The iPad Pro 2 launch is an exciting prospect - but we may have to wait a bit longer until we see it announced. Apple made a splash in September 2015 when it unveiled its first giant tablet: a device known at the time only as the iPad Pro and equipped with a blockbuster 12.9-inch screen, quad speakers and a super-quick processor chip.
The following March a smaller and frankly better 9.7-inch version of the iPad Pro came out, creating mild naming complications (we now call them the iPad Pro 12.9 and iPad Pro 9.7 respectively) and kindling a degree of regret in the hearts of early adopters.
But we are now looking ahead to the future of the iPad Pro line. When will Apple release the new iPad Pro 2 for 2017, and what new features and design changes will this product incorporate? Will there be separate 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch editions of the iPad Pro 2 - will there even be a 7.9-inch model, a sort of iPad Pro mini, or a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro 2?
Our iPad Pro 2 release date & new features rumour roundup weighs up all the clues, hints and evidence about the new iPad Pro models for 2017, including the recent suggestion of an iPad Pro 2 with an 120Hz display, along with our wishlist of new features that are missing from the current generation of iPad Pro hardware.
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When will the iPad Pro 2 come out?
"Reputable supply chain analysts" cited by MacRumors claimed that Apple would announce new products in late March 2017, with the most likely dates between 20 and 24 March. While the source was partly correct, as Apple did introduce a new iPad along with a new iPhone 7 colour option and a host of other changes, the iPad Pro 2 was absent.
So, when should we expect the second-generation iPad Pro?
DigiTimes quotes "Taiwan-based supply chain makers" who say production of the planned 10.5-inch iPad has been brought forward to March (from a previously planned May-June schedule) and will be unveiled at an event in early April. This event will mark the inauguration of the new Apple Park campus, the site says. (Apple has announced that Apple Park will open in April 2017, although work on the headquarters will continue for some time afterwards.)
During Apple's September 2016 event, there was no mention of the iPad line (focusing instead on the iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2), while its October event showcased a smart if costly new MacBook Pro. If it had a new iPad Pro up its sleeve, surely Apple could have found time at one of these events to mention it... which suggests to us that the iPad Pro 2 is being held back until later in 2017.
However, DigiTimes believes Apple will delay the release date of some 2017 iPads: namely the new 10.5in iPad, which we go into detail about below, and the iPad Pro 2. The site claimed that Apple would announce a cheaper 9.7in iPad to replace the iPad Air 2 at an event in March (which ended up being true).
However, while the new 9.7in iPad will ship fairly soon after the announcement, sources claim the iPad Pro 2 and 10.5in iPad won't be released until May or June. Time will tell, and we'll keep you in the loop.
One iPad launch event, or two?
As with the two strands of iPhone models - the mid-size iPhone 7 and large-screen iPhone 7 Plus, both launched in September 2016, and the smaller iPhone SE, released in March 2016 - there are two schools of thought here. Either Apple will unify the two Pro brands into a single annual update event, or it will continue to update half the models in spring and the other half in autumn.
Both theories have downsides. If, as now looks likely, Apple does a full refresh (9.7-in and 12.9-inch iPad Pro together) in Spring 2017, then the current hardware will be starting to feel old before then - the original Pro will be 18 months old, which is a long time to be the most expensive tablet on Apple's books.
There's also something a bit messy, a bit un-Apple, about having two press event to announce what would essentially amount to two SKUs of the same product line. I think the company will want to keep things simple.
A final thought, however, is that people don't update their iPads as often as their iPhones: only 6 percent of the respondents to our poll said they get a new iPad every year. It's therefore debatable whether Apple actually needs to bring out new iPads this often. It could probably switch to a biennial release schedule without causing much of a problem.
Will Apple launch a new 10.5-inch iPad Pro?
The latest rumours suggest that after the lack of an iPad Pro update in autumn 2016, Apple will make up for this in 2017 by launching an entirely new size of iPad.
Ming-Chi Kuo, a market analyst with a strong track record, has published a report making predictions about Apple's moves over the next couple of years. Kuo is cautious in his iPad sales predictions - cutting a previous estimate of 45 to 50 million for the year to 35 to 40 million, partly because of a lack of new products in the near term: despite a comparatively strong performance in Q3 2016, iPad sales remain flat - but argues that Apple will sell three sizes of iPad. There will be a 12.9-inch Pro, a 9.7-inch regular iPad and a new 10.5-inch Pro, Kuo predicts, with the smallest offered as a low-cost option with a lower-powered processor as well as a smaller screen.
Kuo's reasoning is that an 'inbetweener' 10.5-inch iPad Pro would sell well to the education and business sectors:
"If the iPad comes in a larger size, such as a 10.5-inch model, we believe it will be helpful to bid for tenders within the commercial and education markets. As a result, we expect Apple to launch a 10.5-inch iPad Pro in 2017."
These three iPad sizes don't include the 7.9-inch form factor of the iPad mini. Apple could continue to sell the mini alongside the three other iPads, but the success of the iPhone 6 Plus and the iPhone 7 Plus means Apple may feel that this area is covered by its phablet offerings. But we'll discuss the prospects of an 'iPad Pro mini' in the next section.
