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Back in July 2016, AppleInsider first released leaked photos supposedly from a worker in Apple’s Asian supply chain of the new iPad Pro models. According to the tipster, the new iPad Pros would have been scheduled for production in September. If the leaked photos are legitimate, not much can really be gleaned from the images such as hardware ports/buttons or screen size. Mostly, the images tell us that a new iPad Pro is on it’s way, but the rest of the details are rumor-based. 

One supply chain rumor said in November Apple is planning to update the 9.7- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro line, in conjunction with releasing a bezel-less 10.9-inch iPad that were all initially to be released in March. However, supply chain stories from January suggests that there will be updated 9.7-, 10.5- and 12.9-inch touchscreen tablets and they may not find their ways into the hands of consumers until the latter half of the year.

A number of reports suggested Apple would be preparing to launch a refreshed iPad Pro in late March, citing supply chain sources and reckoning a new tablet was most likely to launch new products between March 20 and March 24.

A planned outage on March 21 did precede a refresh of a number of products, including new iPads, though no changes were made to the iPad Pro lineup. 

Considering a new size of iPad Pro would usually warrant some form of media event, this does still leave open the possibility of a later event to launch a 10.5-inch variant, potentially alongside a refresh of the other iPad Pro models. Since Apple usually gives advanced warning for such product keynotes at least ten days in advance, it is starting to look unlikely for such an event to occur in April, barring last-minute invitations. 

While a DigiTimes report on March 13, citing supply chain sources, was incorrect about the potential launch date, the same report also suggests that Apple is timing the launch and the media event to mark the inauguration of Apple Park, the company's new campus. 

Spot-checks of 20 Apple Retail stores in mid-April revealed decreasing stock levels or no stock at all for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, while the online version was completely sold out of the 12.9-inch model, with a delivery time of "2-3 weeks" expected. 

Taking timing into consideration, an iPad Pro refresh could potentially take place sometime in May, though it could also make an appearance during the WWDC keynote, as suggested by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo in mid-May. Specifically, Kuo thinks the 10.5-inch model has the best chance of being unveiled at the event. 

A DigiTimes supply chain report in February claimed the 10.5- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro could start shipping to customers in May or June

A later May report from DigiTimes claims manufacturing partners are stepping up their production efforts for the 10.5-inch model, up from 500,000 units a month to 600,000 by July, with a view to producing between 5 million and 6 million units for the whole of 2017. As for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro refresh, the report cites "market watchers" as anticipating mass production commencing in June.  

A mobile marketing firm has reportedly discovered the existence of multiple iPad models in its logs, in mid-March, suggesting they are being tested 'in the wild.' Fiksu claims it found listings for the "iPad 7,1," "7,2," "7,3," and "7,4" in its logs, a pattern that seems to go along with the "6,3/6,4" and "6,7/6,8" iPads it detected shortly before the launch of the first iPad Pro devices. 

The numbers may not reveal anything about the hardware, and may not even represent four different classes of iPad Pro, as they could easily be for Wi-Fi and cellular versions of just two devices. The firm claims the logs refer to locations in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Cupertino, and are being used with a variety of apps, strongly suggesting that this is pre-launch testing of the devices by Apple itself. 

 

 

Faster processor 

An Apple-designed "A10X" system-on-chip made using Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company's 10nm process is expected to power both the 12.9- and 10.5-inch models.  A purportedly low-cost 9.7-inch iPad is expected to carry over the A9X processor, also manufactured by TSMC. Apple's current 9.7-inch iPad Pro flagship runs the A9X. Other components for the entry-level device will reportedly be sourced from "secondary suppliers." 

One report from Macotakara in March suggests the 9.7-inch model may in fact recieve an upgrade. Citing Japanese analysts, the report claims it will have a more powerful A10X processor, but will have similar specifications to the first generation model. 

 

iPad mini Pro model

Ming-Chi Kuo, a market analyst with a strong record of making correct predictions about Apple products, has predicted that multiple new iPads would be launched in 2017, including a 7.9-inch iPad Pro that would displace the iPad mini line altogether. That means every iPad would be branded as an iPad Pro. He also predicted "revolutionary" changes like a radically redesigned chassis and AMOLED panel are in store for 2018.

