The iPad Pro is a rumour; a legend. And perhaps even a genuine Apple product in development right now. It's one of the most speculated-about and hyped-up fantasy Apple products of the past few years - right up there with the Apple Watch - but unlike Apple's new wearable we don't know for sure if it even exists. Still, as we shall see, the evidence is growing to suggest that an iPad Pro (or an iPad Plus, or something similar) will launch, and launch soon.
We hoped the iPad Pro might get a mention at the iPad Air 2 launch event, but no such luck. It looks like we'll have to wait until early 2015 to see Apple's big-screen iPad.
Update: New rumours suggest that the iPad Pro will have a slightly smaller screen than previously expected, come equipped with top and bottom speakers for stereo sound, launch in Q3 2015, and lead to the iPad mini being dropped as a product line. See the relevant sections for more detail.
So what is the iPad Pro, and what's all the fuss about? It's a giant iPad: an iPad Air with a bigger screen (perhaps 12.9 inches from corner to corner, compared to the iPad Air's 9.7 inches, although a new screen size of 12.2 inches has recently become rumoured). If the more extreme tales are to be believed, it will also feature a hybrid tablet/laptop body, although that strikes us as unlikely.
In this article we collect all the rumours about when the new iPad Pro will launch (that's assuming it's called iPad Pro - we also discuss possible alternative names such as iPad Plus). Read on to find out how big the larger-screen iPad will be, what other features this top-of-the-range iPad might offer, and whether there will ever be a touchscreen MacBook/iPad hybrid. We'll be adding iPad Pro leaked images as and when they emerge; at the moment we have just one, but expect more as the launch date approaches.
Plus: Are the rumours about an iPad Pro actually based on sightings of a new Retina display for the MacBook Air? Read our 11in Retina MacBook Air rumour roundup.
Finally, find out what other new Apple products are likely to appear next year: Apple rumours and predictions for 2015
iPad Pro release date: When will the big-screen iPad Pro come out?
There are mixed reports on when the iPad Pro is likely to launch, but it looks like the iPad Pro won't come out until 2015. And maybe the second half of that year.
In October The Wall Street Journal theorised that Apple had been planning to start mass production of the iPad Pro in December 2014 (obviously the device itself wouldn't become available in shops until some time later) but had to push back the plan because it was struggling to meet demand for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Nice to problem to have, we suppose.
"The top priority for the supply chain is to meet the overwhelming demand for the larger-screen iPhones," said an anonymous source near Apple's manufacturing supply chain. "The output of the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus remains unsatisfactory, and it would be challenging for display makers to... ramp up production for a new larger-screen iPad now."
You can read the full article here, but you'll have to subscribe to the WSJ to do so.
If we won't see the iPad Pro this year, when will it launch? A report by the generally pretty accurate Japanese site Macotakara (which we discuss in further detail in the screen size and specs sections of this article) predicts a Q3 2015 launch for the iPad Pro, which would mean a wait until July at the earliest.
Yet reports in August suggested that Apple would release a larger iPad with a 12.9-inch screen in early 2015 - that's according to Bloomberg. That report claimed that Apple's suppliers were set to start manufacturing the largest ever iPad in the first quarter of next year. We think March 2015 is a reasonable guess, partly because once upon a time Apple ran iPad launch events in that month (for the iPad 2 and iPad 3, at least; and the original iPad launched in April), but at this point it remains just that: a guess.
At any rate, these reports seem to back up Ming-Chi Kuo, a KGI Securities analyst with a highly respected track record when it comes to Apple predictions. Earlier in 2014 he 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 said he believed that Apple would focus on the iWatch and its operating system in 2014 (he was right about that, even if we now know that it's called the Apple Watch), 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 had suggested that Apple was working on two new 12.9in iPads for a 2014 launch. The first - a 2K model - was expected in April, while the rumoured 4K models are forecast for an October 2014 release. The first prediction was self-evidently wildly inaccurate. There's still the chance of an iPad Pro launch later this month, although we believe an iPad 6 launch is more likely at Apple's confirmed 16 October event.