This new 10.5in or even 10.9in size is rumoured to come with a bezel-free design, as it will accommodate the larger screen in a smaller form-factor. This might potentially see the end of the home button.
Ming-Chi Kuo has reiterated his prediction in a January 2017 report, once again claiming that new iPad models for Q2 2017 will be 12.9-inch, 10-10.5-inch, and 9.7-inch.
He notes that the 12.9-inch model will be "the second generation of the existing 12.9" iPad Pro," that the new in-between size will be "the high-end model equipped with a narrow bezel design," and that the 9.7-inch model will be "the low-priced option." The first two will run on a new A10X chip, with the latter on an A9 chip.
With that in mind, it looks like the likeliest outcome would be for the 12.9-inch model to be a new iPad Pro 2, the 10-10.5-inch model to be a smaller Pro, and the lower-price 9.7-inch model simply branded as the iPad. Once again, there was no mention of a successor to the 7.9-inch mini, adding fuel to the speculation that it will be phased out by Apple - unless it plans to stick the 'mini' name on the 9.7-inch model.
Kuo also notes that while he expects another decline in the volume of iPads shipped in 2017 - down to 35-37 million - this is set to be a smaller decline than seen in 2016, and will be offset by a rise in the average selling price of the devices, leading him to conclude that the "worst has passed for Apple's iPad."
Following the launch of the 9.7-inch Pro it's now firmly established that the Pro brand doesn't just refer to Apple's biggest tablets - instead, it refers to a set of specs and features and, in a way that's hard to define, any tablet that sits at the top of Apple's range. If we accept that a 9.7-inch tablet can be an iPad Pro, could we get a 7.9-inch Pro as well?
The truth is that there's no concrete reason why there can't be a 7.9-inch iPad Pro 2, but for various reasons we still don't expect Apple to do this. For one thing, unlike the Air line-up, the minis are still being updated; the mini 4 came out at the same event as the first iPad Pro, which suggests that Apple plans to keep both brands going at the same time. And besides, the Pro brand has always existed in opposition to a lower-end alternative: the MacBook Pro sits opposite the MacBook Air (and plain MacBook); the Mac Pro opposite the iMac; and so on. Apple can't just call every tablet a Pro.
We're starting to suspect that the Air brand may be phased out across Apple's laptop and tablet departments, but there still needs to be two lines left in each of these areas. Apple still sell a MacBook Pro and a 12-inch MacBook, we expect; in the same way, we'd expect there to be iPad Pro models and iPad mini models.
To read more about the iPad mini 5 - or the iPad Pro mini - then take a look at our iPad mini 5 rumour roundup.
What design changes will we see in the iPad Pro 2?
Let's talk next about the iPad Pro 2's design.
Mac Observer has reported, via Weibo, that the Apple Pencil 2 might include a magnet to attach to the side of the iPad Pro - much like with Microsoft's Surface Pro models.
This rumour was backed up in January 2017, when a report by the Czech-language website LetemSvetemApplem also claimed that magnets will enable you to attach the Apple Pencil to the side of the iPad Pro 2, citing "information directly from suppliers in China". The site also predicts that the next Apple Pencil will have a clip on the side, like a pen, which would stop it from rolling away across the nearest table - and also mean you can clip it to your pocket.
Read more: Apple Pencil 2 rumours
We'll start with the most out-there rumour. Analyst Gene Munster - he of the relentless and widely mocked 'Apple television' predictions, who in my opinion was somewhat vindicated when it turned out that Apple had been developing a telly but gave up on the plan - has predicted that Apple is going to make a foldable iPad.
The prediction, reported by Apple Must, cites recent patent activity that shows Apple is exploring the idea of a foldable iPhone, and extrapolates this concept to the tablet sphere (where, because of the larger form factor of the devices, a folding design probably makes more sense).
The timing of the prediction is interesting, coming as it does shortly after the end of the first series of Westworld, HBO's violent and disorienting TV series based on the 1970s Yul Brynner film of the same name. In Westworld, the human programmers who set the behaviours and personalities of the park's western-themed android inhabitants do all their programming on slick foldable tablets. The foldable tablet designs on the show make a lot of sense and look fantastic. (The idea of programmers working exclusively on tablets presently seems less plausible.)
Macotakara, a Japanese-language Apple site, predicts that the iPad Pro 2 will have a largely bezel-free screen and no Home button, citing sources in Taiwan.
The bezel (the non-screen area around the edge of the screen on an iPad, which you hold while using the device) will apparently be removed from the bottom of the iPad Pro, meaning the Home button will disappear, and Touch ID will have to be integrated into the screen itself. Oddly, the site predicts that the bezel will remain at the top of the iPad Pro 2, and will continue to house the front-facing FaceTime camera.
An odd but increasingly widespread rumour proposes that the iPhone 8 will feature a function area, somewhat like the Touch Bar on the 2016 MacBook Pro. Now the rumour has mutated - apparently the iPad Pro 2 is going to get a Touch Bar function area too!
