Is Apple working on a big-screen iPad Pro to follow the iPad Air, and when is the next iPad coming out? Will the bigger iPad, whether it's called iPad Pro, iPad 6, iPad 2014 or simply new iPad, feature a larger screen - or will it even be a touchscreen MacBook/iPad hybrid? We round up the rumours in our iPad Pro release date, rumours and leaked images article. Updated 21 May 2014 to add the 'leaked image' of an iPad Pro dummy model, and discussion of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3.
Speculation suggests there's a 12.9in-screen iPad in the works, known as the iPad Pro. Here, we've gathered the latest rumours about the bigger iPad, so you'll know what to expect, and when. We'll let you know as soon as we hear more about the iPad Pro release date, and we'll be adding iPad Pro leaked images as and when they emerge. (Excitingly, the first alleged leaked image has just arrived - see below.)
Are the rumours about a iPad Pro really rumours about a new Retina display for the MacBook Air? Read our 11in Retina MacBook Air rumour round up.
iPad Pro release date: When will the big-screen iPad 6 come out?
There are mixed reports on when the iPad 6 or iPad Pro is likely to launch.
Watch our video where we discuss what Apple might have planned for the iPad, iOS 8, and the iPhone:
Ming-Chi Kuo, a KGI Securities analyst with a highly respected track record when it comes to Apple predictions, has published a report claiming that, on the tablet front, we'll see only a new iPad Air this year, with the iPad Pro (and an update to the iPad mini) following in 2015. Kuo believes that Apple will focus on the iWatch and its operating system in 2014, with the iPad Air 2/iPad 6 featuring only incremental upgrades: an A8 processor and a Touch ID fingerprint sensor. (On the A8 chip side of things, we hear that Samsung has been shifted off that project after failing to meet demand - see our iPhone 6 rumour article for more details.)
"We believe Apple plans to launch an upgraded iPad Air early this year, and will accelerate development of a 12.9in iPad," Kuo wrote.
"As such, more resources will be allocated to these two products, which will affect the progress of the development of the new iPad mini. All told, we think the chances of the debut of a new iPad mini in 2H14 are slim. In addition, the 12.9in iPad is unlikely to be offered in 2014. For these reasons, we predict the only new iPad product in 2H14 will be the upgraded iPad Air."
In a later note Kuo reiterated his belief that Apple is producing a 12.9in iPad, again noting that he doesn't think it will launch in 2014.
Yet previous reports suggested that Apple is working on two new 12.9in iPads for a 2014 launch. The first - a 2K model - is expected in April, while the rumoured 4K models are forecast for an October 2014 release.
In January 2014, Evercore Partners analyst Patrick Wang predicted that a 12in MacBook/iPad hybrid would launch in the autumn of 2014.
Analyst Rhoda Alexander from IHS has said that several larger display panels possibly destined for a bigger iPad are being tested by Apple, but insists that this doesn't mean the bigger iPad launch is imminent. Alexander says: "Some manufacturers over the last six months have received sample quantities of a larger panel. Various sizes are being reported with 12.85 inches being one of the sizes.
However, Alexander says that there hasn't been a big shipment of the panels, and notes: "We have to get a lot further down the line in terms of seeing really strong indicators from Apple that such a product exists, and we're just not at that point."
One factor that may come into play is the movement of rivals. In January 2014 Samsung launched a pair of 12.2in tablets, the Galaxy Note Pro and the Galaxy Tab Pro (note the use of the word 'Pro' - does that make Apple more or less likely to brand its iPad the iPad Pro?), and Apple will be watching their progress with great interest.
In the past it's often been said that Apple doesn't slavishly follow market trends, and that's certainly true. But it can be a reactive company, as we saw with the iPad mini, which followed the success of several rival mini-tablets. Apple's habit is to watch a market for some time, establish that it has the potential to be profitable - but hasn't yet been exploited to the full - and then set it alight with a market-changing product.
iPad Pro rumours: First 'leaked image' of an iPad Pro aluminium dummy
The first 'leaked image' of the iPad Pro - or rather, an image of an aluminium dummy unit that the actual prototype would be based on - has emerged on the Chinese social network Weibo. Here's the 'iPad Pro' in all its glory:
The first point that needs to be made is that this hasn't been verified by official sources, and wouldn't be tough to fake, so it may not be genuine. The second is that clearly this isn't what the iPad Pro would like even if it is genuine; this would only give us an idea of the size of the device and the broadest of design touches: the placement of the camera, the shape of the chassis and so on.