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 observed 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, and the phablet form of the iPhone 6 Plus. 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: How will the launch of the iPad Pro affect the other iPads?
This brings us to a perpetual worry facing companies who choose to make their product lines more diverse: will the new products cannibalise - ie steal sales from - the existing ones? Is the iPad Pro too similar to existing iPads for its own good?
As we talk about in the processor chip section, the iPad Pro will need to find ways to differentiate itself from the iPad Air 2 and MacBook Air lines that it sits between. We expected the iPad Pro to be faster than the iPad Airs, but their inclusion of the (exceptionally fast) A8X chip makes that difficult to foresee. It will have to be sold on screen size and greater suitability for business and education, compared to the smaller iPads; and on greater portability and ease of use, compared to the MacBooks.
Oddly enough, one iPad line that could suffer is the one that seems to have least overlap with the iPad Pro: the mini. A report from China's udn.com predicts that, once the iPad Pro hits shops, Apple will stop updating its iPad mini brand, focusing instead on the iPhone 6 Plus phablets.
Boy Genius Report has argued that this strategy is already making its presence felt: that this was why the iPad mini update in October was so underwhelming. (Our iPad mini 3 review makes it clear that we don't think its new features - Touch ID and a new gold finish - are enough to justify an £80 higher price tag than the iPad mini 2.) Is the iPad mini line already on the way out?
We're somewhat sceptical about this, given that the iPad minis are among the most successful and popular that Apple has ever launched, while the iPhone 6 Plus has received a mixed reception. But it is true that Apple is suffering from 'version creep' at the moment, with a once-simple iOS line-up proliferating in an almost Samsung-esque way. At some point it may decide to cut back and focus on what it believes to be the key products.
iPad Pro names: iPad Pro, iPad Plus, or something else?
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 2015, or even late in 2014?
iPad Pro, then, makes a certain amount of sense as a brand. But the iPhone 6/iPhone 6 Plus launch in September threw doubt over this concept. If the bigger version of the iPhone 6 is called the iPhone 6 Plus, wouldn't it follow that the bigger version of the iPad 6 would be called iPad 6 Plus?
Possibly. Remember first of all that Apple tends to follow different paths with its smartphone and tablet naming: whereas iPhones get relatively simple version numbers, the iPads are usually just called iPad, New iPad or iPad with Retina display, or (in the most recent case) iPad Air. iPads with version numbers are rare. (The second iPad was called the iPad 2 even on Apple's website. I think that's the only one.)
So the next standard-size iPad could be called iPad 6, but probably won't be. (That's the name we use, to keep things clear for readers and for the mercenary reason that most people are searching for information about the next iPad under that name, but Apple doesn't consult us on naming conventions, sadly.)
My own prediction is that the successor to the iPad Air will have the same name, replacing its predecessor entirely. (In some settings it could be described as New iPad Air for clarity.) And in that scenario, iPad Pro would be a reasonable name to give a bigger-screen version. As would iPad Plus, without the 6.
One last possibility would be a name that riffs on the iPad mini, the iPad Pro's diminutive mirror image. But iPad Max is too 90s, and iPad Maxi sounds... well... a bit like this.
iPad Pro screen size: How big will the iPad Pro's display be?
It has widely been suggested that the iPad Pro will have a 12.9-inch display (measured diagonally, corner to corner), compared to the 9.7-inch display on the iPad Air and the 7.9-inch display on the iPad mini.
But that might be slightly off. A new (as of 4 November 2014) and reasonably plausible rumour holds that the screen will actually measure 12.2 inches.
The Japanese site Macotakara (you'll need to get your browser of choice to translate the linked page) has come up with this new screen size, along with various other tech specs that we will discuss later in this article. There's no source, as far as we can tell, and the basis for the claims seems to be that Apple will be gunning for Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 tablet (which has a 12-inch screen).
This strikes us as slightly odd thinking, since the Surface Pro is quite obviously a less succesful product than any of Apple's iPads: indeed, some people think Microsoft would like to close down its Surface line entirely.
