Our current pick as the best iPad for most people is the 9.7in model released in 2018: it's a fast, portable tablet with (first-gen) Apple Pencil support and an affordable price tag. We're therefore keen to know when the follow-up device will be released, and what it will look like.
In this article we round up all the leaks and speculation about the iPad 9.7in's 2019 update, covering its release date, price, design changes, tech specs and new features.
If you're interested in the current generation, you may like to read our roundup of the best iPad deals.
When will Apple release the new iPad 9.7in? This spring, we expect - probably late March 2019.
The previous two models in the series have both been announced in March. The iPad 9.7in (2017) was launched on 24 Mar 2017, and the iPad 9.7in (2018) launched on 27 Mar 2018.
Apple frequently holds a full-blown press event in the spring - it did so in 2015, 2016 and 2018 - but if there is only a quite minor, iterative upgrade to be announced (without the accompaniment of a new iPhone SE, for example) this could be slipped out in a press release, as happened in 2017.
An alternative theory holds that we'll have to wait until the second half of 2019 for the new iPad. This is according to the Chinese report linked below, which predicts a physical redesign with smaller bezels and a 10in screen. But until we hear corroborating evidence for this, we'll still expect a spring update.
The iPad 9.7in's appeal is heavily based on its refreshingly sensible pricing. Starting at just £319/$329, it's within most people's budgets, and cheaper even than the much older and less powerful iPad mini 4 (although that device does come with more storage as a base offering). Here's the full price list:
- iPad 9.7in (2018, 32GB, Wi-Fi): £319/$329
- iPad 9.7in (2018, 128GB, Wi-Fi): £409/$429
- iPad 9.7in (2018, 32GB, cellular): £449/$459
- iPad 9.7in (2018, 128GB, cellular): £539/$559
So we certainly don't expect a premium price tag, and Apple would, we imagine, love to hit the same starting price as in 2018. But it's more likely to achieve this in the US than in the UK, where Brexit-related political uncertainty and currency fluctuation may see price rises across the board.
And if the more radical redesign discussed below comes to pass, that's likely to push up the price still further.
There's one big question here: will Apple bring the full-screen design across from the Pro line? The shrunk bezels, removed Home button, Face ID and bigger screen-to-body ratio of the 11in and 12.9in Pros from 2018 wowed our reviewers and the public alike, and would surely be a hit on the 9.7in chassis.
One report, which came out of China in late December, thinks it will - to some extent. The report predicts that the bezels will get smaller (although not to the same extent as the iPad Pros) and the screen consequently increased to 10in within a chassis of roughly the same size.
It adds that a new iPad mini will come out in 2019 and replace the 9.7in model as the budget option; the mid-size model will be priced higher and have a more advanced design and spec.
However, our suspicion is that Apple won't do this yet. Partly this is because some people love the old design (particularly the Home button; it isn't totally clear if this will be eliminated in the above design) and the company will probably want to keep catering to those buyers. But more importantly we think it's because the Pros need to stay special.
The first Pro model in 2015 had Apple Pencil compatibility to set it apart from the rest of the line-up, and Apple didn't give that up to a non-Pro device until 2018 - that's three years of exclusivity. We'd be very surprised if it let a non-Pro tablet get the all-screen design after only six months.
This means we expect the design to stay mostly the same - maybe the curved underside will be replaced by the squared-off edges of the 2018 Pros, but other than that we don't see much changing. Which will disappoint some, but remember that the iPad 9.7in is all about offering good-quality tablet computing at an affordable price, not offering the very latest developments.
(Maybe Apple will see fit to include a laminated screen, though. We hope so, since that cheap-feeling, slightly flexible display was the main negative cited in our reviews of the 2017 and 2018 models.)
Specs & new features
There are a couple of obvious parameters when discussing the specs of the next iPad. It needs to show enough improvements on the 2017 and 2018 specs to persuade people to buy or upgrade, but it can't get too close to the spec of the (much more expensive) iPad Pros or it will cannibalise the higher-margin sales.
Within those boundaries, where will Apple pitch the new iPad in terms of specs and features? Let's explore some of the possibilities.
This is an obvious place to start. The company finally allowed the Apple Pencil to play with a non-Pro iPad last year, and then roughly six months later it announced a second-gen Pencil that was, again, Pro-only. Will the 2019 iPad 9.7in work with the original Pencil, the new Pencil, both or neither?
Probably just the old one, same as the 2018 model. It's important for Apple to keep some things exclusive to the Pro line-up, and the brilliant new Pencil (which attaches magnetically and charges wirelessly, whereas its predecessor attached precariously and charged stupidly) is a big reason to pay extra.
The 2018 iPad Pro models haven't got twin-lens cameras like the newer iPhones, but they can still do Portrait Mode for selfies thanks to software alone. This feature is also offered on the iPhone XR, and may be sufficiently mainstream in Apple's eyes to allow it to be included on the next iPad 9.7in.
Some tech specs can be guessed well in advance.
Following on from the 2018 model's A10 processor chip, the 2019 model is likely to get an A11, which would offer a speed bump without threatening the A12X-equipped Pros.
The display is unlikely to get a higher resolution: the 2018 iPad and iPad Pros alike have 264ppi pixel density. Expect, once again, 9.7in at 2048 × 1536.
Apple may feel able to include the ProMotion tech which selectively adjusts screen refresh rate up to 120Hz depending on what you're doing, in order to preserve battery life. As the name suggests, this is a Pro feature, but it was first rolled out in summer 2017 and the company may feel ready to open this up to the mainstream.
And what about ports? We'd be very surprised indeed if Apple replaced the Lightning port with USB-C, as it did on the 2018 Pro models, since that was done specifically to cater for artists and creative professionals who are the iPad Pro's target market. But, sadly, the headphone jack may bite the dust.