Update: We've updated our rumor roundup with more details regarding the fabled iPad Pro release date, a possible redesign of Apple's Smart Cover to match, and what the interface might be capable of. Read along for all the new snippets of info!
With Apple's thinner, lighter iPad Air and Retina display-equipped iPad mini out in the open, what's left for Apple to do?
Rumor has it that the Mac maker is working on an even larger iPad, commonly referred to as the "iPad Pro." We've combed through all of the rumors and scuttlebutt to bring you everything we've heard so far about this alleged iPad Pro.
Apple did something interesting with the launch of the latest full-sized iPad (aside from a total hardware revamp): Gave it a new name. The iPad Air alludes to the Cupertino, Calif. company adopting the naming convention of its laptop lines, the MacBook Air and Pro series, for its premiere range of tablets.
Logic would dictate, then, that if Apple were to release an even more sizable iPad, it would be with a professional bent and named the iPad Pro. So, we're looking at 2014 for a newer, bigger iPad entering a product category that has seen little success thus far. Will Apple be the one to legitimize the "professional's tablet?"
Cut to the chase What is it? A brand new, larger iPad When will it release? Either spring or fall 2014, we expect, possibly 2015 What will it cost? Likely somewhere between the iPad Air and MacBook Air
iPad Pro release date
The iPad Pro release date might be in 2014, following the iPad Air, which released November 1, 2013. However, there are many rumors regarding the tablet's firm release date.
Unnamed Foxconn sources have told Chinese news site Pad News that Apple plans either a late winter/spring or October 2014 release date. To further confuse things, these sources also claim that Apple is working on two versions of the pro-level slate.
According to Pad News, an iPad Pro with a 2K screen resolution will launch in April 2014, while a 4K iPad Pro will land in October. Korea Times's sources at a "local first-tier display supplier" report that a single version will launch "sometime early next year" with a nearly UHD resolution.
Even more sources reporting to China's United Daily News, point to another iPad Pro manufacturing partner entirely: Quanta Computer. DigiTimes's sources (hit-and-miss with rumors) recently backed up this report, claiming that Apple expected the manufacturer to have either a 12.9 or 13.3-inch model ready. Now, the Taiwanese outlet's sources say that Apple is leaning toward the smaller screen.
As if to mix things up even more, International Business Times reports that Apple is aiming for winter or even a spring 2015 release, according to its Foxconn sources.
Computer World points out that most US school districts determine their budgets in January or February each year. So, a fall or winter 2014 launch would make the most sense.
However, Rhoda Alexander, an analyst for market research firm IHS, isn't convinced that we'll see an iPad Pro in 2014 if at all. Alexander told CNET that, while she's aware that many manufacturers are looking at sample panels at various sizes–12.85 inches being one of them–it's still early days for the potential pad.
"We have not seen volume shipments yet of any panels," Alexander told CNET. "We have to get a lot further down the line in terms of seeing really strong indicators from Apple that such a product exists, and we're just not at that point."
Thanks to an analyst with KGI Securities, whether Apple will get to the iPad Pro in 2014 at all is a question we're all asking. According to a report published by the firm, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo doesn't expect that Apple will be ready to launch the pro-grade tablet until 2015.
As of March 17th, the latest from the rumor mill is that Apple has canceled its iPad Pro project altogether. DigitTimes – take that grain of salt – reports that the larger iPad has been shelved, anticipating a lack of support from developers and the overall ecosystem.
Has Apple already backed off out of fear of crowding the market? We hope you like your salt, because DigitTimes backpedaled a bit and reported on March 26th that the larger iPad project is still a go, with a projected late 2014 release date.
Reported on April 9th, the latest again pegs the fabled 12-inch plus slate for sometime in 2015, rather than fall or winter of 2014, KGI analyst Kuo reiterated as much in notes obtained by AppleInsider. But now, Kuo has a reason: Apple is allegedly still working on figuring out the best means of usability for such a large tablet.
