Apple announced three new iPads in 2017: a pair of Pro models in summer and the iPad 9.7in, which appeared in March. We weren't wholly convinced by the 9.7in, which was cheap but sure felt like it, but it was hugely popular, and consumers are keen to see what Apple comes up with next.
In this article we round up all the rumours about the next iPad 9.7in, from its probably release date to price and tech specs. For advice related to the current line-up, see our iPad buying guide and our roundup of the best iPad deals.
Spring 2018 looks like a fair bet. Digitimes (subscribers link) reports that the next budget 9.7in iPad "may arrive in the second quarter of 2018": that would be somewhere between April and June.
Bear in mind, however, that 2017 was an unusually fruitful year for Apple's tablet division. Only one iPad came out in 2016, and the general consensus, before the launch of the 9.7in, was that iPads were a decreasingly important part of the company's portfolio. We think the success of this device will encourage Apple to make more tablets, but don't depend on it to make updates as often as it does for iPhones, for example - particularly since low-end tablets like the 9.7in model have less need of the very latest components.
The one thing we want from the 9.7in 2018 is a laminated screen. We didn't much dig the unlaminated screen on the 2017 model (a surprising throwback, since even 2015's iPad Air 2 had a laminated screen), because it flexed slightly when you pressed on it, and felt plasticky and cheap.
Other than that, no great design innovations are expected or particularly wanted from what is an appealingly low-cost (by Apple's standards) mid-size tablet. Apple hasn't done much with the design of even its premium Pro tablets in recent years, so don't expect it from the budget model.
If Apple intends to keep the price down, expect cautious incremental improvements to the specs: if you're looking for the absolute latest processor chips, for instance, this isn't the product for you.
The 9.7in 2017 featured an A9 processor, which was a year and a half old when the device first launched and is now looking quite long in the tooth. We'd hope that for the 2018 update Apple could stretch to an A10 Fusion (or A10X, as in 2017's Pro models), but any variant on the A11 Bionic that appeared in the iPhone 8 and X seems like a long shot.
After topping out at 128GB of storage in 2017, the 9.7in may get a 256GB option this time around (for comparison, the Pros go up to 512GB); we'd expect 128GB to be more than enough room for those in the market for devices at this level, but the side effect would be to bring up the entry-level configuration to 64GB.
Finally, the front-facing camera currently feels distinctly underpowered at 1.2Mp: the Pro models have 7Mp selfie cameras, as do all iPhones from the 7 onwards. This could get a bump to 5Mp, and we'd be pleased if it did.
However, if the pricing rumours (below) are to be believed, Apple may keep the specs almost the same as the 2017 model, and focus instead on getting it out at the lowest possible cost.
The 9.7in iPad's raison d'être is its bargain price tag, and all of the above speculation - particularly our ambitious plans to revamp its innards - will be weighed against Apple's ability to deliver on price once again.
Here's what the 2017 model costs:
- iPad 9.7in (Wi-Fi, 32GB): £339/US$329
- iPad 9.7in (Wi-Fi, 128GB): £429/US$429
- iPad 9.7in (cellular, 32GB): £469/US$459
- iPad 9.7in (cellular, 128GB): £559/US$559
Ordinarily we would expect roughly the same pricing for the 2018 model, but word is that Apple is going even lower in 2018. Digitimes' report points to an entry point of US$259 (probably about the same in pounds), and that the device will be aimed at industrial use and other price-sensitive markets.