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Apple to debut 10.5" iPad Pro in 2017, integrate flexible AMOLED tech in 2018

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Well-connected KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo expects Apple to launch three iPad models in 2017, including a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro, while "revolutionary" changes like a radically redesigned chassis and AMOLED panel are in store for 2018.

Ming-Chi Kuo in a note to investors on Sunday, obtained by AppleInsider, said he expects iPad to follow a conservative hardware evolution going into 2017, with Apple preparing three next-generation models largely similar in design to existing units.

Along with a 12.9-inch "iPad Pro 2," the company will introduce a new 10.5-inch variant priced above a low-cost version of the 9.7-inch iPad, Kuo said. 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, the latter of which could find traction with commercial and education markets.

While not specified in today's note, the analyst suggests Apple's 10.5-inch iPad Pro will serve as a replacement for the venerable 9.7-inch form factor. Next year's low-cost 9.7-inch iPad is to carry over the A9X processor, also manufactured by TSMC. Apple's current 9.7-inch iPad Pro flagship runs the A9X, meaning the next-generation model should sport an "A10X" and debut in early 2018.

Despite hardware refreshes and the introduction of a 10.5-inch model, Kuo forecasts iPad sales to continue a downward slide until the product line is revamped in 2018. Riding a tailwind from the 9.7-inch iPad Pro release in April, Apple's tablet line eked out its best result in ten quarters during the third fiscal quarter of 2016, though overall sales are on a slump.

According to the analyst's latest predictions, Apple is working to reinvigorate its tablet series with a redesign set to debut in 2018. Kuo expects a flexible AMOLED panel to highlight a host of hardware upgrades, technology that could open the door to more intuitive, and therefore compelling, user interfaces. The company is thought to be following the same formula for iPhone. A number of industry insiders, Kuo among them, are forecasting Apple's move to an all-glass iPhone chassis with OLED screen in 2017.

With a dearth of new models launching in the second half of 2016, and increased competition from Chromebook in the education market, Kuo cut fiscal 2016 iPad shipment estimates from 45-50 million to 35-40 million units.