The iPad Air underwent a significant redesign in September 2020, with Apple removing the Home button and making its mid-tier tablet look a lot closer to the premium iPad Pros. It was a bold and appealing update.
But Apple has kept surprisingly quiet since that launch, and it's looking increasingly likely (at time of writing, there are just 16 full days left of the year) that the Air will have been left alone for the entirety of 2021. Has the company got more excitement in store for the Air in 2022?
In this article we round up the latest news and rumours surrounding the next iPad Air update, from its release date and tech specs to new features and pricing.
When will the new iPad Air be released?
We expect the next iPad Air to arrive early in 2022 - very likely at a spring event in March or April.
The iPad Air was first introduced in 2013 but has had a patchy update schedule ever since, with irregular gaps of anything from one to three and a half years between generations. Here's when the new models have arrived:
- iPad Air (1st gen): November 2013
- iPad Air (2nd gen): October 2014
- iPad Air (3rd gen): March 2018
- iPad Air (4th gen): October 2020
Based on this, it was never very likely that Apple would suddenly switch to a yearly update cycle for the Air. An 18-month gap from the 4th to the 5th gen seems perfectly reasonable, but it could be even longer.
How much will the new iPad Air cost?
When Apple updated the iPad Air in 2020 it also saw a price increase, presumably because of the new design. Here's how the current range lines up in terms of cost:
- iPad Air (2020, 64GB, Wi-Fi): £579/US$599/AU$899
- iPad Air (2020, 256GB, Wi-Fi): £729/US$749/AU$1,129
- iPad Air (2020, 64GB, Wi-Fi + Cellular): £709/US$729/$1,099
- iPad Air (2020, 256GB, Wi-Fi + Cellular): £859/US$879/AU$1,329
(You can find the lowest current prices in our guide to the best iPad deals.)
With the new tier only recently set by Apple, we don't expect it to change much when the new Air arrives. So expect to pay around the £600/US$600/AU$900 mark for the updated base-model version when it finally arrives.
In what ways will the new iPad Air look different to its predecessors? Let's look at upcoming design changes and other exterior elements.
Under-screen Touch ID
We've already seen rumours that a forthcoming version of the iPhone could feature a Touch ID sensor positioned under the display. This would allow for an edge-to-edge screen without either the notch needed for the Face ID camera array or a Home button for the fingerprint sensor.
Admittedly, the redesigned iPad Air (2020) found a different workaround for this problem by embedding the Touch ID sensor in the power button. But it would still make a lot of sense to use this new technology in any updated version of the iPad Air, especially with Apple's famous desire to remove ports and buttons from devices.
There are very few tablets that come with an IP68 waterproofing rating. Samsung has had its Active Tab range in the past, while Amazon's latest Kindle Paperwhite e-reader can survive a dunk in the bath, but so far any iPad that fell into the sink while you were trying to read a recipe will have most likely ended their days there and then.
We're not sure if the technical challenge of sealing a unit the size of an iPad is the issue, but Apple has shown in the past that it's always up for a design challenge. With that in mind, we'd love to see the next iPad Air come with waterproofing, so it can survive in the rain, at the beach or the perils of a kitchen.
Tech specs and new features
Apple is yet to even confirm the existence of a new iPad Air, and there's not much in the way of news or rumours that have emerged so far. We can at least make an educated guess on what the update may bring to the table, along with a few items from our own wish list.
One component that's pretty much guaranteed is the latest iteration of Apple's A-series of processors.
The current iPad Air (2020) features an A14 chip, as found in last year's iPhone 12 models, so it would make sense for the A15 silicon from the 13-series iPhone to also appear in the iPad Air when it's next updated.
Alternatively the iPad Air could adopt the M1 chip like the iPad Pro has done as of the 2021 model.
One of the most significant tech upgrades on the way for the iPad Air is the move from the current LCD screens to OLED, which will bring improved image quality, greater contrast, wider colour range and lower power consumption.
