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Despite a global shortage of various chips that’s impacting electronics manufacturers worldwide, it looks like Apple may be able to at least partially weather the storm, avoiding any delays in releasing its new iPad Pro lineup.
Last week several supply chain sources reported that Apple had postponed the production of at least some MacBook and iPad models due to a lack of much-needed components. In the case of the MacBook, that meant delays in putting final circuit boards together, while for the iPad it was displays and display components that were lacking.
While the report, which came from Nikkei, didn’t specify which MacBooks or iPads were affected, it stirred up fears that this could delay the announcement of Apple’s highly anticipated early 2021 iPad Pro models.
We’ve been hearing reliable reports since last year of an imminent release of a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro that would feature Apple’s first Mini-LED display. While supply chain sources have been pretty confident that the larger tablet would be getting the Mini-LED treatment, they’ve been more circumspect about the fate of the 11-inch model.
This has led to speculation that Apple could release the 12.9-inch iPad Pro on its own, leaving the 11-inch version behind, or that Apple could simply release a 2021 version of the 11-inch iPad Pro with the standard Liquid Retina LCD, making the Mini-LED exclusive to the larger model.
Now it’s looking like Apple may have had a good reason to limit the newer display technology to the larger iPad. With Apple’s legendary logistical expertise and foresight, it’s a safe bet that the company had a pretty good idea that this display component shortage was on the horizon, and would therefore limit its ability to get enough components for both of its upcoming iPad Pro models.
In fact, the reports last week had many wondering if Apple would be able to pull this off at all. However, Bloomberg is now weighing in with news that Apple still plans to announce the new iPad Pro on schedule, even though it may not be able to produce as many tablets as it originally hoped.
What’s New for the iPad?
According to the Bloomberg report, Apple still plans to show off the new Mini-LED 12.9-inch iPad Pro “as early as the second half of April,” meaning that we could still see the rumoured April event take place.
The catch, however, is that Apple may not be able to crank out enough of them to keep up with demand. Citing sources from Apple’s overseas suppliers, Bloomberg notes that at least one of the Mini-LED makers has had to pause production as a result of “poor manufacturing yields,” and it’s not the only one experiencing this issue.
The result is that there will likely be short initial supplies of the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which could lead to Apple pushing off its ship date to later in the spring, much like it did last fall with the iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 mini. Even then, sources suggest that supplies may be scarce.
Confirming other recent reports, Bloomberg notes that the Mini-LED display technology will be exclusive to the 12.9-inch model, however, Apple also plans to unveil a new 11-inch iPad Pro at the same time. The smaller tablet will presumably use the same Liquid Retina LCD technology as prior models.
This means that the new 11-inch iPad Pro is likely to go on sale sooner than its larger sibling, since the chip shortages don’t seem to be affecting components for the smaller model. This is the likely reason why Apple is choosing to forge ahead with an April iPad Pro announcement, since it will have at least one model ready to go, and there’s no point in delaying the release of the 11-inch iPad Pro just because the 12.9-inch version won’t be ready until later.
Apple is also still riding the wave of laptop and tablet sales that have stemmed from more people working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, so it makes sense that it would want to get its new models out as quickly as possible during a time when demand is still at its apex.
While the Mini-LED display will be the highlight of the new iPad Pro lineup, its exclusivity to the larger model means that the 11-inch iPad Pro may end up being a more modest upgrade. Both iPad Pros are expected to gain a new “A14X” chip that will be on par with the M1, and an upgraded USB-C port — possibly even a Thunderbolt port — that will provide faster data transfers and support for a wider range of accessories.
There have also been longstanding rumours that the cellular iPad Pro could gain 5G technology, and possibly even Wi-Fi 6E support, however we’ve heard very little to confirm that in recent months, so we’re not holding our breath on that one. Wi-Fi 6E would be very cutting edge, and therefore seems unlikely, although 5G support remains a remote possibility.