Apple had a big 2019, with three new iPhones, an extra-large MacBook Pro, the Mac Pro and the Apple Watch Series 5 all dominating the headlines. But the company's tablet department refused to be outshone: the Air and mini lines were triumphantly resurrected and the iPad 10.2in was described in our review as "the premier entry-level Apple device".
Which raises the all-important question: what's next for the iPad? Will the iPad Air and mini continue their resurgence into 2020, and when will Apple unveil its next Pro models? Most importantly, what is in store for the baseline iPad - the tablet that introduces so many people to the iPadOS ecosystem?
In this article we round up and analyse the latest and most plausible rumours about the new iPad for 2020 and its release date, design, new features and price.
The 10.2in iPad was announced in September 2019, but it's risky to attempt to extrapolate much from that because iPads have been known to launch at all sorts of times of year. It's not like the iPhone, whose autumn launches are now so regular and predictable that you can set your clock (or perhaps calendar) by them.
Strap in for a deep dive: here's when every single Apple tablet has been launched. It's usually March/April or autumn, but there's been one in June just to keep us on our toes.
- iPad: April 2010
- iPad 2: March 2011
- iPad 3: March 2012
- iPad mini (2012): November 2012
- iPad 4: November 2012
- iPad Air (2013): November 2013
- iPad mini 2: November 2013
- iPad mini 3: October 2014
- iPad Air 2: October 2014
- iPad mini 4: September 2015
- iPad Pro 12.9in (2015): November 2015
- iPad Pro 9.7in: March 2016
- iPad 9.7in (2017): March 2017
- iPad Pro 12.9in (2017): June 2017
- iPad Pro 10.5in: June 2017
- iPad 9.7in (2018): March 2018
- iPad Pro 12.9in (2018): October 2018
- iPad Pro 11in: October 2018
- iPad Air (2019): March 2019
- iPad mini (2019): March 2019
- iPad 10.2in: September 2019
Based on this, our expected calendar of iPad launches for 2020 is as follows:
- March 2020: New iPad Pro models
- June 2020: New iPad Air and iPad mini
- September 2020: New iPad (10.2in, or potentially a new size)
But there is by necessity an element of guesswork to this. It's certainly likely that the Pro will get a refresh, having been ignored for the whole of 2019; while the baseline iPad, last updated in September, is unlikely to get an update until late in 2020.
The most obvious change to expect in the design department concerns the screen. Apple has been pushing its midsize tablets' screen sizes upwards for the past few years, by either shrinking the bezels or removing the Home button.
- iPad (2018): 9.7in
- iPad (2019): 10.2in
- iPad Air 2 (2014): 9.7in
- iPad Air (2019): 10.5in
- iPad Pro (2016): 9.7in
- iPad Pro (2017): 10.5in
- iPad Pro (2018): 11in
The reason we specify midsize tablets is because, perhaps curiously, the iPad mini has remained constant at 7.9in since the day it first launched, and the top-size Pro has likewise remained at 12.9in. In both of these outlier cases Apple has chosen to shrink the device around a screen of consistent size instead of expanding the screen within a device of (roughly) constant size, as it does with the mid-size models.
Regardless of that anomaly, a reasonable hope would be for the 2020 iPad to have a screen of 10.5in or larger.
Will Apple be ready to take the big leap, design-wise, and remove the Home button, as on the 2018 iPad Pro models above? This would make it easier to expand the screen (we could well expect an 11in display) but it's a radical move that would put some people off.
Not everyone was overjoyed when the iPhone X lost its Home button, and some people prefer Touch ID (which reached a peak of reliability and speed with the second-gen version used in all the pre-2018 iPad Pro models, and in the Air 2 and mini 4 and later).
The other issue is about premium exclusivity. The iPad Pro models have always been a lot more expensive than the rest of the range, and Apple has had to justify this by offering exclusive features. For the first couple of generations the big sell was Apple Pencil compatibility, but this has since been diffused to the other models as well; in its place, the 2018 iPad Pros offer exclusive access to the no-Home-button/Face ID design.
So our take is that the regular iPad won't get the all-screen (or almost all-screen) design until Apple has found a new exclusive feature for iPad Pro owners to boast about - and the mid-price iPad Air should get access to the new design at the same time as the budget iPad, or that won't feel like a good buying decision either.
This might all sound like a long shot, but remember that the iPad Pro has gone an entire calendar year without an update for the first time since it debuted, so a launch could well happen early in 2020. After that it would feasible for a Face ID Air (and mini, quite possibly) to launch in the summer, or alongside a Face ID iPad in the autumn.
As described above, Apple always delivers features to its Pro tablets first, before trickling them down to the rest of the range a year or two down the line. So when predicting the features of the baseline iPad for 2020, we must start with the iPad Pro 2018 and proceed from there.
This ties in directly with the design comments in the section above, but if Apple decides to spread the almost all-screen design of the iPad Pros into the rest of the range, they will have to get Face ID facial recognition too.
(This assumes Apple hasn't yet cracked the logistical challenges of embedding a fingerprint sensor in the screen. We're pretty sure the company is working on that one, but it's most likely to make its debut in a new iPhone, rather than in a budget tablet.)
iPad Pro displays offer ProMotion tech, which enables them to switch refresh rate (up to 120Hz) depending on the demands of the current task; this means improved performance when it's useful and improved battery life when it's not. That hasn't yet filtered down to the iPad Air or baseline iPad, and may make the jump in 2020.
More likely, however, is True Tone, another of Apple's screen features. True Tone subtly and continuously adjusts screen output to account for variations in ambient lighting, and results in a more consistent experience of colour, brightness and so on. Unlike ProMotion, True Tone has made its way to the iPad Air (and mini), but not to the base iPad - and we predict that it will make that final step in 2020. See True Tone vs Night Shift for more information.
Lastly, we've been knocking baseline iPads since 2017 for one reason only: they have unlaminated screens, which means they 'give' very slightly when you press on them. We hope the next generation is the one where Apple commits to lamination throughout its tablet range.
Apple Pencil 2 support
We mentioned earlier that the iPad Pros lost Pencil exclusivity a couple of generations back, but Apple promptly launched a second-gen Apple Pencil, which is far better (particularly in its manner of charging) than the original. This is only for iPad Pro models - and only the 2018 ones at that.
We hope the next baseline iPad will support the Apple Pencil 2, but feel this is something of a long shot. It hasn't been a Pro exclusive for long enough, we suspect.
We expect the 2020 iPad's pricing to start at £349/$329.
Here's what the 2019 iPad costs, as of 9 December 2019:
- iPad 10.2in (2019, 32GB): £349/$329
- iPad 10.2in (2019, 128GB): £449/$429
- iPad 10.2in (2019, 32GB, cellular): £479/$459
- iPad 10.2in (2019, 128GB, cellular): £579/$559
We'd expect Apple to get the 2020 version out at the same dollar prices, but there's a real danger that the UK prices will go up. A lot depends on the success or otherwise of the European withdrawal arrangements, and the effect this has on the strength of the pound.
That concludes our delve into the latest iPad rumours. For related news, may we recommend our iPadOS 14 predictions?