iPad Pro Linked With Q4 Release Date: A9 Chipset, Force Touch Retina Display & Stylus

News Richard Goodwin 12:45, 21 Aug 2015

As rumours about a larger iPad escalate, we take a look at what’s being said

After a LONG time in the background, Apple’s iPad Pro is apparently entering production. The new tablet is still unofficial and off the books at present, but multiple sources are now claiming Apple is pressing ahead with mass production of the device ahead of a release later on in Q4 2015.

“Apple's long-rumored 12.9-inch  ‘Pro’ will enter mass production sometime in September or October,” reports Mac Rumors.  The news comes via always-on-the-money analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities. Furthermore, the iPad Pro will come with a ForceTouch-enabled display and full support for a stylus, just like Microsoft’s Surface line of tablets.

So the idea might seem a bit weird; having reduced the overall size of the still 9.7in display iPad Air down to something close to the iPad Mini (thus rendering the validity of the Mini questionable), why on earth would Apple then want to make an even bigger iPad? A huge iPad, in fact, the biggest to date.

After all, Apple has a history as a company reluctant to expand device sizes; it'd far rather make them more compact, and it took forever for the iPhone to expand to 4in and 4.7in with successive generations.

As tricky as we find it to fathom, the rumours and leaks are becoming frequent and solid enough that we have to believe it's true, Apple is indeed, according to a range of historically reliable sources, producing an iPad Pro model with a big touch display exceeding 12in. 

Apple confirmed iOS 9, which launched this week at WWDC 2015, would feature a bunch of iPad-specific features. One of which is the ability to have more than one application open on the display at one time, just as you can on Samsung and LG phones and tablets. The feature itself is very handy but it does kind of indicate Apple is perhaps gearing us up for something a little bigger –– I mean, the idea makes much more sense when you think of it being applied to a 12in display. 

Furthermore, Apple also confirmed a brand new –– best EVER –– keyboard update for the iPad. Again, this doesn’t imply a new size of iPad, but it’s introduction does suggest there are changes on the way and Apple is looking to implement software-level changes in order to make handling these changes as easy as possible. If the display does increase to 12in it stands to reason Apple will have to modify its keyboard –– and that’s exactly what it has done in iOS 9. 

It's a very specific product category though' a bigger tablet aimed squarely at professional users. Reports of an even larger iPad are not new, with the first whispering emerging in 2012. But the idea of a larger iPad came back into fashion in late-2013 after a few choice leaks from respected insiders and is now the subject of hot debate all over the web.

Another interesting component to the growing iPad Pro mythology is talk of an Apple-developed stylus that will work in conjunction with the larger iPad and, no doubt, some of its bespoke applications. The stylus, however, will apparently be marketed as an “accessory” as not all iPad users will wants one. 

A report by respected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggests Apple will launch a stylus alongside a larger iPad in the second quarter of 2015, based on a number of stylus themed patents Apple has filed and his own research.

"Coupled with its unfavourable cost structure, high selling prices may turn consumers off if the 12.9-inch iPad is always bundled with [the stylus]," he wrote. "We therefore expect the stylus to be an optional accessory before sufficient user feedback is received."

Apple is far from confirming plans to release a 12.9-inch iPad model – often referred to as the iPad Pro or iPad Air Plus in reports – but LG is apparently already increasing oxide display production to meet anticipated demand, reports BGR.

“Investment to produce 30,000 sheets next year’s second quarter have started. Apple is creating iPads with 12.9-inch display, which shows they are increasing the panel size,” an unidentified “well-informed” LG Display related official told South Korean news site ETNews.

Samsung is currently the only “real” player to have experimented with styli aboard its Galaxy Note range. Could Apple have spotted a use for stylus too? Perhaps a more enterprise-focussed use –– something that will feature inside its co-IBM developed business applications? Maybe. But we’re not exactly sold on the idea. A slick keyboard attachment would be A LOT more useful. 

Stylus aside, a larger iPad still begs the question why? How will an extra couple of inches make a new product stand out from, say, a standard iPad Air 2? 