"With the 12.9" iPad, we think Apple will come up with a new user interface that's more innovative and intuitive, so that input will be as efficient as a device with keyboard," Kuo said, according to AppleInsider.
Apple tries to quash the rumors
On the Macintosh computer's 30th birthday, Apple executives responded to rumors that the company was looking to merge Mac OS X and iOS into a single operating system. The retort? No chance in hell.
"We don't waste time thinking, 'But it should be one [interface].' How do you make these [operating systems] merge together?' What a waste of energy that would be," Apple SVP of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller told Macworld.
Craig Federighi, Apple's SVP of Software Engineering, echoed Schiller's statement with some rather sensible logic. Regardless, neither does this mean that an even larger iPad isn't in the works nor that iOS could become more professional-friendly to support such a device. Basically, if Apple were to release an iPad Pro, it wouldn't pull a Microsoft.
The competition already heats up
Samsung beat Apple to the punch in unveiling its 12.2-inch Galaxy Note Pro and Galaxy Tab Pro tablets during CES 2014. With that, DigiTimes expects Apple "to release its competitor by the end of the third quarter at the earliest."
It's doubtful that Apple would do much to change the shape of the iPad Pro in its leap to 12.9 inches, the supposed size most rumors point to. The iPad Air's design was applauded by critics (us included), and early sales projections say that consumers are into it. However, an Evercore Partners analyst suspects the size to be a smaller 12 inches to align itself closer to the 11.6-inch MacBook Air, AppleInsider reports.
It should go without saying that the iPad Pro will inevitably be heavier than the iPad Air. To even meet the iPad Air's feathery 453.6 g at 12.9 inches would be a miracle of modern engineering. That said, not much should stop Apple from meeting the Air's super svelte profile at 7.5 mm thin.
The concept designers at SET Solution seem to disagree. In the video above, SET Solution dreams of a device with an even narrower bezel with sharper edges, a camera with the dual LED flash found on the iPhone 5s, Touch ID and a textured aluminum backing.
iOS 8, iPen and iPad Pro keyboard case
iPad Pro keyboard case
Back before the iPad Air unveiling, former Apple fellow Jamie Ryan claimed to have heard from current Apple employees that an iPad keyboard case was in the prototyping stage. Ryan went on to say that the keyboard case mimicked the Microsoft Surface Touch Cover.
While it didn't make the latest iPad debut, the iPad Pro would provide the perfect stage for the reveal of Apple's proprietary iPad keyboard case. Ideally, this keyboard would connect physically to the tablet much like the Smart Cover does today, but use Bluetooth for the interaction. Plus, an included keyboard would all but be a must for a professional-grade tablet.
Ask and ye shall receive! As of March 27th, Apple has released a patent detailing a keyboard cover, combed over by none other than AppleInsider. The patent illustration paints the picture of something similar to the existing iPad Smart Cover, but with a detachable portion replete with touch-sensitive keys. Now, you tell me what a keyboard cover would be ideal for.
What would an iPad Pro be with an iPen?
Despite late Apple chief Steve Jobs's derisive comments on styluses before, rumor has it that the Mac maker just might go through with creating a stylus for the would-be iPad Pro. The above image comes from one of Apple's alleged 20 patent filings regarding a potential iPen, Patenly Apple reports.
While it might sound silly for Apple to head down this road, it might be a necessary move. Lacking a stylus could be a ding against a potential iPad Pro when the business-minded Galaxy Note Pro line rocks Samsung's S-Pen.
Patently Apple strikes again, unveiling even more Apple patents for a possible iPen accessory. This time, details include potential features like a laser pointer, the ability to project images and scanning capabilities among other. If Apple really is to make an iPen, it will be more than just any old smart stylus.
iPad Pro, meet iOS 8
While no rumors specifically point to this, it's pretty much a given that the iPad Pro will run the latest iOS. If the pro-level pad launches in October 2014, then this is almost a certainty, as we expect iOS 8 to launch alongside the awaited iPhone 6 in September. However, our friends at MacLife seem to disagree.
