’s standard-sized iPad, it would make an even more appealing upgrade for the fifth-generation iPad mini, particularly considering how many have been hoping Apple Pencil support would come to the company’s larger-screened iPhones.
Whether or not the new models will support Apple’s Smart Keyboard is a bigger question, however. Although Apple continues to offer the Smart Keyboard for its iPad Pro lineup, it was not part of last year’s sixth-generation iPad. Further, Apple and Logitech are the only major accessory makers producing any Smart Keyboards, the latter of which continues to offer Bluetooth keyboards as well. With battery life on Bluetooth keyboards from vendors like Logitech and Zagg now measured in months, there’s arguably less justification for using a directly-connected keyboard.
Further, with Apple’s focus on creating optimal user experiences, it’s also questionable whether it would even try and design its own Smart Keyboard for an iPad mini, considering how cramped it would be to type on such a device.
One thing that Troughton-Smith notes that is a bit odd however is the idea that code suggests that neither of the new iPads may include Touch ID or Face ID, although he also notes that he’s not completely certain of that, and other references in code do suggest that the new iPads will in fact include Touch ID but not Face ID, as discovered earlier this week. It would be extremely odd for Apple to drop Touch ID from the iPad mini 5, considering that the feature has been included on the last two of its predecessors.
It also remains a bit unclear how Apple would position a new iPad mini from a marketing perspective. When the company revisited the 9.7-inch iPad two years ago, it was clearly intended to be an entry-level model for casual users and kids, with more serious users still being nudged toward the iPad Pro lineup. Last year’s update to a sixth-generation model sharply changed the focus into the educational market — Apple went so far as to combine the announcement of the new model with one of its relatively rare educational events to emphasize how well the lower-cost iPad could fit into the educational market.
On the other hand, a lot has changed since Apple last promoted the iPad mini, with the screen size on Apple’s largest iPhone now coming in at only 0.5 inches smaller. The market for an iPad mini has changed, and it seems that the additional of Apple Pencil support would allow Apple to keep the emphasis on creative use, making it a logical extension for the new smaller-sized iPad.