Below is everything currently known about the iPad Pro; the case for and against it; and some useful intelligence from the analyst community. We'll be updating this piece from time to time, so be sure to bookmark it and check back for new information. 

iPad Pro: Release Date

Multiple sources claim Apple will bring the iPad Pro to market in 2015 in order to inject some new blood into its now-sagging iPad line. Bloomberg sources now claim initial component work on is officially underway, with full-on production scheduled for Q1 2015. 

“The new iPad will have a screen measuring 12.9 inches diagonally,” the report said. “Potential customers for larger-screen iPads are businesses, where the device could take on more tasks of a traditional laptop computer.” 

Reports from Reuters claim the iPad Pro is coming in 2015 but, thanks to supply issues, will not be with us until at least September. Initial production will, however, begin this quarter, although Apple is apparently not looking to ramp things up until later on in the year. The report’s sources suggest the iPad Pro, as previously thought, will be aimed predominantly at professional and enterprise users. 

“Apple is now considering adding USB ports and adopting a faster technology that promises to transfer data up to 10 times faster than current USB ports,” said the report, citing people familiar with the matter. “The company has also been considering adding ports to connect to a keyboard and mouse.”

And reliable KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo now believe that the iPad Pro will enter mass production in September or October, with a commerical launch set for October or November. If that's the case it's possible the iPad Pro will be shown off at next September's iPhone event though it won't be immediately available. Or Apple could decide the iPad Pro is a big enough deal to give it its own October event.

According to reports circulating on 20 August, Apple will launch the iPad Pro very shortly, as soon as a few months time. The word comes via DigiTimes and its anonymous insider sources within Apple's supply chain, specifically within the display supply sector. Allegedly production will begin in September but will not roll into full mass-production until October. This sort of timeline would put a beginning of sales probably around November, which sits with previous iPad launches appearing in the months following September iPhone launches and arriving just in time for Christmas.

iPad Pro: Operating System

A new report from analytics company AppSee found an “iPad6,8" identifier on its website visitor logs. That identifier revealed two associated bits of information: the device has a 2,732×2,048 pixels resolution screen and it was running iOS 9.1.

Apple of course hasn’t even launched iOS 9 yet–that’s scheduled for September–nor has it previewed what could be in store for iOS 9.1. But AppSee’s finding suggest that iOS 9.1 could be the minimum software required to run the iPad Pro. Indeed, iOS 9.1 could be all about the iPad Pro with few features in that update coming to iPhone. If the iPad Pro does require iOS 9.1 it fits nicely with the suggested October-November launch timeframe because it usually takes Apple a few months to put out an iOS x.1 release after the initial version of the software is launched.

iPad Pro: Specs

The most up to date rumours claim Apple’s iPad Pro will feature the company’s forthcoming A9 chipset, potentially 2-4GB of RAM and an expansive 12.2-12.9in 2,732×2,048 pixels 2K display, making it the most powerful tablet Apple has ever produced. It’s not clear who Apple will be targeting the iPad Pro at but recent talk of a stylus taken in conjunction with its larger display could mean Apple wants to tap into the same market as those it is currently pitching its iMac with retina at –– photographers and video editors. 

The larger display combined with a decent stylus and some bespoke video and photo-editing software could make the iPad Pro a very compelling proposition to media creators that like to work on the fly. Couple this with all the iOS / OS X cross-over and it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see quite a bit of potential contained in a larger tablet with specific software and a stylus. 

Reports also claim the Apple iPad Pro will be available in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB models, despite Apple having dropped the 32GB iPhone, reports The Register, and it apparently will feature slight design modifications, including a repositioned camera and redesigned buttons.

In addition to this another leaked image of a prototype device, said to be the iPad Pro, has surfaced on Chinese site Sina Weibo and is interesting because it shows off an additional USB-C or Lightning port connector on the left side of the device. Multiple reports –– including the Wall Street Journal –– has claimed the iPad Pro will feature USB support, a first for Apple’s iPad tablet line. Check out said images below: 

The device in the image is either a fake or a very early prototype; either way, you’ll want to take the images with a pinch of salt. The inclusion of USB, however, is far more plausible. The WSJ has a pretty solid track record when it comes to reporting on upcoming Apple releases, and if the iPad Pro is going to be targeted at professional types, then the addition of USB makes quite a bit of sense. 

