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Despite rumours that Apple’s smaller iPad Pro might go straight to OLED, it looks like it’s going to get the mini-LED treatment after all, suggesting that perhaps Apple may indeed have plans to offer three tiers of display technology across its iPad lineup, according to a new investor note from noteworthy analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.
Earlier this year, we saw the new display technology come to the 2021 version of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but it also turned out that the rumours were correct — the smaller 11-inch version didn’t get invited to the party.
This has led to much speculation over the past few months about Apple’s exact plans for the smaller “Pro” tablet, and with multiple reports that Apple is also working on bringing OLED to the iPad, many wondered if it was going to skip the mini-LED screen entirely.
After all, all the rumours about Apple’s mini-LED work have been centered around the larger iPad Pro and its MacBook lineup, hinting at the possibility that it may simply be more difficult to make mini-LED screens in smaller sizes.
However, it’s also impossible to discount the part played by the global health pandemic in slowing down Apple’s supply chain. We already know that this threw a big wrench into Apple’s plans for better iPhone displays last fall, and could also explain why the mini-LED iPad Pro has been “coming soon” for just as long.
The reality is that there’s an ongoing global shortage of chips that are critical to powering things like mini-LED displays, and Apple has already admitted that this may impact its Mac and iPad product lineups.
Even though Apple’s powerful A-series and M-series chips are at the front of the line, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to have an easier time getting its hand on the many smaller chips that power everything from battery management to the high-resolution displays found on its devices.
So, it’s just as likely that Apple passed on adding mini-LED to the 11-inch iPad Pro this year because it simply couldn’t source enough components to pull it off. However, like the 120Hz “ProMotion” displays that were supposed to come to the iPhone 12, almost any supply chain problem is solvable, given enough time.
This means, in much the same way this year’s iPhone will gain the faster display technology that it missed out on last year, the 11-inch iPad Pro will also join the mini-LED club when the next-generation models arrive sometime in 2022.
Kuo’s investor note outlines that the mini-LED display will make its way into the 11-inch iPad Pro next year, alongside the colourful new MacBook Air that we’ve been hearing about.
Although Apple is expected to release a redesigned MacBook Pro lineup with mini-LED very soon — there are indications, it almost showed up last month — this is the first reliable information we’ve heard that the new display technology will also make its way into the more affordable MacBook Air.
What About OLED?
While Apple seems to be all about mini-LED for its larger screens at this point, the company still uses the more established OLED technology in virtually its entire iPhone lineup (save the low-cost iPhone SE), as well as on the Apple Watch.
However, numerous supply chain sources have suggested that Apple is also ramping up OLED production for at least some of its iPad models. These rumours led to questions about the fate of the 11-inch iPad Pro.
More surprisingly, however, a report at the end of last month revealed that Apple was planning to put an OLED screen into its 2022 “iPad Air 5”, up to a year before the flagship iPad Pro models would get the same upgrade.
As things presently stand, this would mean that the middle-tier iPad Air would get better display technology than its more expensive Pro counterpart, which seemed a bit hard to believe. However, if Kuo is correct — and more often than not, he is — then this makes a lot more sense, since the 11-inch iPad Pro would have moved to a mini-LED display by that time.
Even if that didn’t happen, however, it also wouldn’t be the first time the iPad Air had pulled ahead of the iPad Pro — at least temporarily. Last year, Apple released the 2020 iPad Pro lineup with an A12Z chip that was only a minimal improvement over the A12X found in the 2018 model. A few months later, Apple unveiled the fourth-generation iPad Air with the same A14 chip that powers its entire iPhone 12 lineup.
Of course, Apple then totally upped its game by putting the insanely powerful M1 chip into the 2021 iPad Pro models, making the point that its Pro tablets are now in the same class as its MacBook computers.
Still, Apple generally doesn’t mess around in quite the same way with its display technology, having always reserved the best displays for its most premium devices. If anything, this latest development suggests that Apple still considers mini-LED a better choice than OLED for its larger devices, although we’ll have to wait until 2023 to see if the rumours of the iPad Pro switching to an even better OLED screen actually come to fruition.