(While an improvement on LCD, OLED isn't as good as the mini-LED used on the 12.9in iPad Pro; it's an inbetweener option that balances price and performance. Apparently Apple's decision to equip the Pro with mini-LED instead of OLED was because the requirements for professional devices are different: a pro app is more likely to be displayed on the screen for hours, which can lead to burn-in on an OLED.)
The question is this: how soon will Apple make the switch?
For a while we've been expecting it to happen in 2022, with numerous reports pointing to a relatively imminent upgrade. Apple is said, for example, to have already ordered large and medium-sized OLED displays from Samsung and LG for use in the new Air.
Samsung and LG already provide OLEDs for use in the Apple Watch and various iPhone models. A May 2021 ETNews report suggests that they will be providing the OLED displays for Apple's iPads. More here: iPad Air with OLED display coming in 2022. Analyst Ming-Chip Kuo has also indicated that the iPad Air will gain an OLED display in 2022.
But more recently, analysts at Display Supply Chain Consultants have advised caution, suggesting that the switch to OLED on the Air may not happen until 2023.
"Apple's entry into the OLED tablet market expected in 2023 will boost the tablet market to over $1bn [in OLED revenues] in 2024," the site predicts.
More storage options
This is more of a hopeful plea than something we truly believe will appear on the next iPad Air. At the moment, the entry-level model features only 64GB of storage, which is woefully small for a device that costs as much as it does and is being advertised by Apple as a potential replacement for a laptop.
128GB would be a lot better in terms of allowing you to store more content and apps on the device without having to juggle the free space. Upgrading the second storage option to 512GB rather than the current 256GB would still keep a noticeable difference between the two models but make life just that bit easier for consumers.
Of course, Apple could offer three different storage tiers, as it does with the iPhone, enabling people to get an iPad that truly suits their needs.
ProMotion is the 120Hz screen refresh rate that makes scrolling incredibly smooth and generally gives the iPad Pro, the iPhone 13 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max their sumptuous viewing experience.
Up until now, the Pro part of the name has indicated that this is a feature reserved for Apple's premium devices. But with so many Android smartphones already employing this technology, even on mid-tier devices, we think it could be something that finally makes its way on to the iPad Air when it's updated (at least we hope so).
The next iPad Air will run iPadOS, but it's debatable which version.
Version 15, the latest iPadOS update announced at WWDC 2021, has some exciting features. It improves the experience of widgets on the home screen, for example: not only are there more to choose from, but on iPad they now also have a larger format that takes advantage of the larger canvas. Because this means some of your frequently used apps might get pushed to secondary home screens, Apple also introduced an App Library that is accessible from the Dock.
Tapping at the top of the screen brings up a new multitasking menu, offering options for Split-Screen and Slide Over, and new keyboard controls also support these features.
QuickNote, also available on macOS, and accessible on iOS, brings Notes system-wide. You can swipe in from the corner of the screen in any app to quickly scribble down a note with an Apple Pencil, then swipe away when done.
For developers, a more exciting addition is Swift Playgrounds, which lets you build, test and even submit for approval iPhone and iPad apps right from iPad itself.
Lastly, new privacy features include an exciting update to Siri: on-device voice recognition. Device-specific requests will now no longer require an internet connection to complete, and with no recording of your voice there's no need to be concerned over how that recording is stored.
You can read more about iPadOS 15 in our dedicated article. It's an exciting update - but by the time the new iPad Air arrives it's possible we'll have received some hints about iPadOS 16. Expect that update to be announced at WWDC 2022 in June, before rolling out to the public in the autumn of the same year.
You can read more about Apple's upcoming product launches in other articles we've written.
Those eagerly awaiting the next iPhone announcements, for example, can read our thoughts on the iPhone SE 3 and the iPhone 14. We've got the latest rumours on the Apple Watch Series 8, too, as well as the next version of the Apple Pencil.
For a broader view of Apple's next 12 months, read our guide to the new Apple products coming in 2022.