A MacRumors report, cites a research note from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, saying a new size iPad model is in the works. According to the highly respected Cho, who has a strong track record of accuracy in making Apple hardware predictions: “We expect three new iPads: (12.9” iPad Pro 2, new size 10.5” iPad Pro and low-cost 9.7” iPad) to be launched in 2017.”
Not a development I had expected, but I’m intrigued. I’ve been generally quite satisfied with the size of my 9.7-inch iPads (currently an iPad Air 2), but there are times when a bit larger screen wouldn’t be unwelcome, such as when using Split View. A 10.5-inch panel would be just a smige smaller in area than the Microsoft Surface 3 screen (10.8″) but presumably with higher Retina resolution.
In my estimation, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, while quite wonderful at what it does well, is ungainly for pure tablet use such as on-screen typing, which I do lot of. As for using the optional external keyboard, why not just go with a MacBook and take advantage of the extra power and versatility of the macOS, and precision/efficiency boost of trackpad and mouse support? A 10.5-inch unit, on the other hand, sounds like an attractive mid-size alternative.
Ming-Chi Kuo’s forecast doesn’t sound promising for an iPad mini 5, and perhaps not not for a 9.7-inch iPad Pro 2 either. The current mini 4 is reportedly not selling well, and why would it with the bigger and more powerful iPad Air 2 selling for the same $379 starting price? The popularity of large-screen “phablet” smartphones has diminished the market for premium smaller tablets, and it appears that the new “low cost” iPad may soon occupy the entry level, with the new 10.5-inch model taking over the smaller iPad Pro slot.
When you think about it, the difference between 9.7 inches and 10.5 inches doesn’t sound like much, and it isn’t — just .8 of an inch. That compares with the nearly two inches (1.8″ to be exact) distinguishing the iPad mini from the Air 2 and the 9.7-inch Pro, and even more substantial 3.2 inches of difference between the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch Pro models.
Some might question why Apple wouldn’t split the difference between the two current iPad Pro models more evenly, but if this machine becomes a reality, 10.5 inches sounds like a more desirable compromise between handy portability and screen real estate, and that modest upsizing should provide significantly more elbow room for multitasking while retaining most of the virtues of the classic 9.7-inch screen size, leaving the 12.9-inch Pro to accommodate more specialized tasks like still image and video editing, whereas, say, an 11-inch panel would compromise both sorts of use.
Another dynamic that enters into this is device upgrade patterns. I used my original iPad 2 for nearly four years and then handed it off to my wife (who is still using it) when I bought the Air 2 in late 2014. I would guess that a large proportion of iPad 2 users have by now upgraded to iPad Airs or even Pros, and original Air users especially would realize a substantial performance boost as well as support for more recent iOS feature innovations by upgrading to a model with A8, A9, or (soon) A 10 system-on-chip power. It will be interesting to see what SoC Apple puts in the “low cost” 9.7-inch iPad. Pro models, presumably including the 10.5-ich unit if it exists, should get A 10 power in 2017.
Speaking of which, the operative question is when in 2017 might we see new or upgraded iPad hardware? Ming-Chi Kuo just says 2017. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro will be a year old soon, and it wouldn’t completely surprise me if it got an A 10 speed bump this fall if the silicon is available. Or not. The 9.7-inch Pro’s first anniversary comes March 3. Late-winter has been a traditional iPad hardware announcement time slot, and will be highly likely if we see no upgrades this fall.
My iPad Air 2 will be three years old in November, 2017, and that’s the earliest date I would upgrade personally, so if there’s an early 2017 release of a 10.5-inch model, that would suit me fine if the price premium isn’t too steep.