The source behind the leak says the iPad Pro will feature a 12.9-inch display with 2K resolution, and a 7mm thin profile. It’ll weigh 700g, apparently, and also feature a 11,000mAh battery –– that’s a lot bigger than the iPad Air 2’s 7340mAh setup. But seeing it’s listed as having a 2K display, chances are it will need it. We all know how QHD displays affect battery life after 2014’s Galaxy Note 4 and Nexus 6. 

iPad Pro With Stylus?

According to reports in January 2015 Apple might once again be about to perform a u-turn on its past utterances. Steve Jobs famously said the company would never make a stylus-based device and that if it did the company had "blew it". But according to a report by AppleInsider, prominent (and often unnervingly accurate) KGI Securities analyst Ming-chi Kuo has seen enough evidence now that he believes an iPad Pro with a stylus will appear in 2015's second quarter.

However, the report states that the stylus will likely be an optional yet still official accessory for the iPad Pro, rather than being an integral feature as with competing devices, such as Samsung's Galaxy Note hardware.

"We don’t think all users will need a stylus initially," wrote Kuo in a research note. "Coupled with its unfavorable cost structure, high selling prices may turn consumers off if the 12.9-inch iPad is always bundled with it. We therefore expect the stylus to be an optional accessory before sufficient user feedback is received."

"We believe that the stylus could improve the experience of users," Kuo suggests, "and will likely help Apple develop specific customer groups such as the corporate sector and educational institutions."

As for what the stylus may look like, check out an early patent drawing circa 2010 below.

The stylus is also rumored to use Apple's Force Touch technology, so it will be able to sense how much pressure is being applied to it and, for example, draw lines of different widths. 

"We also believe a Force Touch-enabled stylus will enhance productivity as it would offer more precise operation than using only fingers," Kuo writes. "Technically, we believe the stylus can be made compatible with iPad models other than the 12.9-inch version, but it depends on the support of software."

iPad Pro Leaks

As of May 1, prominent Twitter leak source @OnLeaks has dished out another dose of iPad Pro goodness, this time in the form of a render that is alleged to show how the bodyshell will actually look when it enters production.

Estimated measurements clock in at 223mm x 306mm x 7.2mm - so it'll be pretty big but super-thin. We can also obseve a nod to the "Pro" office use scenario with a USB Type C port.

Yet another image of what’s claimed to be a CAD image of the iPad Pro leaked online over the weekend. The image, obtained by Nowhereelse, comes via an alleged Foxconn employee and shows what’s claimed to be the corner of Apple’s upcoming, larger iPad Pro.

“The image appears to show the upper right corner of the alleged device,” reports Apple Insider, “with a new speaker grille located to the side of the lock button and above the rear camera. If legitimate, it could mean that the jumbo-sized iPad would allow users to hear stereo sound from the device regardless of whether it is used in portrait or landscape orientation.”

A set of iPad Pro cases have been leaked by French blog Nowhereelse and this time the cases have been stacked next to iPad Air 2 cases in order to give us an impression of just how big the iPad Pro will be once it launches later on this year. 

“The French publication revealed on Twitter back in March that the iPad Pro would measure 305.7 x 222.6 x 7.2 millimeters,” reports BGR. “The new measurements performed by German site arktis, which apparently got a hold of these iPad Pro cases, show nearly the same height (307mm) and width (222mm) for the tablet, although the thickness has not been measured. Obviously, the size of the iPad Pro can’t be confirmed until Apple officially announces the device.”

Openings for stereo speakers on the bottom and top of the case, as well as an additional opening on the left side for an additional Lightning or USB-C port indicate this could be the real deal. The cases are also remarkably similar to the ones Sonny Dickson leaked last week. 

And then there's this spurious beauty from China's Weibo network...

"A user on China's Weibo microblogging site today posted a new photo (via Letem svetem Applem) simply labeled 'iPad Pro', reports Mac Rumors. "The photo shows what appears to be a mold for the rear shell of Apple's rumored larger tablet with a display in the range of 12-13 inches, although it is unclear whether this mold is supposed to be for."

iPad Pro: Design

What would it look like? Is it going to be just a bigger iPad Air? What type of features could Apple include to differentiate it from its existing iPad range? These are all good questions, and as is usually the case with things like this, SETT has set about designing and publishing a concept of what the iPad Pro – based on current rumours – could be like. 

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