Apple has officially announced its “Spring Loaded” event for April 20, the first major product announcement of 2021.
Unlike many other Apple events, spring events tend to be a bit more scattered: one year there may be high-end iPads, another a more education-focused event, or a launch of an expanded service strategy. This year, rumors point to a revamped iPad Pro lineup, possibly featuring Apple’s first Mini LED panels – which would represent a quantum leap for the company’s tablet screens. But we also got to see new AirPods, the company’s highly anticipated AirTag trackers, a new iPad Mini, and more.
The proceedings should begin at 1:00 PM ET on Tuesday, but if you’re looking for an early preview, here’s what to expect.
It’s been over a year since Apple’s last refresh of the iPad Pro, and the 2020 model – a fairly iterative update to the 2019 version – is starting to get a bit long in the tooth, especially compared to Apple’s improved specs latest iPhones and M1 Macs.
Like last year, Apple is expected to launch both 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models; but the larger iPad Pro is expected to make a major switch in display technology to debut Apple’s first Mini LED display. Other rumors indicate that the supply of the Mini LED panels may be hard to come by, that the larger model’s stock may be limited at launch, or that Apple could delay the release of the 12.9-inch version until availability is better.
A reporting of Bloomberg also sheds more light on what to expect: while the overall design of the two tablets is expected to remain largely the same as last year’s model, Apple is expected to replace the A12Z chip with a newer processor similar to its more recent M1 chipset. The new iPads would also upgrade to a Thunderbolt port (with higher data rates and a wider selection of peripherals than the standard USB-C port) and feature upgraded cameras.
Apple could also potentially have a new Apple Pencil accessory in the works to go with the new iPad Pros. Images of a new, glossy version of the stylus is circulating on Twitter, and the ‘spring forward’ teaser could suggest that Apple could offer a spring-loaded tip, similar to what Wacom offers on its pens
One of Apple’s worst kept secrets in years, Apple’s Tile-esque AirTags are said to be appearing at nearly every Apple event and announcement since early 2019. Allegedly small, circular tags with Bluetooth and ultra-wideband radio chips, AirTags would rely on Apple’s existing Find My app and the network of iPhones, iPads and Macs to enable users to track and find missing objects (similar to how users can track currently lost phones).
AirTags could also potentially work with the U1 chip of recent iPhone models to enable AR-based ultra-wideband tracking in local areas – something Samsung has also recently started offering with its Galaxy SmartTag Plus.
There have been references to AirTags (or Apple Tags) in iOS code leaks, endless rumors, and even in an official support video that explicitly revealed the name “AirTags” last year as part of the offline search. All that’s left is for Apple to officially announce them.
Also the highly anticipated update for an update is Apple’s oft-neglected iPad Mini, which was last refreshed over two years ago in March 2019. Which update came after a four-year drought for the iPad Mini, a refresh this year would actually be better.) The current model has the exact outdated design that Apple has been using for nearly a decade, with an older A12 processor to boot, so there is also plenty of room for Apple to improve things.
Adding fuel to the fire is both Bloomberg and noted that Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has pointed to a larger iPad Mini (possibly with an 8.5-inch screen, which could come from eliminating some of the thick 2012-era bezels) for 2021 .
A third-generation version of Apple’s AirPods has been rumored for months, with shorter stems and replaceable earbuds, similar to the current AirPods Pro design. The updated AirPods are also said to have better battery life than their predecessors. There are also rumors that Apple is working on a revamped AirPods Pro design that would completely eliminate the stem of the earbuds, but as Bloomberg ‘s report notes that the redesign is further away – so they are unlikely to show up here.
The Apple TV 4K is in a strange place in Apple’s line-up. Released in 2017, it is one of the oldest Apple products still sold. At $ 180, the price has since been lapped by Roku, Amazon, and Google, all of which offer comparable 4K streaming boxes at a fraction of the price.
Rumor has it that Apple is working on a refreshed model for 2021 that would add a faster processor and a new remote to replace the infamous Siri Remote. Support for the refresh rates of HDMI 2.1 and 120Hz could also be in the cards. But beyond new features, the Apple TV 4K is in desperate need of a price cut – something that Apple has historically been reluctant to do.
Given the pace of both developers and public betas, it’s almost certain that Apple will officially release iOS 14.5 on or immediately after the event (especially if it has new iPad hardware). The new software promises to add the ability to more easily unlock an iPhone while wearing a mask via an Apple Watch, new emoji and Apple’s much-discussed App Tracking Transparency feature that has drawn particular fury from Facebook.
MacBooks and iMacs and Mac Pros (oh my!)
After the shockingly awesome debut of Apple’s first wave of Apple Silicon-powered computers last fall with the M1 MacBook Air, Pro and Mac Mini, all eyes are on Apple’s next steps in the ARM transition. The company is rumored to be working on a host of new Macs as it aims to achieve its ambitious goal of fully switching from Intel’s chips within two years. That includes more powerful MacBook Pros that would drop the Touch Bar, bring back MagSafe and extra ports, and have an improved M-series chip. A new iMac and a smaller Mac Pro (also with M-series chips) would also be in the works.
However, with WWDC around the corner, it’s likely we won’t hear about new Mac hardware until then, especially as Apple plans to introduce more developers and professional Apple Silicon-powered laptops and desktops.
Of course, at Apple, you never quite know what to expect – meaning there’s always room for a surprise announcement or two at the Spring Loaded event that even we didn’t see coming. Could Apple have its VR headset that is already rumored to be teasing? A refreshed iPhone SE? A first look at the Apple Car? Whatever happens, stay tuned The edge for all the details.