By most estimates, Apple is due to release at least one new iPad model this fall, and while there’s been some back and forth as to exactly what model that might be and what form it might take, it’s indisputable that the lineup that’s most due for a refresh at this point is the early 2019 iPad Air, which if rumours are true could be in for one of the biggest iPad upgrades we’ve seen in a while.
While some have suggested that Apple could be giving the iPad Pro yet another spec bump, this seems highly unlikely as Apple released its newest iPad Pro models back in March, and most reports we’ve heard suggest that the next update is at least another eight months away, when Apple is expected to debut its first iPad models using mini-LED technology (while a 5G bump for the iPad Pros would be nice, that’s likely not enough of a priority for Apple at this point, which has already been struggling hard enough to get the technology ready for its 2020 iPhone 12 lineup).
What’s more likely is that rumours of a new iPad Pro have come from the fact that Apple’s next iPad Air might actually be getting a pretty big redesign that would make the two models look almost identical on the surface.
We first heard reports back in April that Apple was working on bumping the iPad Air to an 11-inch edge-to-edge screen with a flat-edge casing that would strongly resemble the current iPad Pro.
However, instead of opting for Face ID, the report suggested that Apple would be looking to adopt the in-display Touch ID technology that it’s reportedly been working on for the past few years.
While most of those rumours have suggested it would be coming to an iPhone, a new iPad could be a more logical place to debut it, since Apple would have considerably more physical space to play with in order to implement the technology.
Now with more rumours that new iPads are expected to arrive this fall — possibly even as soon as next month ahead of October’s expected iPhone release, we’re starting to see some tangible information on what this new iPad may look like, thanks to a leaked manual that supposedly came from an unreleased iPad Air.
Touch ID with a Twist
Images of the manual, which appeared on Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu and were discovered and shared on Twitter by leaker @DuanRui, illustrate the expected iPad Pro like design for the new iPad Air, while also confirming that it will use Touch ID instead of Face ID, but with an unexpected twist — the Touch ID sensor will be in the side power button.
In other words, this new iPad Air could be the first Apple device to eliminate the home button and adopt the gesture-based navigation interface of the iPhone X and iPad Pro while still incorporating a physical Touch ID sensor.
It’s unclear if this was the plan for the new iPad Air from the beginning, or if Apple has simply failed to get in-display Touch ID working to its satisfaction, but either way it allows Apple to create a much more affordable iPad model that adopts the form factor, full-screen design, and gesture navigation system of the high-end iPad Pro without the added expense of the TrueDepth camera hardware.
The format of the manual appears to be consistent with the quick start guides that Apple normally bundles with its devices, although this particular one is written in Spanish, but it also offers up one other interesting, although perhaps unsurprising tidbit: the new iPad Air will also likely sport a USB-C port instead of a Lightning port, and include the same rear-mounted Smart Connector.
All of this makes sense for a lot of reasons, since Apple’s older iPad designs are arguably getting a bit stale, and more importantly the current third-generation iPad Air is basically indistinguishable from the 10.2-inch entry-level iPad. You may recall that the iPad Pro travelled a similar road, and in fact the design of the current iPad Air is actually physically identical to the 2017 10.5-inch iPad Pro that came before.
The move to USB-C would offer more consistency among Apple’s tablets, especially those with the same design, avoiding user confusion, and would also bring a wealth of new accessory compatibility. Such an iPad Air would also undoubtedly be fully compatible with Apple’s Magic Keyboard.
In essence, the new iPad Air would become much more like an “iPad Pro Lite” and would have more to distinguish its place in the middle of the iPad family.
Apple has also reportedly been exploring the concept of side-button Touch ID as an alternative to in-display technology for its other devices as well.
Earlier this year reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reported that next year’s iPhone SE could follow the same path, adopting the iPhone X style edge-to-edge screen and gesture controls while placing the Touch ID sensor on the side button.
That said, it doesn’t look like Apple has given up on in-display Touch ID yet, but it may simply not have the technology ready. According to Kuo’s report, Apple is actually testing two new 6.1-inch iPhone SE models for next year, one with side-button Touch ID, and one with in-display Touch ID.