Microsoft doesn't release Surface sales figures, so we can't compare it to the iPads directly, but Apple hasn't had much to fear from Microsoft's tablets so far. Even if iPad sales have flattened lately, they're still doing okay, and it would be strange for Apple to take strategic lessons from a company whose tablet sales are so much worse.
iPad Pro specs: Stereo speakers
A more interesting part of Macotakara's predictions concerns audio. The site predicts that the iPad Pro will have speakers and a microphone at the top of the device as well as on the bottom, enabling it to offer stereo sound.
This is a great idea, as audio has always been a weakness of the iPad line. Particularly for film fans: put an iPad on its side to view a movie and you're immediately getting lopsided sound. (Of course, you can always bolster your iPad's sound with a wireless speaker, but isn't it a shame that the device can't produce strong sound out of the box?)
As with the screen size prediction, we're not entirely sure of the evidential basis of Macotakara's predictions here, beyond what would be nice/what would compete well against the Surface Pro 3. There's a picture of the dual-speaker design, although it's not clear where this has come from...
iPad Pro specs: Which processor chip will the iPad Pro run?
A rumour shortly before the launch of the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 suggested that Apple was working on a processor chip called the A8X, a high-performance version of the A8 used in the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and would install this in the iPad Pro. The site G For Games reckoned this was the word "on the streets of Taiwan", anyway.
Well, this rumour was sort of right: Apple had indeed created the A8X. It just wasn't anything to do with the iPad Pro. The A8X makes its debut in the iPad Air 2 - and this means the iPad Air 2 is gloriously fast. Faster, even, than the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and their A8 processors.
There is some historical precedent for Apple using an X-class version of an iPhone processor when it launches an iPad some months later. The A5 chip debuted in the iPad 2, and reappeared in the iPhone 4s; when Apple released the iPad 3 five months later it came with the A5X, a souped-up version of the A5. Similarly, the iPhone 5 launched with an A6 chip in September 2012, and was followed in October by the iPad 4, which had an A6X.
(If you're wondering what the difference is between a full version update and an X-class update, the latter is an acknowledgement by Apple that it has performed a less fundamental refresh. To get more technical than that, I would refer you to Stephen Darlington, a coder who explained the rationale to me on Twitter: the A6 was followed by the A6X and not the A7 "because they beefed up the GPU on the iPad but left the CPU the same".)
But where does this leave the iPad Pro? One of the selling points we were expecting Apple to focus on with this fantasy product was speed: that the iPad Pro would be faster than any previous Apple tablet, and capable of laptop levels of performance. But the iPad Air 2 is capable of laptop levels of performance. It's hard to see what Apple would gain from making the Pro even faster.
But hold your horses. For one thing, we would need to think about screen resolution. If the iPad Pro has a 4K screen, more processing power would be called for - and we could be looking at an entirely new chip. (We talk about 4K screens in the next section.)
And for a really radical move, some rumourmongers have suggested that Apple could equip the iPad Pro with OS X instead of iOS, opening up a world of new applications. Again, these would provide the engineers with another reason to rethink the choice of processor chip. (The apps on the App Store don't provide much of a test for the A8X, let alone a more powerful alternative, but the range of software for Mac would be a different matter.)
These are all possibilities. But our expectation remains that, assuming it launches by the spring of 2015, the iPad Pro will come with the A8X processor, same as the iPad Air 2 - and it therefore won't be sold on the idea of speed alone.
iPad Pro specs: 2K and 4K screen resolution options
Talking about screen resolution, the other rumour that's been doing the rounds lately suggests that the iPad Pro will come in two configurations: one with a 2K screen, and the other rocking a gigantic 4K resolution.
What do those terms mean? They refer to the number of pixels along the horizontal: roughly 2,000 on a 2K screen, and roughly 4,000 on a 4K.
