iPad Pro Linked With Mid-2015 Release Date, A8X Chipset In Tow

News Richard Goodwin 15:18, 29 Sep 2014

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

Is Apple working on a larger iPad tablet aimed at enterprise and professional users? It seems unlikely given the iPad Air is doing just fine in those market niches, and yet this is exactly what some notable sources are claiming Apple is about to do.

Reports of an even larger iPad are not new, everybody remembers the iPad Maxi; how could you forget something with a name that bad! This was 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.

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.” 

Once THE dominant tablet to own, Apple’s iPad has, between 2012 and 2014, lost ground to cheaper Android-powered slates. In a similar fashion to Android’s growth in the smartphone space, Apple simply cannot compete with the sheer volume of choice and price variety offered by Google’s hardware partners. Apple’s market share dipped from 53% in to 2013 to 36% in 2014.

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

A larger iPad has been on the cards, more of a talking point than anything else, if we’re honest, for quite some time now. However, reports from inside China indicate Apple is taking the project seriously and will begin production in late-2014-early-2015 with a view to getting the larger iPad released at some point in the second half of 2015. 

The Commercial Times –– the source of the new information –– claims Apple will release just one iPad this year (a refreshed iPad Air) and will wait until the mid-way point of 2015 to unveil a new iPad Mini model alongside the larger iPad Pro. The source did not mention anything regarding specs or hardware for either model; both will likely feature a new-gen A8 chipset, however, and in the case of the iPad Pro likely feature some form of keyboard-type accessory similar to what we’ve already seen on Microsoft’s Surface line of slates. 

Expect iPad Pro To Land In Q2 2015

KGI Securities Ming-Chi Kuo reckons 2014 will not see the release of an iPad Pro device either. According to the analyst, Apple will release a modified iPad Air in 2014 and save the iPad Pro and updated iPad Mini until 2015.

Kuo – who’s been very reliable in the past – believes the new iPad Air will feature an A8 processor and Touch ID fingerprint sensor. He also believes it will be the only new tablet that Apple introduces in 2014. The reason? Simple: Apple is looking to re-focus its resources from the Retina iPad Mini towards developing the 12.9-inch iPad.

“Compared with lower-margin iPad mini with Retina display, which shipments has been tepid, higher-margin iPad Air was a hot selling item in 4Q13, which will slow Apple in developing new iPad mini models. We believe Apple plans to launch upgraded iPad Air early this year, and will accelerate development of 12.9” iPad,” said Kuo in a note to investors.

He added: “As such, more resources will be allocated to these two products, which will affect the progress of the development of new iPad mini. All told, we think chances of the debut of a new iPad mini in 2H14 are slim. In addition, the 12.9” iPad is unlikely to be offered in 2014. For these reasons, we predict the only new iPad product in 2H14 will be the upgraded iPad Air.”

iPad Pro Specs

Taiwanese website TechNews.Tw claims to have obtained a load of information relating to the specs of Apple’s iPad Pro slate, which the source claims is launching in April 2015. According to the blog, the iPad Pro will feature a 12.9in display –– although the panel will have a higher resolution than the current iPad Air –– feature 2GB of RAM and run on an as-yet-unannounced A8X chipset (basically, an enhanced version of the chip found inside the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus). 

The report also claims that 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.

iPad Pro vs. iPad Air: What’s The Difference? 

As is often the case with unannounced Apple products we’re still very much in the dark when it comes to specifics – things like spec, hardware and features. However multiple sources now claim the larger slate will launch in late-Q3 2014.

DisplaySearch believes the iPad Pro will likely feature a 12.9-inch display with a resolution of 2732 x 2048 and 265ppi. Commenting on the idea of a larger iPad, Evercore Partners analyst Patrick Wang said such a device would "fundamentally change" the tablet market by merging tablet capabilities with more traditional business-focused laptops.

iPad Pro To Come With Apple A8X Chipset?

