Apple has several projects near the finish line, including 'AirTags,' and a new iPad Pro. Here's what could make an appearance in the "Spring Loaded" event.
Apple typically starts its product launches for the year with a spring product launch, and 2021 is no exception, as Apple confirmed it will be holding its special event on April 20.
After weighing up the rumors and speculation about what Apple could show off at the event, this is what you can probably expect to see being unveiled by the Cupertino tech giant.
The repeatedly-rumored "AirTags" has been the subject of speculation for a number of previous events, but it has yet to make an appearance. Given early 2021 rumors, it seems more likely to do so during the event than it has previously.
"AirTags" are coin-sized trackers that you can attach to items that you fear you may misplace or lose. Using the same Find My app as for tracking down a lost iPhone or iPad, the accessory can be used to keep tabs on where items are that do not have built-in tracking capabilities.
By using a combination of Bluetooth and Ultra-Wideband technology, the token's position can be discovered in public by iPhones owned by other people. The encrypted ping will be reported back to the owner via iCloud, which can aid with its relocation via the Find My app.
It is largely thought the "AirTags" could cost around $25 to $35 apiece. It will probably be accompanied by a wave of accessories, including holsters for keyrings and other ways to attach it to things you want to track.
Serial leaker Jon Prosser said in October that "AirTags" were being pushed back to March 2021, which he reiterated in February. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo offered in January that "AirTags" would be on the way sometime in 2021, though didn't advise of when it would be.
A leaked pairing animation in January hinted at what to expect from the tokens when you first use them with your iPhone.
In March, the third iOS 14.5 beta included an "Items" tab for tracking non-Apple devices. The same beta also included the return of an anti-stalking feature, which would alert an iPhone user if they were carrying an "AirTag" that did not belong to them.
On April 7, Apple debuted its Find My network for third-party accessories, allowing other hardware to take advantage of Apple's recovery system. This is a strong indicator that Apple could launch related hardware that uses the new features.
The appearance of these features in the beta, as well as the third-party Find My support, certainly increases the chances of an upcoming "AirTags" launch at an event.
Appearing in previous March events, an update to the iPad Pro seems like a strong candidate for the event. Updating the model one year after its last update seems to be swift but entirely plausible for the model.
Rumors in January point to 11-inch and 12.9-inch models arriving in March, with a largely unchanged design. Of the more unusual changes could be an extra 0.5mm of thickness in order to house a new backlight system.
There is the claim the 12.9-inch model could be among the first Apple devices to employ mini LED backlighting. In theory, it will be able to provide OLED-level contrast and enhanced color reproduction versus LCD backlights.
There may, however, be issues at launch if April reports of mini LED production problems are to be believed. If the stories of low yields from suppliers is true, that could result in a shortage of components, which in turn could delay or severely limit the supply of affected products.
It is also thought the model could introduce an updated sound design of some description, though seemingly with fewer speaker holes and updated speaker positions. The camera lenses on the back may also be tweaked to make them flush with the rest of the camera "bump."
The oldest iPad in Apple's range, the iPad mini was last updated in March 2019, which would make it two years old by the time a March Apple Event takes place. This makes it highly plausible to receive an upgrade to a sixth-generation model based on product lifespan alone.
The 7.9-inch display is expected to be upgraded to 8.4 inches but fitted within a narrower frame. Touch ID is likely to be retained in the sixth-generation model, as well as Lightning.
As usual, it will almost certainly receive an internal specification bump.
Apple Silicon iMac
Apple has a very aggressive two-year schedule it wants to meet to roll out Apple Silicon across the product range. Given this tight time constraint and the breadth of its product range, it seems plausible for Apple to use a March event to make more changes.
The big candidate for this launch is the 24-inch iMac, a version of the desktop model using the M1 processor. There is a possibility of it being a newer chip, like an "M1X" or "M2," but there's not been much in the way of solid news for an upgraded processor outside of an alleged "pre-sample benchmark."
It is believed to include a redesign of its main enclosure to look more like the iPad Pro or Pro Display XDR. This would also entail the inclusion of improved cooling systems to create a much thinner device.
The display, 24 inches in size, is thought to have a Retina pixel density and a 4K resolution. There has been the suggestion of a move to mini LED for the backlighting, but that remains to be seen.
Pricing is likely to be around the same as the Intel-based counterparts, so starting at between $1,299 and $1,799.
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has proposed an ARM-based iMac could launch sometime in 2021, though not when. Given recent reports about Apple's online store, it may happen quite soon.