It's worth pointing out here that the iPad Air is already a 2K screen, with its resolution of 2,048 x 1,536, and that a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with a 2K screen would therefore have a lower pixel density (the same number of pixels, but spread over a wider area) than the Air. In principle that would make the 2K iPad Pro sub-Retina in classification, unless Apple jiggles the definitions and says that users hold big tablets further away from their eyes than normal-sized ones. (I explain the definition of Retina - and the difference between Retina and Retina HD - ina this article: What is a Retina display, what is a Retina HD display and are they worth the money?
But what about the flagship model? Assuming that the iPad Pro has the same 4:3 aspect ratio as previous iPads, a 4K iPad Pro would have a monstrous screen resolution of 4,096 x 3,072. According to the marvellous Pixel Density Calculator, that's a pixel density of 396.9ppi - fractionally lower than the 401ppi on the Retina HD iPhone 6 Plus, and on a larger device that you'd expect to hold further away from the eye. Exciting stuff - if it's true.
Bigger iPad Pro features: Touch ID
It is thought that the new iPad Pro, like the iPad Air 2, will feature a Touch ID fingerprint scanner, but this is getting to be fairly old news. Even the iPad minis have Touch ID these days.
If the iPad Pro is to be the premium flagship product most of us are imaging, Apple needs to introduce breakthrough new features. The bigger screen would do nicely as one such feature, but there are other new features that may also give people reason to upgrade. We consider some of these below.
The iPad upgrade cycle is more like the PC upgrade cycle than the smartphone upgrade cycle, which means that there has to be a good reason to upgrade a tablet. Apple CEO Tim Cook referred to the iPad's recent drop in year-on-year sales as a "speed bump", in an interview with Re/code. The author states: "Cook isn't stupid: he understands that [the new iPad needs significant new features to tempt upgraders]. If the new iPads in the works were going to offer only incremental change, he'd fall flat on his face with this prediction."
Bigger iPad Pro features: Voice calls
One new feature coming to the iPad could be voice calls. With Android tablets are now shipping with voice call capabilities, and a report from IDC suggesting that these tablets with cellphone calling capabilities are gaining traction in Asia, Apple may be considering adding voice calling capabilities to the new iPad.
However, this may be too little, too late, with phablets already cannibalising sales of tablets, due in part to the fact that consumers can make voice calls on them.
Whether people would actually make a voice call on a tablet remains to be seen. While we can't see too many people holding a tablet up to their ear (think of the Dom Joly sketch), it is feasible that they could use headphones and speak that way.
Investors Business Diary quotes IDC analyst Avinash Sundaram, who said in a report: "Tablets that allow voice calls over cell networks have been around for a while now, as the first generation of Samsung Tabs did have that option, albeit only activated through a Bluetooth headset. This segment has seen a surge in terms of both shipments and vendors since the beginning of this year, with shipments reaching close to 50% by share of overall markets in some emerging countries, India and Indonesia being two great examples."
Bigger iPad Pro features: More RAM for multitasking
Cult of Mac suggests that this memory boost in the iPad Air could allow for split-screen multitasking. That site refers to a developer who discovered a "main-screen-canvas-size" option in the iOS 8 beta.
Apparently that option will add multi-tasking to the iOS 8 SpringBoard. And, apparently, users will not only be able to run two apps side by side, they will be able to change the sizes of the apps, according to developer Steve T-S.
It is thought that multitasking isn't yet in the beta because it was too buggy, but we can expect to see it before iOS 8 launches in the autumn.
[Update: iOS 8 has launched to the public, and there remains no sign of split-screen multi-tasking. Whether this will be unlocked for the iPad Pro only remains to be seen.]
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:
Why Apple needs a bigger iPad
Bloomberg suggest that the larger iPad will be popular with the enterprise market. Apple’s partnership with IBM, announced in July, will address this enterprise market which Apple CEO Tim Cook described as “a catalyst for future iPad growth”.
According to IDC, businesses, schools and governments are set to become big customers for tablets, and the larger tablets are expected to “do better” in these markets, IDC’s Jitesh Ubrani told Bloomberg.
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: 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.