It's not an immediately compelling concept, given that the Touch Bar on the MacBook offers a mini touchscreen strip between the non-touch-sensitive main screen and non-customisable keyboard - a sort of overlap between the two - so you don't need to reach up to use a full touchscreen and get tired arms, but on iPhone/iPad there's no such compromise to be made. The entire screen is accessible, and this would appear to be a reduction in functionality compared to a full-chassis conventional touchscreen.
The thinking seems to be that this will take the place of the Home button and lower bezel area of the iPad, replacing these with a customisable touch-sensitive area that will ordinarily be occupied by frequently used menus and icons. What isn't clear is whether this area will be accessible when viewing photos and videos full screen.
Macotakara also believes that the 12.9-inch model of the iPad Pro 2 will be 3mm thicker than its predecessor, and says the middle-size model of the iPad Pro will have a 10.9-inch screen, not 10.5-inch as has been rumoured elsewhere.
What tech specs will the iPad Pro 2 include?
Let's look next at the internal changes expected from the next iPad.
In addition to the possible design changes mentioned above, a recent update to Apple's Xcode software hints that Apple's next-generation iPad Pro may feature an upgraded 120Hz display. For reference, existing models of iPhone and iPad max out at 60Hz.
The higher the refresh rate, the more frames the display can process every second: a 60Hz display can process up to 60 frames per second, while a 120Hz display can offer double the amount at 120 frames per second. It's why some PC gamers opt for a 144Hz display.
In terms of the iPad, a higher refresh rate would provide a smoother experience when playing graphically intense games or when using accessories like the Apple Pencil.
Discussing the find on Reddit, user Jakouf noticed that the FPS counter maximum had increased from 60 to 120fps following the Xcode 8.3 update.
“When only having one View where I will render into it, the normal 0-60 FPS Counter comes up,” Jakouf explained on Reddit. “When having multiple views which will be rendered by OpenGLES at the same time, the counter switches to the 0-120 Counter.”
Of course, it doesn't confirm anything at this point, but it begs the question as to why Apple would upgrade the Xcode FPS counter if a 120Hz display-enabled iOS device wasn't on its way.
This is an easy one. We strongly expect the iPad Pro 2 to include a modified version of the A10 Fusion chip featured in the iPhone 7 - a strategy Apple usually follows with the iPad it releases shortly after a new iPhone. This modified processor will probably be called the A10X, or A10X Fusion.
The Chinese-language site Anzhuo agrees, predicting "iPad Pro 2 will be equipped with A10X chip".
The iPad Pro came with 2GB of RAM (in the case of the 9.7-inch model) or 4GB (on the 12.90-inch version). We're fairly sure Apple will offer 4GB across the iPad Pro 2 range, but some believe it might be more generous.
Anzhuo, in the same article linked above, thinks we can expect 4GB and 6GB options - matched presumably to the medium and large-screen models, although the site doesn't specify this.
This is where we will post the best and most convincing leaked photos and concept designs and videos created by artists and designers.
Still from iPad Pro 2 concept video
We'll start with this stunning concept video showing the iPad Pro 2 in all its (imagined) glory. The iPad depicted here has a 10.5-inch, 4K screen and a dual-lens rear-facing camera, and comes in six colours: adding white, purple ('wine'), and the black and Jet Black options from the iPhone 7 to the currently available gold and Rose Gold.
Photos of iPad Pro 2
AppleInsider has published two photos ostensibly showing the iPad Pro 2, which were sent into the site by an anonymous reader.
The images, like most Apple hardware leaks, are said to originate from the Asian supply chain; in this case it's said to be an employee at a Chinese supplier who has taken and leaked the photos.
Both photos show the same onscreen imagery - the General > About tab of the Settings app, chosen presumably because it includes model number designations and other details that can corroborate the photo's legitimacy. (But, as AppleInsider observes, such details are not difficult to spoof, so the photos may yet be fake.)
The About page says the depicted iPad is model MH1C2CD/F: that certainly sounds right, since that designation hasn't been given to any publicly known iPads, while broadly following the conventions of earlier Pro models. (The 128GB cellular 12.9-inch iPad Pro, for instance, is designated ML3K2B/A. By contrast, the iPad Air 2 uses a slightly different format: the 128GB cellular model is MH332B/A.)
Although, we should note that spoofing the model number can be changed relatively easily. More so, the model shows only 12GB of available storage - this can however be a test version, where 12GB of internal storage is more than sufficient.
As one would expect, the depicted iPad is running a version of iOS 10 - you can tell because Siri gets its own top-level tab in the Settings app rather than a sub-category within General.
Unfortunately - or conveniently, if you're cynical - it's virtually impossible to deduce anything else about the device from the shots, which don't show hardware ports or buttons, and have nothing else in frame with which to compare size of screen and so on. About all this tells us is that a new iPad Pro is probably on its way in the next few months.
Once we know more information or sent more details on the screenshots we will update this article.
Carry on reading to find out what we'd like to see from the iPad Pro 2.