Rumors have also circulated that this mini Pro would receive the Apple Smart Connector, quad-speaker audio, four microphones, True Tone display with DCI-P3 "Wide Color" support, and a rear 12-megapixel camera.

However, there are questions about the validity of this given that the iPad minis are still being updated, with the mini 4 released at the same time as the first iPad Pro model, the 12.9-inch, in late 2015. It would also go against the idea that most of Apple’s product lines adhere to now by offering a low-end alternative to the Pro line. 

As part of Apple's March 2017 product refresh, the iPad mini 4 range has been streamlined, with only 128GB capacity storage models available to purchase. The reduced product range could be seen as Apple defining a budget non-Pro mini to go alongside a future "Pro" model, but the change could easily be for a number of other equally plausible reasons that do not involve a "mini Pro." 

Current iPad Pro model updates

There are numerous rumors circulating about changes in size to the existing iPad Pro lineup for the new models, with the smaller 9.7-inch iPad Pro getting most of the attention. While the rumors suggest either the replacement of the 9.7-inch variant for one with a screen measuring in the 10-inch to 11-inch range, or another iPad joining the range with that size of display, the measurement range has narrowed to a 10.5-inch screen in more recent reports, a figure also brought up in earlier rumors

One rumor is that the 9.7-inch model is purportedly growing to accommodate the larger display, said at the time to be a 10.1-inch screen, and will allegedly employ the same advanced quad-microphone system that the iPad mini “Pro” model will receive.

Barclays analysts claimed in November a new 10.9-inch iPad will feature the same enclosure size as the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, but omitting most of the bezel on the edges of the case. This could also feasibly be accomplished with a 10.5-inch display, using a slightly thicker bezel on each side. 

This size of iPad is rumored to retain the iPad Air's 7.5mm thickness, though in this report the screen is claimed to be 10.9 inches. The top and bottom bezels would remain, complete with the FaceTime camera inside the bezel, however sources claim that the home button is absent from designs that they have seen.

There is also a report that suggests at least one accessory producer is wagering that the third size of iPad Pro will be 10.5 inches. In March, a Spanish distributor allegedly recieved details from an unnamed manufacturer about a case it aims to produce, and though heavily redacted, the 10.5-inch screen size appears in the released image.

A photographic leak in May shows at least one third-party case producer is gambling on the 10.5-inch model's release, with cases for it and the 12.9-inch version revealed in pictures from multiple angles. In one image, the current 9.7-inch iPad Pro is shown within the 10.5-inch case, with the accessory suggesting the rumored new size of iPad Pro will be a much taller device than the existing smaller model. 

A second set of images from the same rumor release compare the 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch cases side-by-side, though the cases shown differ from the single-case image by the addition of a holster for the Apple Pencil. It is noted that the cases have room for top-and rear-facing microphones, a similar arrangement to the $329 "budget" iPad, but a change from the existing iPad Pro generation, which have their microphones mounted on the sides of the device. 

 

Also released in May, renders of the 10.5-inch model were said to have been created from a model case manufacturers recieve "from the factory" in China, in order to produce accessories. The tweet from Benjamin Geskin also claims it to be "already in mass production." 

The renders indicate the tablet will have 7mm side, and 19mm top and bottom bezels. It is believed the model puts the iPad Pro 10.5-inch at 10.3 inches tall, 7.1 inches wide, and 0.25 inches thick. 

Three microphone locations have been identified in the render, with one on the upper center of the case, and two on the top. Quad speaker audio is also expected from the device. 

The removal of the home button has appeared in other rumors concerning the "iPhone 8," where it is claimed the high-specification smartphone would replace the physical button with a separate "function area" that uses software-defined buttons, and Touch ID using a fingerprint reader hidden within the display. If Apple does make this major design change to the iPhone 8, it is entirely plausible for the company to make similar changes to other products, including iPads. 

The iPad Pro 12.9-inch model is said to grow 3mm in thickness to 7.2 millimeters, with the same retention of the bezel on the top and bottom of the case as on the 10.5-inch iPad, as well as the home button being removed on the larger model.