(We know that Apple's design team habitually create dummy models of new products in a range of sizes - usually from foam, as I understand it, although aluminium would work too - so this could easily be one of several sizes Apple is considering.)
Nevertheless, it's one more clue to add to the puzzle. As corroboration arrives in other leaked images, we'll get a better idea of what we're dealing with - and if it even exists.
iPad Pro rumours: Concept illustrations of iPad Pro by Ramotion
That's our only leaked photo so far, but plenty of designers have come up with 'concept illustrations' of the iPad Pro - how they'd make the thing look if they got a job with Jony Ive's team, in other words.
Design agency Ramotion are the latest firm to take a shot at the iPad Pro, releasing stunning concept illustrations to show how they envisage a product that sits halfway between the iPad Air and the MacBook Pro.
Ramotion's iPad Pro is based around a pair of A7 processor chips and a 12.9-inch (4096x3072) screen.
Ingeniously, it conceals the rear-facing camera inside the Apple logo...
...and uses three cameras to offer 3D video calling and eye tracking. There are even four speakers on the corners of the device for surround-sound audio. Would that be practical? We're not sure.
iPad Pro concept: multitasking
One of the most intriguing ideas proposed by Ramotion - albeit one that has been used by rivals such as Samsung on existing larger-screen tablets - is the ability to multitask between two apps side by side.
"In the horizontal orientation you can work directly with two applications as if you put two iPad minis next to each other," the firm says. "Intuitive gestures make your work much more pleasant an efficient!"
All images and animations by Ramotion. They're absolutely stunning - check out the full set here.
iPad Pro rumours: Design concept images and video of Mac OS X-based iPad Pro 13
The Italian design company SET Solutions has created a CGI video of a product concept it calls the 'iPad Pro 13'. Unlike all existing iPads, the iPad Pro 13 is based on Apple's Mac OS X desktop operating system rather than iOS, suggesting that its creators envision it being marketed at business users. Part of the time, the user in the video is controlling the iPad Pro with a wireless mouse and keyboard.
We'd stress that this is only a concept render, rather than a real product, but it serves as an interesting exploration of how such a design would work.
The firm says: "Here's our CG iPad Pro (13 inches screen) with Apple OS X as operative system! Now you can take your works wherever you want!
"The new iPad Pro is really powerful, with a bigger Retina display, and with a desktop OS: all your favourite programs in a 13-inch table… cool, right?"
Here's the iPad Pro concept video:
iPad Pro rumours: iPad Pro vs Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Apple would deny that it creates products in reaction to launches by its rivals, but the success or failure of an iPad Pro would be influenced by the state of the market. And that has changed with yesterday's (20th May's) unveiling of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3.
Microsoft is aiming its new Surface Pro 3 at people who want the portability of a tablet but want to be able to carry out tasks that require a machine with power that matches that of a laptop - which is exactly the sort of device and customer base most of us envision for the iPad Pro. Apple could face an incumbent market occupier before the iPad Pro even launches, assuming that the Surface Pro 3 can convince buyers to get on board.
The Surface Pro 3 is Microsoft's latest attempt to claim credibility in the tablet market, and by all accounts has the specs and the features to stand up to the iPad line-up. The real struggle could be persuading third-party app developers to work for this platform on top of - or even instead of - iOS and Android. Whether Microsoft can win this battle remains to be seen.
We've compared the Surface Pro 3 with the iPad Air in a separate article: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 vs iPad Air comparison. But will the iPad Pro be a closer rival to Microsoft's new tablet, its specs and features and target market? That might just depend on how well the Pro 3 sells, regardless of Apple's protestations.
iPad Pro rumours: After the iPad Air comes the iPad Pro
Apple surprised everyone when it named its fifth-generation full-sized iPad the iPad Air (most of us assumed it would be called iPad 5 or New iPad), but the name made a lot of sense when we saw how thin and light the tablet was - slicing more than a quarter off the weight of the previous generation, and approaching the iPad minis in terms of thickness, it's a spectacularly portable device.
