What a week that was: ahead of its heavily promoted software services extravaganza on 25 March 2019, Apple slipped out a sequence of hardware updates including the glorious return of the iPad Air and iPad mini brands.
We love the 2019 Air, but we've got a new question: is this going to be a regular thing? Is this the first of many Airs, or the swansong of a beloved line?
In this article we speculate about the release date, price, design, new features and tech specs of the next iPad Air.
The current iPad Air came out in March 2019, following - and at the time we thought possibly replacing - two consecutive iPad 9.7in releases in the same month the two years before that. But it all got a bit more confusing when Apple dropped a new non-Air iPad shortly before the end of the year.
- March 2017: iPad 9.7in (2017)
- March 2018: iPad 9.7in (2018)
- March 2019: iPad Air (2019)
- September 2019: iPad 10.2in
In other words the Air 2019 is not a continuation of the 9.7in line, which has instead been replaced by the iPad 10.2in. The four flavours of iPad - standard, mini, Air and Pro - will all co-exist.
Admittedly, the most obvious extrapolation remains for the iPad Air 4 - or iPad Air (2020) - to come out in March 2020, a year after its predecessor. (It's likely that new iPad Pros will appear at that time, making for a potentially exciting launch event.) But that assumes the 2019 version was sufficiently popular that Apple wants to come out with a new version.
And while we're keen on the most recent Air, it's a significantly different prospect to the budget-priced models that preceded it. We cannot take it for granted that Apple will decide to make this a yearly thing.
The 2019 incarnation of the iPad Air has a reasonably conservative design: the Home button is still there, most obviously, so you don't get the risky but super-cool all-screen (or rather almost all-screen, since there's no notch) design that we got on the 2018 iPad Pro models. Which makes sense; if we had access to that design for £479/$499, why would we shell out for a Pro?
That could change next time around. We could have new Pros by then, and while it's unlikely that Apple will drastically revamp their design for a second update in a row, they ought to have a bunch of exciting new features - and these would safeguard the 'specialness' of the Pro line if the company was tempted to trickle down elements of their design to cheaper sibling devices.
Our cautious early prediction: no Home button, no notch, very thin bezels, Face ID. But we're a fair way out from launch so please don't quote us on that.
Specs and new features
Aside from the Face ID feature that would be part of the deal if we ditch the Home button and associated Touch ID fingerprint sensor, what other specs and new features can we expect to grace the Air in 2020? Well, that all depends on the Pro line.
Apple walks a tightrope with its mid-market and budget tablets: it wants them to be appealing to the mass market, but it doesn't want to make them so appealing in terms of feature set that nobody needs to buy a Pro and pay the higher price. So whenever predicting what a non-Pro iPad will be able to do, you should always look at the equivalent Pro and scale downwards by 25 percent.
New Pros are expected soon, and once they appear we'll have a baseline to work from. But remember that whatever new features they get won't be allowed into the Air for a year or so after. If there's a feature that isn't in the Pro lineup already, it would be a major surprise for it to make it into the next Air.
OLED screen? Might just appear in the next Pro (although cost would be prohibitive), but isn't in the 2018 one so forget about that for the next couple of years, prospective Air owners. Same applies to mouse support (which doesn't really fit in with a non-pro context anyway) and a dual-lens camera.
But we might well get a boost to the RAM allocation (2GB in the 2018 9.7in, 3GB in the 2019 Air, but dwarfed by the 4GB/6GB in the 2018 Pros) and the A12 processor will be replaced by an A13.
Here's the pricing (at time of writing) for the iPad Air (2019):
- iPad Air (2019, 64GB, Wi-Fi): £479/$499
- iPad Air (2019, 256GB, Wi-Fi): £629/$649
- iPad Air (2019, 64GB, cellular): £599/$629
- iPad Air (2019, 256GB, cellular): £749/$779
As usual with iterative updates, we'd expect and hope that Apple would hit the same entry-level price in 2020.
Whether this is practical (or desirable, from the company's point of view) remains to be seen, particularly in the UK if Brexit (when and if it finally happens) damages the value of the pound. But any higher than the above prices and the new Air is going to look distinctly unappealing beside the £349/$329 iPad 10.2in.
Software and apps
No new iPad hardware was announced at WWDC on 3 June 2019. But there was plenty of interest for iPad owners: for one thing, it was confirmed that Apple's tablets are getting their own dedicated operating system, called iPadOS.
iPadOS is based on iOS 13, but has a number of separate features and a different interface with many more gesture controls designed to improve workflow. iPadOS will launch to the general public in autumn, and the next iPad Air, when it comes out, will have iPadOS preinstalled.
Read our iPadOS explainer for more details.
And that's it for now: we'll update this article regularly as more iPad Air rumours emerge. If you're more of a 'products that have been confirmed to actually exist' type of person, you may prefer to read our iPad buying guide and our roundup of the Best iPad deals.