We know Apple's having a party tomorrow. And we suspect we may see a surprise guest or two.
The company's spring event, scheduled for March 27, will focus on education, according to the invitation circulated to media. What it says: "Join us to hear creative new ideas for teachers and students." What's been left unsaid: There's a chance we may see some new products. We're likely to see a new iPad (or iPads) and, possibly, a new Mac laptop as well. (Apple did not respond to our request for a comment.)
Of course, the iPad lineup got a fairly comprehensive makeover just last year. In March 2017, Apple replaced the iPad Air 2 with today's entry-level 9.7-inch iPad and discontinued the Mini 2. And in June, the 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch Pros were unveiled, leaving the diminutive iPad Mini 4, which received a minor upgrade, the sole representative of earlier generations.
Given that the current Pro models are less than a year old, it feels a bit too early for Apple to tinker with them. And yet a number of the features rumored to be coming soon, including Face ID, would fit more naturally on the pricier Pro models than the entry-level iPad or Mini. Still, if we're going to see new iPads at this event, it's more likely that we'll see a refreshed version of the $329 iPad or the Mini than a new, premium "iPad Pro X."
Of course, Apple hasn't officially confirmed that iPad launch is imminent. All of this remains speculative, the rumor mill doing what it does. But read on for a rundown of what we've heard so far.
Confirmed: Apple event on March 27, 2018
Apple has announced that it will host an event at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago on March 27. "Join us to hear new creative ideas for teachers and students," the invitation says. Apple's last education-themed event, held in January 2012, focused on the company's digital textbook initiative.
The invitation says exactly nothing about new iPads, however, or any other products for that matter. If they don't show up here, the next scheduled opportunity would be WWDC 2018, scheduled to kick off in San Jose on June 4.
Report: New entry-level iPad imminent
Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reports that the new "low-cost" iPad will indeed be unveiled at the Chicago event, alongside new software designed for classrooms.
That dovetails with earlier reports, too. Just a month ago, MacRumors reported that Apple registered two new iPads with the Eurasian Economic Commission, according to Consomac. Registrations like this have often preceded new product announcements -- and it's been almost exactly a year since the debut of the entry-level iPad and the iPad Mini 4's modest tweaking. Note that "two new models" might be Wi-Fi and LTE versions of the same basic model.
Report: New Pro models coming in June
Late last year, Bloomberg reported that a new version of the 10.5-inch model would likely not be ready for release until the second half of the year. Given that Tuesday's announcement will feature a new version of the iPad and/or iPad Mini, teeing up the debut of new Pro models this summer -- possibly at WWDC. Apple unveiled the current iPad Pro lineup at its developer-focused conference last June.
Rumor: Pencils for everyone!
Apple may have hinted at it -- the event invitation certainly looks like it was drawn with a Pencil. CNET's Scott Stein has predicted that Apple may announce Pencil support for the new lower-cost iPads to support art and other graphics-based work on iPads in schools, while imagining a redesigned stylus, featuring a more kid-friendly design and eraser functionality. The pundits have gone all-in on this one: since last year, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has suggested that Apple would add Pencil support to new entry-level iPads (via MacRumors), and Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has reported that Apple is developing a new version of its Pencil stylus and software.
Likely: Performance bumps
Barring any major new features for the iPad and/or iPad Mini, we're likely to see iterative upgrades in processor speed and memory. Bloomberg suggested back in November that the next generation of iPads will have faster processors and GPUs.
Rumor: Pricing tweaks
Last year, DigiTimes reported that Apple was mulling releasing a cheaper 9.7-inch model, priced somewhere around $259. The March 23 Bloomberg report by Mark Gurman confirms that the price will be low. This is widely seen to be a broadside against Google's Chromebooks, which have largely supplanted Apple devices in the US education market, due to their lower cost and more flexible operating system.
Today's 32GB Wi-Fi iPad version typically starts at $329, £339 or AU$469, though it was discounted to as low as $250 throughout the 2017 holiday shopping season. (The 4G LTE model starts at $459, £469 or AU$669.)
Rumor: Face ID coming, probably later this year
When Apple debuted a handful of innovative features on the iPhone X last November, we immediately wondered which of them would migrate to the iPad lineup. Since then, Bloomberg has reported that the phone's facial recognition system, Face ID, may indeed find its way into future iPads. And analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (again) believes that Apple will add the TrueDepth camera array that powers Face ID to iPad Pro models in 2018, according to MacRumors.
Rumor: Bye-bye, home button
Once Face ID comes to the iPad, it opens the door for Apple to eliminate the tablet's home button and Touch ID. And that, in turn, allows for some design optimizations, including slimmer edges on the top and bottom of the device, echoing the aesthetic of the iPhone X. Again, this upgrade is likely reserved for the Pro models looking to arrive later this year.
Rumor: Probably no OLED display
One iPhone X feature that is unlikely to pop up in an iPad anytime in 2018 is an OLED display, according to Bloomberg. Not because Apple wouldn't like to use them. It's that suppliers simply don't yet have the bandwidth to produce them in the massive numbers required. And it's possible that Apple is focusing its OLED resources on the iPhone for now.
Rumor: Probably no wireless charging
Both the iPhone and Apple Watch have wireless charging, and the feature is rumored to be coming to the AirPods as well. But don't look for it on new iPads anytime soon. So long as they keep their metal-backed design, wireless charging would be an unlikely upgrade.
Rumor: Bye-bye, iPad Mini
Speaking of iPhones: With September's iPhone line rumored to include larger versions of the iPhone X, including a 6.5-inch model, it feels like the iPad Mini line just isn't long for this world. Apart from a minor component upgrade in June 2017, the current Mini 4, with its 7.9-inch screen, hasn't been updated since its introduction in 2015. But it's more expensive than the 9.7-inch iPad because Apple sells only a 128GB version. If the price of the 9.7-incher -- new or old -- drops any more, it's hard to envision that much demand remains for the Mini.
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