But the name also ties in with another existing Apple product: the MacBook Air, Apple's thinnest laptop. Which immediately made excitable rumour-mongers start speculating: if Apple is making iPad Airs to match its slim-and-light MacBook Air laptops, wouldn't it make sense to design a line of high-end tablets to match the MacBook Pro? Will we see an iPad Pro in 2014?
iPad Pro rumours: What big-screen tablets will the iPad Pro be competing with?
There are already some bigger Android tablets available, including the Archos 116 with an 11.6in screen and the 12in Toshiba Excite 13, and two 12.2in tablets from Samsung. But tablets that large are not among the most popular devices at the moment. Then again, perhaps Apple's iPad Pro could change all that.
Plus, if speculation proves to be correct, Apple's iPad Pro could be competing with laptop-tablet hybrids, such as Acer's Aspire V5 Touch and Microsoft's Surface Pro, which takes a detachable keyboard approach. We can expect many more laptops to launch with touchscreens in the future, too, as Intel's Ultrabook specification now lists touchscreen as a requirement.
iPad Pro rumours: Is there a market for a more powerful iPad?
There's one big down side to this theory. The main thing the MacBook Pro offers over the MacBook Air is power: it's a faster machine capable of handling more demanding tasks, and compromises on portability - and costs more - to achieve this. Yet while we can imagine an iPad Pro being less portable than the iPad Air (nearly everything is less portable than the iPad Air) it's harder to imagine it being more powerful, or even there being any reason to want such a device.
Because the iPad Air is exceptionally powerful for a mobile device - indeed, in our reviews of the iPad Air we've repeatedly stressed that most users won't see anything like the speed gains promised when using it, for the simple reason that most apps don't need that kind of welly. Even the iPad 3 and 4 can happily run virtually anything on the App Store, and the iPad Air's power is more about insuring yourself against the more demanding apps that will be released in future.
Infinity Blade 3: One of the most graphically demanding games on the App Store, but less high-powered devices than the iPad Air can cope with it. So why would the iPad Pro need to be any more powerful?
Chances of a more powerful iPad Pro: If this is all the iPad Pro offers, it's on to a loser, since the iPad Air is as powerful as an iPad needs to be right now. This is a very long shot, unless tied in with further benefits, and even then it seems unnecessary.
iPad Pro rumours: A bigger-screen iPad
A more realistic option for an iPad Pro would simply be to give it a larger screen.
Many pundits, including our colleague Ted Landau in his article 'Envisioning an iPad Pro', have discussed a screen size of 12.9in, which would create a neat progression of sizes from iPad mini to iPad Pro: 7.9in, 9.7in, 12.9in.
But would anyone want an iPad with a bigger screen? That's debatable, although the amount of interest around the idea online suggests that such a device wouldn't struggle for attention. And there's a huge current market of laptop users who have resisted making the switch to a tablet and could be convinced if there was more screen space available.
On the other hand, the success of the iPad mini points in the other direction, suggesting that if anything, the average user would happily settle for less screen space than the full-sized iPad currently offers, in return for greater portability and a lower price tag.
Chances of a bigger-screen iPad Pro: Moderate. The launch of the iPad mini (and its subsequent success) showed that Apple is less afraid of product fragmentation than it was under Steve Jobs, and while we think a big-screen iPad would appeal to a smaller audience than that, Apple could probably convince more laptop users to make the switch.
iPad Pro rumours: Will Apple make a touchscreen MacBook or MacBook/iPad hybrid?
A third option for the iPad Pro would be for Apple to create a device that's a hybrid of a laptop and a tablet.
Yet Apple CEO Tim Cook has famously dismissed the idea of a MacBook/iPad hybrid. During a financial earnings conference call in April 2012, Cook said that consumers simply won't be interested in buying or using a machine that is a hybrid of a laptop and a tablet.
"I think… anything can be forced to converge," said Cook. "But the problem is that products are about trade-offs, and you begin to make trade-offs to the point where what you have left at the end of the day doesn't please anyone. You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user."
For this reason, Cook claimed that Apple would never converge the MacBook Air and the iPad, because too many compromises would be necessary and the two types of products are used too differently.
"You wouldn't want to put these things together because you end up compromising in both and not pleasing either user. Some people will prefer to own both, and that's great too. But to make the compromise of convergence, we're not going to that party," Cook added.