A report from March 2 claims Apple has stopped producing some models of iMac 4K, with the models appearing as "currently unavailable" to purchase. Meanwhile the iMac Pro page has been updated to reduce it down to one configuration option with "limited" availability.
AirPods 3, AirPods X, or AirPods Pro Lite
Many rumors have suggested there could be multiple different AirPods models on the way, covering a number of different use cases, price ranges, and functionality. It's plausible that some or all will make an appearance at an upcoming event.
The "AirPods 3" are thought to be closer to the AirPods Pro in terms of design, complete with a change in internal structure. Some rumors point to a change to use eartips, but it is also possible Apple will keep that feature for its Pro line.
Images leaked on March 12 claimed to show the "AirPods 3" as having a blend of design elements of both AirPods and AirPods Pro. While there were design considerations that were Pro-like, such as shorter stems and the charging case, they also didn't have the add-on eartips.
Shorter stems have previously been touted, along with a preserved 5-hour battery life. Pricing is anticipated to be around $199.
While many observers have proposed the "AirPods 3" are ready to ship, there is also one claim that there won't be a launch at this time. Despite previous predictions of an early 2021 launch, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in a March 15 investor note that production is scheduled for the third calendar quarter of 2021.
Confusingly, the "AirPods Pro Lite" have also been touted as a future release. Rumors have suggested it could provide some of the features of the Pro line in a cheaper form, such as changeable ear tips, but not ANC.
However, it's also plausible that it could simply be the "AirPods 3."
The "AirPods X" are definitely a different product. As rumored, it is basically AirPods taking the form of semi-wireless Bluetooth earphones, in that a cable connects the two earpieces.
Intended for sports and running, the model could be intended to replace some of the similar Beats lines. Similar functionality to AirPods is also offered as well as a $200 price tag.
Apple's last update to the Apple TV was in 2017, with the introduction of the Apple TV 4K. It seems feasible that an update for the device could be considered overdue, and a March launch away from the fall lineup could be quite plausible for the device.
This may be doubly so if Apple uses the event to push its Apple TV+ subscription.
Tentatively titled the "Apple TV 6," the model is thought to consist of a specifications bump from the Apple TV 4K, possibly using an A12Z or a similar newer chip. Such an improvement will bolster its ability to play games for Apple Arcade, as well as other graphics-heavy apps.
Apple could bump the storage allowances up, increasing capacities to 64GB and 128GB. An updated Siri Remote that takes advantage of Ultra-Wideband is also on the cards, which could make relocating a misplaced remote much easier to find.
Pricing is likely to be in line with the existing Apple TV 4K, at $179 and $199, depending on capacity.
14-inch MacBook Pro
Thought to be the overall replacement for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is anticipated to be a significant refresh to the product line. This includes not just internal changes, but external ones too.
Packing a 14.1-inch Retina display, the model is thought to have the same physical dimensions as its 13-inch counterpart. There have been rumors it could use mini LED backlighting to improve contrast with localized dimming, as well as power efficiency.
The Touch Bar is anticipated to leave space for a physical Escape key, to match the rest of the Magic Keyboard MacBooks. It is unclear if Apple will keep to the same two-or-four Thunderbolt 3 ports in the model, or if it will depart and use a different quantity altogether.
The one thing that downgrades the probability is the chip, as it is thought it may include an "M1X" or "M2" processor instead of the M1 of the first Apple Silicon wave. Since an upgraded M-series chip seems to be too soon after the launch of the original models, and believable news on the updated chip is sparing, it seems more plausible for Apple to release the model later on in 2021.
Apple Card Expansion
The Apple Card has been an unquestionable hit for Apple since its launch, but how can you innovate on the concept? For Apple, rumors point to two different directions.
The first way is by an expansion into other territories, as it currently only operates in the United States. The most obvious route is to expand into Canada.
On January 25, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office approved trademark applications for Apple Card and Apple Cash. This is certainly a sign Apple is considering a move North, but it is only one of many steps it has to take.
There is no word on whether Apple has spoken to other card issuers or financial institutions in the country to partner on the card, making it hard to judge when it may launch. In 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook said Apple Card will enter more countries, but stopped short of saying when.
The other route is one that is more likely to be launched. The first developer beta for iOS 14.5 appeared to include references to multi-user Apple Card support, which suggests Apple may allow the account to be shared with another as a joint account.
As it's not a hardware product and is a smaller upgrade rather than a launch, it is entirely plausible these could be press release updates that do not require an event.