Market analyst Kuo has also predicted that a 9.7-inch Pro model would be offered as a low-cost option with a lower-powered processor. He believes that by adding a 10.5-inch model Apple could hit the education and business sectors in new ways: “We believe it will be helpful to bid for tenders within the commercial and education markets,” he said. “As a result, we expect Apple to launch a 10.5-inch iPad Pro in 2017.”

Barclays also claims that the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will not be a premium model, despite it's "Pro" nomenclature, and be "low-cost" sold aside the 7.9-inch iPad mini. If the reports are accurate, the iPad mini will not see improvements in early 2017, despite some earlier rumors from October suggesting otherwise.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro is reportedly gaining the same 12MP camera the iPad mini “pro” model will be upgraded with as well as True Tone flash.

 

Wide Color and True Tone

According to the latest rumors, the new iPad mini Pro and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro will be receiving a “Wide Color” DCI-P3 display upgrade. 

Wide Color was first introduced in the iMac 5k and then implemented in the 9.7-inch iPad Pro with the True Tone display, and now both models of the iPhone 7. 

It’s important to note, however, that while the iPhone 7 is a Wide Color display, it is not a True Tone display with automatic white point alteration in response to the ambient lighting situation. 

First introduced in the iPad Pro 9.7-inch, True Tone is a system that uses four sensors to detect the ambient light conditions, and then alter the display's white point and brightness to better suit where the iPad is being used. By slightly changing the brightness and color of the screen, this is said to help ease eyestrain and prevent overexposure to blue-toned light, which is said to interrupt sleep patterns. 

Apple has, in patents, expressed an interest in using the display technology in other areas, and could potentially include it in other iPads. While the rumored iPad mini Pro is said to include a True Tone display, it has yet to be mentioned in relation to an upgraded 12.9-inch iPad Pro or for the 10.5-inch tablet. 

Refresh Rates

There is a possibility that the next generation of iPad Pro will offer higher screen refresh rates than at present. Code discovered within an iOS 10.3 beta by developer Steven Troughton-Smith would allow developers to run their apps at variable framerates, potentially higher than 60Hz. 

While 60Hz is a suitable refresh rate for the vast majority of applications, increasing it could provide users of the Apple Pencil with a faster response time. Minimizing the response time could lead to a more lifelike "pen-and-paper" feel for Pencil users when drawing or writing. 

Current-generation iPad Pro models offer a maximum refresh rate of 60 frames per second, with the display cutting down to 30 frames per second when content is static, as a power-saving measure. Though increasing the refresh rate may provide a better Pencil experience, it could also tax the iPad Pro's battery, as well as strain its graphics processing abilities. 

As the current hardware is limited to a maximum of 60Hz, the next generation would need an upgraded display to increase the refresh rate any higher. Even so, it is unlikely to get anywhere near the 240Hz polling rate of the Apple Pencil, as the power and processing requirements to update the display at the same rate would be prohibitive. 

It is also possible that the push for higher framerates could have something to do with Apple's augmented reality and virtual reality work, though this would be more suited for iPhones rather than iPads. Apple is also more likely to unveil its VR and AR work alongside its expected launch of the "iPhone 8" later this year. 

 

 

Apple Pencil 2

There may be some changes on the horizon for the Apple Pencil, arguably the most important accessory for the iPad Pro range. So far, Apple has not updated the Pencil at all, but that may change in the near future. 

A report in January claims the "Apple Pencil 2" will arrive this spring, with a magnetic mechanism allowing it to temporarily attach to an iPad. Connecting magnetically, similar to the iPad Smart Cover, this would give a way for iPad Pro owners to temporarily store the Pencil while not in use, keeping it closeby in case it is required. 

The report also claimed Apple could add a standard pen clip to the "Pencil 2," so it can be held in a pocket in a similar way to normal pens. The clip would also make it harder for the Pencil to roll off a table. 

A patent application published by the USPTO in March gives the magnetic attachment rumor some weight. Illustrations in one application depicts an Apple Pencil attaching itself to the iPad Pro's Smart Connector, using magnets to orient itself correctly, and charging itself via the connector's contacts instead of using Lightning. 

Earlier patents by Apple for an "Intelligent Stylus" may also provide some hints for where Apple could be heading with the input device. Interchangeable nibs could be used to provide extra functionality or serve different actions, such as mimicking a brush tip, or combining a lead tip with a camera to capture handwriting when used on paper. 

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