A new report from Taiwan has suggested the iPad Pro will debut with a new A8X chipset.  The rumours suggest it’ll be a little more powerful than the current A8 chipset inside the iPhone 6 and rumoured for the iPad Air 2. The report also suggests there will be 2GB of RAM on the iPad Pro, a first for an Apple mobile device. 

Previously Apple used to release an X version of each chipset it has used, the last case was with the A6X. There wasn’t an A7X but it seems there will be for the A8 and it’s going to be made by TSMC.

The biggest step on the new processor is likely to be an upgrade in the graphics department to handle the extra pixels it’ll need on a 12.9in display. Not much else is known about the processor on the iPad Pro but we’ll be sure to let you know once we know more.

S’all About The 64-Bit Infrastructure

Wang believes the 64-bit infrastructure introduced in Apple's new A7 processor is a "game changer" that sets the stage for a so-called “iPad Pro”. 

“Wang noted that the processor in a MacBook Air is estimated to account for 22 percent of the notebook's bill of materials. In contrast, the processor in a 128-gigabyte iPad is estimated to represent just 4 percent of the total cost to Apple,” reports Apple Insider.

But it remains to be seen how and why an extra couple of inches turn the already popular iPad Air into a fully-fledged business machine. Surely the iPad Pro would run iOS just like the iPad Air? In this regard it’s difficult to see how a larger iPad would “fundamentally change” the tablet landscape – the Air already does most of these things.

Plus big tablet devices already exist. And last time we checked, hybrids like the Surface Pro – which is arguably a better “business” machine than the Air – aren’t doing too well in enterprise circles, even with the added benefit of a keyboard/mouse capabilities and support for legacy Windows apps.

Unless Apple adds in something “special” to the iPad Pro, other than a larger display and more RAM, it’s difficult to see what the point of such a device would be. Ramping up the display 2-and-a-bit-inches will not make the iPad Pro more of a business machine than the current Air; only software and other capabilities – things like keyboard and UX changes – can do that.  

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. 

iPad Pro: The Case For…

Korea Times says the iPad Pro will launch early in 2014, citing a "local first-tier display supplier". Other sources – sources with no doubt active imaginations – claim Apple could launch two versions: one with a 2K display and another with a 4K setup.

Adding further weight to the rumours of a larger iPad is IHS analyst Rhoda Alexander, who claims Apple is indeed looking at larger panels – specifically 12.8-inch ones. However, she has not seen not any of these panels hit “volume shipments” yet, which means a release in 2014 is unlikely.  

"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," Alexander told CNET.

Evercore Partners analyst Patrick Wang is perhaps the most vocal advocate for Apple’s iPad Pro. Wang sees the iPad Pro as a hybrid-style device that could serve as both a tablet and a notebook. The analyst reckons a device such as this would make the iPad lineup more attractive to business customers.

And Against…

The idea of Apple merging its MacBook line of laptops with the iPad and creating some kind of hybrid monster is a very interesting one. At least it is for tech commentators and fans, anyway. Apple, however, does not share the same level of enthusiasm.

Mac World posed the question during a recent interview with Phil Schiller, Bud Tribble and Craig Federighi. The execs quickly shot down the question, and Schiller – never one to mince his words – even went so far as to describe the idea as a “waste of energy”.

“You don’t want to see the Mac became less good at being a Mac because someone tried to turn it into iOS,” Federighi added. “We have a common sense of aesthetics, a common set of principles that drive us, and we’re building the best products we can for their unique purposes. So you’ll see them be the same where that makes sense, and you’ll see them be different in those things that are critical to their essence.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be a larger, more spec-heavy iPad Pro but it also kind of puts the idea of Apple releasing a super-powered hybrid machine to bed – iPads are iPads and MacBooks are MacBooks and both run different software and always will do. 

“There is a super-important role for the Mac that will always be. We don’t see an end to that role. There’s a role for the Mac as far as our eye can see. A role in conjunction with smartphones and tablets, that allows you to make the choice of what you want to use. Our view is, the Mac keeps going forever, because the differences it brings are really valuable,” said Schiller.

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