But what if, in the two years since Cook dismissed the idea, Apple has come up with a way to avoid tradeoffs and create something that's as powerful as a MacBook but as portable and touch-based as an iPad?
Cook's comments sparked speculation at the time from some industry analysts who believed that Cook thinks the hybrid market could be very strong, and that he might have reason to want to tear down a market that has a lot of potential.
"I think it was kind of a funny slam," said Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT. "For the chief executive of a company that has pursued some pretty unconventional design points along the way and done pretty well, I'd think he'd be more open to this hybrid idea. The issue is if a successful tablet/laptop hybrid ever did come out, it would constitute a fairly significant challenge to Apple."
During the financial results conference call for the first quarter of 2014, Cook promised that Apple is continuing to innovate behind the scenes, and that we should expect to see the launch of an Apple product that enters new territory for the company. Most suspect Cook is talking about an iTV or iWatch, but perhaps Apple is working on a tablet/laptop hybrid after all.
ReadWrite's Dave Smith highlights that, while Apple executives have dismissed the idea of OS X becoming more like iOS, they haven't written off the idea of an iPad running a OS X.
iPad Pro rumours: The benefits of a tablet/laptop hybrid
Laptop/tablet hybrids started to garner some attention and excitement during 2012's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, with chip maker Intel and Lenovo unveiling hybrid ultrabooks that can be flipped around to look and act like a tablet.
They're looking to hook users on a hybrid experience, combining the flexible ease-of-use of a touchscreen tablet with a full-keyboarded laptop.
"Apple has succeeded at keeping those types of functionality away from one another," said King. "The idea of a hybrid is a very different kind of world view. Whenever I see an executive jump all over something… it's because it's what they feat the most or see as the biggest threat. [Cook's] comments reflect the size of the threat that he sees."
Jack Gold, an analyst with J. Gold Associates, sees potential in the hybrid market - something that has to be sending up warning flags at Apple, which has found so much success by eating up most of the lucrative tablet market.
"So of course, the Apple CEO would like to set the impression that a convertible is not a threat to the market," Gold added.
However, not everyone thought Cook was simply trying to throw cold water on hybrids.
Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said Cook has a lot of experience in picking hot coming trends and he simply may not appreciate the value-add of a hybrid. "Cook has passionate opinions about what consumers would want and not want and their track record speaks for itself," he said. "I don't believe he is overtly poisoning the well on hybrids, but that could be an unintended consequence.
"According to Tim Cook, if Apple doesn't sell it, consumers don't want it," Moorhead said.
He thinks the hybrids could have a bright future, one that diminishes the iPad.
"Hybrids will take business away from the iPad," he said. "Many consumers who would have purchased an iPad will instead buy a hybrid. They desire the sexiness of the tablet and the common sense of the small notebook, all in the same package."
So Apple won't be making a touchscreen MacBook?
Actually, we're not so sure. In April 2013, Apple CEO Tim Cook defended the company's iconic Mac line after it saw a second consecutive decline in sales during the quarter. "I don't think this [personal computer] market is dead or a bad market by any means," he said. "I think it has a lot of life to it. We are going to continue to innovate in it."
"We're going to continue making the best personal computers," Cook continued. "We've got some more great stuff planned, so this is an area we're continuing to invest in."
Plus, despite Cook's comments that a MacBook and iPad hybrid product would be like combining a fridge and a toaster, Apple has filed a patent for such device.
The patent describes a device that has a touchscreen display that can be removed from the keyboard and trackpad-equipped base, and can also be rotated when attached to the base.
Additionally, power could be wirelessly transferred from the base component to the detached display.
A second patent filed by Apple in February 2013 suggests that Apple may use the in-cell touch display technology found in the iPhone for a future MacBook, too.
Let's not forget that Apple actually did make a touchscreen laptop 17 years ago. It was the eMate 300, a translucent clamshell portable which ran Apple's Newton PDA operating system. Ok, so it's far from the touchscreen MacBook we'd expect to see from Apple, but it's interesting nonetheless.
So, whether the new iPad Pro is a combination of a MacBook and iPad or simply a bigger, more powerful iPad, rumours about the device flooded in as 2014 arrived. Read on for iPad Pro release date rumours, as well as speculation about possible features of the new iPad.
iPad Pro features
Barclays Capital analyst Ben A. Reitzes said in October 2013 that Apple's move to a 64-bit architecture with the iPhone 5s, iPad mini and iPad Air could hint that Apple is working to develop iOS for a bigger, more powerful iPad. But what features will this bigger iPad have?
