Apple last updated the iPad mini in March 2019 - more than two years ago! Before that, however, there was an even longer gap: released as part of Apple's 'March madness' hardware week, the fifth-gen 2019 model was the first update to Apple's smallest tablet since September 2015.
The iPad mini has always had a fanbase because of its compact size, but following the 2019 update it became the best-value iPad currently on the market, being (at that time) better equipped than the standard iPad and cheaper than the largely identical (albeit larger-screened) Air.
Apple fans are never satisfied, however, and if you're wondering when the company will release the next iPad mini, and what design changes, new features and tech specs you can expect, you've come to the right place.
In this article we analyse all the most interesting and reliable clues pointing to Apple's next mini launch - including the prediction that it could feature a larger screen size - and do our best to speculate about the future of this product. Plus, could it run iPadOS 15, unveiled at WWDC 2021?
Release date: When will the next iPad mini come out?
Is there going to be another iPad mini in 2021? Yes, we think so, and a September or October launch seems likely.
There are plenty of pundits predicting an autumn launch, along with Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, who, in July 2021, said his sources indicated the new iPad mini "should be a go" for an announcement and release in the autumn of 2021. Read: Completely redesigned iPad mini 6 'coming this autumn'.
Well-connected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo indicated in May 2021 that the iPad mini will appear in the second half of the year.
This echoes a March 2021 report from Korean site Naver that indicated that the iPad mini was "currently in the design P2 stage, beyond the R&D stage and the planning stage, and seems to be moving to the DVT P3 stage sooner or later." Based on that development schedule, Naver concluded that the iPad mini pro model "will be released in the second half of the year".
This seems to complement Apple leaker Sonny Dickson's claims to have obtained iPad mini dummies in April - another indication that a launch could be immanent. Dickson posted photos of dummy iPad units on Twitter:
Refreshed iPad Pros and iPad Mini dummies. Triple Camera array on the pros. Central camera up top on iPad mini; slightly thicker. Hard to tell and different in screen size. pic.twitter.com/5Luizv1T2r— Sonny Dickson (@SonnyDickson) April 8, 2021
According to DigiTimes sources in late July 2021, Apple has made mini LED screen orders destined for the new iPad mini and it is set to take delivery in August. It follows therefore that we could see the iPad mini at the iPhone Keynote in September and the MacBook Pro at its own keynote sometime in October. More: Mini LED display coming to iPad mini soon.
What is the usual schedule for iPad updates?
It is not a big surprise that there will be another big gap between iPad mini generations. There have been big delays in the past. The iPad doesn't have the reassuringly regular release schedule of the iPhones, and the mini line is even harder to predict than the rest. Here's when Apple has released iPad minis:
- iPad mini: October 2012
- iPad mini 2: October 2013
- iPad mini 3: October 2014
- iPad mini 4: September 2015
- iPad mini (2019): March 2019
The spanner in the works is that a new mini normally gets announced alongside a new version of the Air, but Apple announced a new iPad Air and iPad back in September 2020. Read: iPad Air 2020 review and iPad 2020 review.
Is the iPad mini being discontinued?
We doubt it! Things looked bad for the mini line before the 2019 update, but it's now clear that Apple values its smallest tablet. Is there going to be an iPad mini 6? It hangs in the balance, but we think yes.
Things were kept broadly conservative in the 2019 update to the iPad mini, for obvious reasons: if the mini and Air had received the radical, Home-button-free design of the 2018 iPad Pro models, it would have instantly made those very expensive devices less special.
Now that the 2020 iPad Air has launched and not only gone full-screen with no Home button, but actually retained Touch ID, could the iPad mini follow in its footsteps?
There are suggestions that the design of the iPad mini will change. A Macotakara report back in January 2021 makes a few suggestions:
- Screen size will increase from 7.9in to 8.4in, without increasing the overall size of the device.
- Screen will go almost all the way to the edge of the new model - but the home button will remain (as will Touch ID).
The Naver report mentioned above makes slightly different claims about the screen size. It states that the dimensions of the screen will increase from 7.9in to 8.7in and that the new model will be slightly longer than the current one.
According to Jon Prosser, the mini will increase from the current 203.2 × 134.6 × 6.1mm to 206.3 x 137.8 x 6.1mm.) Prosser's website Front Page Tech has published renders (including the one below) supposedly showing off the design of the upcoming small tablet. The site says these images are based on the input of "multiple sources". Read: New renders reveal design of sixth-gen iPad mini.
Display analyst Ross Young in July 2021 also predicted that the next edition of the iPad mini will have a larger screen, increasing from 7.9in to 8.3in. Read: iPad mini 6 'to get larger 8.3in screen'.
As we published earlier today, iPad mini 6 is 8.3".— Ross Young (@DSCCRoss) July 26, 2021
New features & specs
Specs-wise the iPad mini's likely route is gentle incremental improvement, rather than a revolutionary overhaul. Here's what we expect to change.