The latest rumor, as of May 13th, surrounding iOS 8 makes it sound as if the refreshed operating system will be crafted with larger screens in mind across the board. 9to5Mac recently reported that iOS 8 will ape split-screen multitasking from devices like Microsoft's Surface. That would definitely be an iPad Pro-ductivity booster. Get it? I'm here all week, try the veal.
iPad Pro storage
This is Apple's chance to differentiate the iPad Pro from the iPad Air even further. Professionals expect lots of space from their computing platform of choice, and while the current 128GB iPad maximum is nice, it might not be enough.
Of course, a 256GB, 12.9-inch iPad would cost a small fortune, but what does the end user care when it's on company dollar?
iPad Pro home button
You can bet the farm that Apple will include its TouchID technology into the iPad Pro home button. Fingerprint security has become all but a must-have feature on enterprise laptops, and this professional iPad will have to meet that standard to gain better traction.
Rumors point to an iPhone 6 prototype having no home button, according to Business Insider. But that seems an unlikely fate for both devices, given that the iDevice form factor is minimalist enough as is.
2K (or 4K) screen, processor and more
iPad Pro screen
This is where things get way interesting. First, the Korea Times reported, citing Apple's "local first-tier display supplier," that the 12.9-inch iPad Pro will sport an almost-UHD resolution when it arrives in early 2014.
A later rumor, this time from China's Pad News, pointed to both 2K and 4K resolution iPad Pro models in the works. Per the story, Apple is prototyping a 2K model that would likely exceed that of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9's 2560 x 1600 (339 pixels per inch) and blow away the iPad Air's 2048 x 1536 (264 ppi).
A 4K iPad Pro would likely come in around 4096 x 3072, beating the 4K TVs available today. Pad News also claims that Apple intends to launch both of these prototypes in 2014, with a 2K version to come in April and a 4K model to launch in October. It seems unlikely to us that Apple would release two models in the same year. No, wait, that's already happened.
iPad Pro processor
Again, this shouldn't be a major shocker. The iPad Pro will almost undoubtedly use a beefier version of of Apple's 64-bit A7 chip, if not an all-new A8 processor.
That said, it looks like Apple intends to drop the amount of Samsung-made A8 chips in 2014, thanks to its increasingly intense rivalry with the Korean handset maker. At any rate, expect even further gains in power and battery life from Apple's latest processor.
DigiTimes recently reported that Amkor Technology, STATS ChipPAC and Advanced Semiconductor Engineering–all with facilities in Taiwain–will produce 60% of Apple's A8 processors for 2014. According to the Taiwanese outlet's sources, the A8 system-on-a-chip will use the same package-on-package design to incorporate both the processor cores and mobile DRAM on a single, even smaller chip.
It will be interesting to see whether 64-bit processing has an effect on the iPad Pro's enterprise capabilities. But what will be even more important is Intel's response to such a product, given its long-standing relationship with Apple on the MacBook line, Daily Finance suggests.
iPad Pro camera
Not much, if anything, has been said of the iPad Pro's shooter. Given that this tablet will be as large as (although lighter than) a number of laptops, we wouldn't be concerned too much with what kind of photos the tablet can take.
More important will be the iPad Pro's front-facing webcam. Will we see a higher resolution snapper on the front for quality video conferencing? Well, we sure hope so. A truly HD webcam would get heavy travelers more jazzed about an iPad than ever.
iPad Pro eye tracking
To put an even finer point on the importance of the iPad Pro's webcam, Apple would be remiss not to include eye tracking technology. The company has already seen startups like uMoove interested in providing the tech, and IBT's sources claim that this will be a key feature.
The iPhone 6 is expected to come with eye tracking. Now, all that's left is to implement them in a way that makes sense on an iPad Pro. Sharing with others what we're looking at on our own screens in conference calls immediately comes to mind.