The iPad Air underwent a significant redesign in 2020, with Apple removing the Home button and making its mid-tier tablet look a lot closer to the premium iPad Pros. Will Apple rest on its laurels this year, or is there more in store for the Air in 2021?
The iPad's hardware already impresses, but at WWDC 2021 we also got a look at the new version of iPadOS 15 that will be installed on the new iPad Air.
In this article we round up the latest news and rumours surrounding the next iPad Air update, which we expect later in 2021 or some time in 2022.
When will the new iPad Air be released?
We don't expect to see Apple update the iPad Air until October 2021 at the earliest, in fact based on reports that Apple indends to adopt OLED displays for the range, 2022 is looking more likely.
The iPad Air was first introduced in 2013 but has had a patchy update schedule ever since. Here's when the new models have arrived:
- iPad Air (Gen 1): November 2013
- iPad Air (Gen 2): October 2014
- iPad Air (Gen 3): March 2018
- iPad Air (Gen 4): October 2020
With this in mind, it doesn't seem likely that Apple will suddenly switch to a yearly update cycle for the Air. We could be wrong, of course, but we'd be more inclined to expect a new model in 2022 rather than in late 2021 - we hope we are wrong though!
How much will the new iPad Air cost?
When Apple updated the iPad Air in 2020 it also saw a price increase, presumably due to the new design. Here's how the current range lines up in terms of cost:
- iPad Air (2020) 64GB WiFi: £579/US$599/AU$899
- iPad Air (2020) 256GB WiFi: £729/US$749/AU$1,129
- iPad Air (2020) 64GB WiFi + Cellular: £709/US$729/$1,099
- iPad Air (2020) 256GB WiFi + Cellular: £859/US$879/AU$1,329
(You can find the lowest current prices in our guide to the best iPad deals.)
With the new tier only recently set by Apple, we don't expect it to change much when the new Air arrives. So expect to pay around the £600/US$600/AU$900 mark for the updated base-model version when it finally arrives.
New features in the iPad Air 2021/2022
Apple is yet to even confirm the existence of a new iPad Air, and there's not much in the way of news or rumours that have emerged so far. We can at least make an educated guess on what the update may bring to the table, along with a few items from our own wish list.
One component that's pretty much guaranteed is the latest iteration of Apple's A-series of processors.
The current iPad Air (2020) features an A14 chip, as found in the iPhone 12 models, so it would make sense for whichever silicon Apple has in its latest phones to also appear in the iPad Air (2021) when it's released.
Alternatively the iPad Air could adopt the M1 chip like the iPad Pro has done for the 2021 model.
Apple is said to have ordered large and medium-sized OLED displays from Samsung and LG for use in the new iPad Air.
Samsung and LG already provide OLEDs to Apple for use in the Apple Watch and various iPhone models. A May 2021 ETNews report suggests that they will be providing the OLED displays for Apple's iPads. More here: iPad Air with OLED display coming in 2022.
Analyst Ming-Chip Kuo has also indicated that the iPad Air will gain an OLED display in 2022. Apparently the OLED display is better suited to the iPad Air, which will benefit from the improved image quality offered. The 2021 iPad Pro didn't gain an OLED with Apple choosing a mini-LED instead. Apparently Apple's decision to equip the iPads Pro with mini LEDs instead of using OLED was because the requirements for professional devices are different: a professional program is more likely to be displayed on the screen for hours, which can lead to burn out on an OLED.
Under-screen Touch ID
We've already seen rumours that the new iPhone 13 range could be the first to feature a Touch ID sensor positioned under the display. This would allow for an edge-to-edge screen without the bump needed for the Face ID camera array or a Home button.
True, the redesigned iPad Air (2020) obviates this problem by embedding the Touch ID sensor in the power button, but it would make a lot of sense to use this new technology in any updated version of the iPad Air, especially with Apple's famous desire to remove ports and buttons from devices.
More storage options
This is more of a hopeful plea than something we truly believe will appear on the next iPad Air. At the moment, the entry-level model features only 64GB of storage, which is woefully small for a device that costs as much as it does and is being advertised by Apple as a potential replacement for a laptop.
128GB would be a lot better in terms of allowing you to store more content and apps on the device without having to juggle the free space. Upgrading the second storage option to 512GB rather than the current 256GB would still keep a noticeable difference between the two models but make life just that bit easier for consumers.
Of course, Apple could offer three different storage tiers, as it does with the iPhone, enabling people to get an iPad that truly suits their needs.
ProMotion is the 120Hz screen refresh rate that makes scrolling incredibly smooth and generally gives the iPad Pro its sumptuous viewing experience.
Up until now, the Pro part of the name has indicated that this is a feature reserved for Apple's premium devices. But with so many Android smartphones already employing this technology, even on mid-tier devices, we think it could be something that finally makes its way on to the iPad Air when it's updated (at least we hope so).
There are very few tablets that come with an IP68 waterproofing rating. Samsung has had its Active Tab range in the past, while Amazon's latest Kindle Paperwhite e-reader can survive a dunk in the bath, but so far any iPad that fell into the sink while you were trying to read a recipe will have most likely ended their days there and then.
We're not sure if the technical challenge of sealing a unit the size of an iPad is the issue, but Apple has shown in the past that it's always up for a design challenge. With that in mind, we'd love to see the next iPad Air come with waterproofing, so it can survive in the rain, at the beach or the perils of a kitchen.
iPad Air will run iPadOS, and the latest update announced at WWDC has some exciting new features. You'll be able to check these out on current iPads before the new iPad Air arrives, as iPadOS 15 is available in developer beta form today, in public beta in July, and to all compatible iPads in the fall.
New iPadOS improves the experience of widgets on the home screen. Not only are there more to choose from, but on iPad they now also have a larger format that takes advantage of the larger canvas. Because this means some of your frequently used apps might get pushed to secondary home screens, Apple is also introducing an App Library that is accessible from the Dock.
Tapping at the top of the screen brings up a new multitasking menu, offering options for Split-Screen and Slideover, and new keyboard controls also support these features.
QuickNote, which will also be available on macOS, and accessible on iOS, brings Notes system-wide. You can swipe in from the corner of the screen in any app to quickly scribble down a note with Apple Pencil, then swipe away when done.
For developers, a more exciting addition is Swift Playgrounds, which lets you build, test and even submit for approval iPhone and iPad apps right from iPad itself.
Lastly, new privacy features include an exciting update to Siri: on-device voice recognition. Device-specific requests will now no longer require an internet connection to complete, and with no recording of your voice there's no need to be concerned over how that recording is stored.
You can read more about Apple's upcoming product launches in other articles we've written. Visit our iPad 2021 news hub for the latest info related to Apple's basic tablet, and our iPad mini 6 news hub for speculation about the smallest member of the family. Finally, we've got news on the top-end model in our iPad Pro 2021 hub.