In general when predicting features for the next iPad mini it must be kept in mind that Apple will almost always want to roll these out to the Pros first, then trickle them down to the Airs and minis the following generation (or later still). So, for example, a mini-LED screen looks unlikely.
Face ID or Touch ID?
If the mini loses the Home button it is likely that Touch ID will be moved to the side button, as in the case of the iPad Air.
It's certainly unlikely that the iPad mini will gain Face ID when the iPad Air didn't. In fact there remain some doubts about Face ID on iPad, because tablets aren't picked up as much as smartphones - on the larger iPad Pro in particular, you often have to lean forward over the desk to get your mug in the camera's viewfinder. But that'll be far less of an issue with the light, portable iPad mini.
Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst with bags of experience covering Apple and a good reputation for accuracy, predicts that the mini will jump in screen size from the current 7.9in - not just current, in fact; all five iPad mini models have had 7.9in screens - to somewhere between 8.5in and 9in. That's comparatively whopping.
The Macotakara report we mentioned earlier suggested that the new iPad mini screen size will increase to 8.4in, without increasing the overall size of the device. That's not quite as big as Kuo's prediction, but it's sutibly mini.
The Naver report stated that the dimensions of the screen will increase to 8.7in and that the new model will be slightly longer than the current one.
We'd also like to see True Tone and a Liquid Retina Display, as with the 2020 iPad Air.
The Pro tablets' ProMotion screen tech didn't reach the iPad Air range in 2020, so it is unlikely that it will be added to the iPad mini yet.
It does seem that Apple will be adding mini-LED displays to its Macs and iPads in 2021. Apple supplier for displays, Radiant Opto-Electronics, has reported an increased demand for mini LEDs thought to be destined for a new iPad mini and MacBook Pro.
According to DigiTimes sources, some of the mini LED screen orders are destined for the new iPad mini, with the manufacturer set to receive the screens for the iPad mini in August. Read more: Mini LED display coming to iPad mini soon.
The iPad mini is currently equipped with an A12 processor so even an A13 would be a step forward. The iPad Air has an A14 processor so it would seem fitting that the iPad mini should get that too.
However, it sounds like there is a possibility that the 6th gen iPad mini could get a super-fast A15 chip.
According to 9to5Mac, the new iPad mini has the code name J310 will be equipped with the same powerful (and brand-new) A15 processor chip set to appear in the iPhone 13 (due to be released around the same time).
This would be an unusual move because it would make the iPad mini more powerful than the latest iPad Air. It would also make the new tablet quicker than the basic iPad, which features the A12. Read more here: Next iPad mini to get brand-new, super-fast A15 chip.
We hope to get a better camera on the back of the iPad mini - currently it's 8MP, while the 2020 iPad Air has a 12MP camera.
Even 8MP was a vast improvement on pre-March 2019 when it jumped from 5MP to 8MP.
The front facing camera will surely get an update: right now this is a measly 1.2MP compared to 7MP on the iPad Air.
Apple Pencil and Keyboard options
We suspect that compatibility with the wonderful second-gen Apple Pencil could arrive in this generation as it arrived on the iPad Air back in September 2020.
It's likely that the iPad mini will continue to just be compatible with Bluetooth keyboards, unless Apple designs a Smart Keyboard Folio specifically for that smaller device (unlikely we think due to a smaller size keyboard being hard to type on).
Lightning or USB-C
It is expected that the iPad mini move from Lightning to USB-C for charging, as was the case with the iPad Air in 2020.
Apple may also upgrade the 2019 mini's stereo to quad speakers, something that's been offered on the Pro range since 2015.
Touch ID of Face ID
Touch ID is expected to be available through the power button.
Should iPad mini 6 get the rumoured Apple Pencil support and a larger screen, the new features that have been announced for iPadOS 15 at WWDC will be even more appealing. You'll be able to get a sneak preview of this ahead of the iPad mini 6 release, as it's available in developer beta form from 7 June, in public beta in July, and to all compatible iPads in the fall.
New iPadOS improves the experience of widgets on the home screen, with both more to choose from and a larger display format on iPad. 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.
At the top of the screen you can tap to access a new multitasking menu, offering options for Split-Screen and Slideover, and new keyboard controls also support these features.
QuickNote brings Notes system-wide. Using Apple Pencil you can swipe in from the corner of the screen in any app to quickly scribble down a note, then swipe it away when you're done. QuickNote will also be available on macOS and accessible on iOS.
Also interesting is Swift Playgrounds support that lets developers build, test and even submit for approval iPhone and iPad apps from iPad itself, plus privacy enhancements to Siri that enable on-device voice recognition.
For in-depth analysis and testing of the current mini model, read our iPad mini (2019) review.
For more information about what Apple will launch in 2021 read: New Apple products guide to what's coming out in 2021