Analyst Patrick Wang believes that the iPad Pro will be powered by an A8 processor. Although, as we mentioned above, there's reason to question whether the iPad Pro would need a more advanced processor than the iPad Air?
Ted Landau floats the idea that the iPad Pro could have greater connectivity than the Air, with Thunderbolt and USB connections enabling business users and former laptop users to add on portable scans and similar accessories.
And of course, as with all rumoured iOS devices, we have to mention the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. It was a surprise when this wasn't added to the iPad Air, having appeared in the iPhone 5s, and would be both a logical addition and a nice differentiator from the Air. A few Apple fans might be persuade to upgrade for that alone.
Big-screen iPad rumours: What size of display will the iPad Pro have?
As mentioned earlier, the general consensus seems to be that a big-screen iPad Pro would probably have a 12.9in display.
Reports since as far back as July 2013 have pointed to a screen size around the 13in mark. The Wall Street Journal cited "officials at Apple's suppliers" in its report that claimed Apple was testing screens measuring almost 13 inches diagonally.
Then, in November 2013, reports that Apple was working on a bigger iPad resurfaced, again suggesting a 12.9in screen is coming to Apple's tablet soon. The Korea Times cited sources from a "first-tier" Apple supplier in a report claiming that a 12.9in Retina display was being made in factories in Korea.
There has been talk of an 11.4in model, too, though we've only seen one report that suggests this so it seems less likely.
In October, trusted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said that Apple is planning to launch a 12in laptop that will be as portable as the 11in MacBook Air but as productive as the 13in MacBook Pro, and will "redefine laptop computing". Perhaps Kuo was referring to the iPad Pro.
What resolution will the iPad Pro have?
Another display-related iPad Pro question is the resolution. As mentioned above, there's talk of two separate iPad Pro models. The first has been described as 2K, which would mean a resolution similar to that of the iPad Air and iPad mini 2, which have 2,048 by 1,536 pixel screens.
The second is described as 4K, which would mean there are around 4,000 pixels along the longest side of the display (4K Ultra HD TVs normally have 3840 x 2160 resolutions).
According to a report in November from The Korea Times, sources say that Apple's iPad Pro will boast an "ultra high-definition" picture quality, which could also suggest a 4K display.
In January 2014, research firm DisplaySearch suggested that Apple is testing a 12.9in display with a resolution of 2732 x 2048 pixels, which means a pixel density of 265ppi. Apple's iPad Air has a 264ppi display, and when it comes to competing 12in tablets, Samsung's new devices have 247ppi displays.
How much will the iPad Pro cost?
We've not heard much speculation about the cost of the bigger iPad, but Ben A. Reitzes thinks it could start at around $650 (£450).
In general Apple tries to release new iOS devices at close to (and quite often exactly the same as) their predecessors' prices. If Apple follows that policy with the iPad 6 we would expect it to match the iPad Air's pricing: starting at £399, and topping out at £739 for the 3G-equipped, 128GB model. But in the case of a bigger-screen iPad Pro, a higher price is more likely, to take account for the additional manufacturing challenges, more powerful battery and so on.
The difference between the starting iPad Air and starting iPad mini Retina is £80, and those two tablets are separated by 2.2in of diagonal screen size and little else. It wouldn't be unreasonable to expect a 12in-or-so iPad Pro to cost about £80 more than the equivalent iPad Air - and thus start at £479.
Other iPad Pro rumours
According to DigiTimes, Apple has turned to Taiwan-based Quanta Computer to manufacture the bigger iPad. However the report suggests that Quanta expects to "encounter several challenges" when it comes to building the bigger iPad, which could cause limited supply of the tablet upon launch.
It's believed Apple has been growing increasingly interested in launching a bigger iPad because the company expects tablets to eventually replace PCs.
iPad Pro rumours: conclusion
We're still not convinced that a bigger iPad is on its way, but you can never say never. After all, Steve Jobs once said that a smaller iPad would be dead on arrival, but then Apple launched the iPad mini and it flew off the shelves.
But do we really need a bigger iPad? We're not so sure. What are your thoughts on the possibility of an iPad Pro? Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter.