Tonight Apple announced the latest addition to its long-running iPad Air line of tablets. The company described it as the most powerful iPad Air ever - no surprises there - and trumpeted its larger screen, improved camera and Touch ID, A14 processor and audio upgrades.
Here's everything you need to know about the new iPad Air for 2020.
Release date & availability
The iPad Air (2020) was announced tonight at Apple's 15 September Time Flies event. Unlike other products such as the Apple Watch SE, however, it isn't available for pre-order right away; Apple only says the new Air "will be available starting next month... in 30 countries and regions, including the US". That's an October launch, then.
The lack of a specific mention of the UK is slightly concerning for this website and readers from the same country, incidentally, but there is at least UK-specific pricing.
Unlike with most of its other lines, Apple's iPads often cost more in dollars in the US than they do in pounds in the UK, and the new Air follows that pattern. Here's what the models cost in both countries:
- iPad Air 2020 (64GB, Wi-Fi): £579/$599
- iPad Air 2020 (256GB, Wi-Fi): £729/$749
- iPad Air 2020 (64GB, cellular): £709/$729
- iPad Air 2020 (256GB, cellular): £859/$879
Worth noting that these prices are considerably higher than the equivalents for the last Air: at least £100/$100 higher in each case. The Air 2019 started at £479/$499.
We have a comparison of the iPad Air and iPad Pro here, the big surprise is just how good the iPad Air when compared to the Pro!
As expected, the Air has inherited the design that the iPad Pro got in 2018 - one with no Home button and relatively slim bezels around the edge. (You get a larger screen for the device size, but it isn't an all-screen design by any means; then again, that may not be a bad thing given the way most of us hold our iPads and the fingerprints that would result if there was no bezel to put our fingers on. It also means there's room in the top bezel for the front-facing camera, and consequently no notch.)
It's a really smart and modern-looking design, albeit less modern-looking than it seemed in 2018. This is always the way when buying any tier of a product below the top level: you have to wait for hand-me-down features.
The interesting thing about this design, however, is the way Apple has compromised between the approaches used in the iPad Pro and in its Home button iPads. The new Air doesn't get Face ID, unexpectedly, and instead uses Touch ID (it's the second-gen version, too, so it should be fast and reliable). But where do you put your finger? There's a fingerprint sensor built into the top button.
This is interesting because it's something Apple has never done before. Its highest-end iPhones, its most expensive iPads, none of them have had fingerprint sensors anywhere that isn't a Home button.
In this case we get only Touch ID, but the apparent practicality of building Touch ID into a power button raises the spectre of allowing users two different biometric security systems: the iPhone 12 or the iPad Pro 2021 could feasibly offer both Face ID and Touch ID. But that's a story for another day.
In another Pro-emulating move, Lightning is gone, replaced by USB-C. That's probably good news in the long run, as it makes it easier for more third parties to make accessories, but does mean any Lighting kit you already own will have to go.
Last of all, note the inclusion of two new colour finishes: as well as silver, Space Grey and Rose Gold, the 2020 Air comes in green and blue.
Here are some photos of the new iPad Air, to give an idea of its aesthetic elegance.
Specs & features
To justify that higher price tag, the new Air needs some impressive specs. Luckily there's plenty to talk about here.
The most obvious boost to the Air's specs list is the larger screen: it's up to 10.9in, compared to 10.5in in the 2019 model. That's enabled by the removal of the Home button, so you don't have to put up with a less portable device to get that extra screen space.
(In fact, the dimensions are a tiny bit different. The new Air is 3mm shorter and 4.4mm wider than last year's model. And oddly enough, the Wi-Fi version is very slightly heavier, while the cellular is slightly lighter: it's 458g/460g, compared to 456g/464g last year. We don't think you'll notice these differences.)
The pixel density is the same as on last year's model, at 264ppi, but because it's across a larger area the resolution is higher: 2360 x 1640, up from 2224 x 1668. And there's no ProMotion.
The screen bump is nice, but we shouldn't let the processor be put in the shade. It's an Apple proprietary chip branded as the A14 Bionic - no surprises there to anyone who can count. What is a surprise, though, is that like 'Touch ID in a power button', the Air is getting this chip generation before any other Apple device. The iPad Pro is on the A12Z; the iPhone 11 Pro Max has the A13. The iPhone 12 will get the A14 soon, of course, but until October the iPad Air has the world exclusive.
The A14 has, Apple dutifully reports, 11.8 billion transistors, a new 6-core design, 4-core graphics architecture and a 16-core Neural Engine that's capable of performing up to 11 trillion operations per second. In theory this should all mean a 40% CPU speed bump compared to the (A12-equipped) 2019 Air, and a 30% improvement in graphics, but we will of course put this all to the test in real-world tests once review samples become available.
And there are lots of other exciting boosts and improvements.
The new Air is compatible, for example, with the brilliant Apple Pencil 2, a model that we greatly prefer to the original thanks to its magnetic attachment and wireless charging. That's another Pro exclusive gone by the wayside. The Air is also now compatible with the Magic Keyboard.
The camera setup can't quite compete with the Pro's multi-lens arrangement, but the rear-facing camera does see a boost from 8Mp to 12Mp and from f/2.4 to f/1.8 - that's now the same wide-angle camera as in the Pro, albeit not accompanied by an ultra-wide-angle partner.
You now get Smart HDR. Video recording goes up from 1080p at 30fps to 4K at up to 60fps; slow-mo now tops out at 240fps instead of 120fps; and there's now continuous autofocus on video. Panorama is increased from 43MP to 63MP.
Basically there are lots of camera improvements and we can't wait to try them out.
A grab-bag of upgrades from the 2019 Air:
- The display is now rated as Liquid Retina rather than just Retina. That's mainly a marketing term, to be honest, but we assume this is to indicate the slightly larger size and number of onscreen pixels. In most other respects the screen is the same as last year.
- Audio (still based on two speakers) now gets landscape mode.
- Live Photos now gets stabilisation.
- The new Air gets Wi‑Fi 6 (adding 802.11ax), with claimed top speeds up from 866Mbps to 1.2Gbps.
- Gigabit-class LTE increased from 28 to 30 bands.
And that's it! Stay tuned to Macworld for a review as soon as we can get our hands on a sample, and news on the launch date when that emerges. If you're interested in the other products launched at the Time Flies event, you can read about iPad 8, the Apple Watch Series 6 and the Apple Watch SE.