While the upcoming release of the highly anticipated Apple Watch is currently attracting the most attention from Apple fans, there are several other new products that the company is expected to unveil this year. One of those rumored products is a larger-screen iPad that is tentatively referred to by the tech industry media as the “iPad Pro.” Although a few, often contradictory, tidbits of information about the iPad Pro have emerged over the past year, insider sources cited in several new media reports recently provided a slew of new details about the technologies and features that may be included in the larger-screen iPad. Based on the information provided by those sources, here are five new features that may show up in the iPad Pro.
1. A 12.9-inch screen size
Although rumors of an iPad Pro have been swirling ever since Korea’s ETNews first reported in 2013 that Apple was planning on introducing a bigger tablet, there has been no consensus on the exact screen size of the device. For example, sources cited by Japanese tech blog Mac Otakara last November pegged the screen size of the device at 12.2 inches, while several other media outlets – including Taiwan’s DigiTimes – predicted that it would have a screen size a little less than 13 inches.
However, all of the latest rumors indicated that the iPad Pro will have a 12.9 inch screen size, including sources cited by Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, and DigiTimes. Since this information was provided by unnamed sources, it is impossible to know for sure whether or not it is accurate. However, since all three sources leaked the same measurement — including a Taiwan-based media outlet with connections to Apple’s overseas supply chain — it makes it more than likely that this is the true screen size of the iPad Pro.
2. Oxide LCD display
An increase in size won’t be the only change implemented in the iPad Pro display. According to supply chain sources cited by DigiTimes, Apple will also be using a new type of panel technology for its larger-screen iPad.
“The company, however, has been assessing different panel technologies ranging from a-Si, TFT LCD and Oxide LCD in terms of cost versus performance, and has only recently decided to move forward with Oxide technology,” said the sources per DigiTimes. The sources also noted that Sharp is expected to be the main panel supplier due to its experience with oxide LCD production.
Oxide LCD displays, also known as indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) displays, have several key advantages over traditional LCD panels. As noted on Sharp’s website, IGZO displays have an electron mobility that is 20-50 times faster than that of conventional amorphous silicon LCD displays. This allows IGZO displays to be more energy efficient, have less noise interference, and achieve higher resolutions.
The rumors of an oxide LCD display also appear to bolster an analyst’s prediction that the iPad Pro will be introduced alongside a stylus. As Tech Cheat Sheet reported earlier this year, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimed that the iPad Pro will be the first Apple tablet to be bundled with an optional stylus. According to Sharp, the reduced noise of IGZO displays is ideal for touchscreens that are paired with styluses. “Combined with the high resolution made possible with IGZO, these new touch panels will reflect the smooth lines of a pen or pencil with amazing accuracy,” stated Sharp.
3. Faster charging technology
Besides offsetting the increased energy needs that come with a larger display by switching to energy efficient oxide LCD (IGZO) technology, Apple may also improve the iPad Pro’s battery life by implementing a new type of charging technology. Although the Journal’s sources offered no details on the technology behind the new charging method, they claimed that “Apple is also working on technology to speed up the iPad charging time.” However, the sources noted that there is no guarantee that the faster charging technology would appear in the iPad Pro since Apple often explores alternative technologies and features that end up being cut from the final product design.
4. USB ports
Besides being the first iPad to feature an oxide LCD display and a stylus, the iPad Pro could also be the first device in this product line to include a USB port. Per the sources that spoke with WSJ, Apple is considering using the latest USB 3.0 technology that is up to ten times faster than conventional USB ports. “It [Apple] is now considering the faster technology for data synchronization between the larger iPad and other computing devices,” said the source per the Journal.
The implementation of USB 3.0 technology may be another indication that Apple is targeting the larger-screen iPad at the enterprise mobility market, since backing up data to external hard drives via USB ports is a common business practice. After Apple announced an enterprise mobility partnership with IBM last summer, some industry watchers predicted that the larger-screen iPad was likely intended for business users, including activist investor Carl Icahn. “With the recently announced partnership with IBM, which you suggested will ‘change how businesses work,’ we believe iPad will increase its penetration of enterprise,” Icahn wrote in an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook last October.
5. Keyboard and mouse accessories
While there are many Bluetooth-connected keyboard and mouse accessories currently available for Apple’s iPads, the upcoming iPad Pro may feature dedicated ports for connecting those devices, according to the Journal’s sources. Like the implementation of USB 3.0 technology and the introduction of a stylus, this feature appears to be geared toward enterprise users, who will appreciate being able to quickly connect accessories via a widely used connection standard.
Besides leaking details about some of the features that may show up in the 12.9-inch iPad, the sources cited in the latest media reports also dropped some hints about when the device may become available. Per the Journal’s sources, production of the iPad Pro will begin sometime in the second half of this year. WSJ previously reported that the device was originally scheduled to enter production last fall, but had to be delayed due to the overwhelming demand for the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus.
On the other hand, Bloomberg’s sources predicted a slightly more specific production start date of September. Bloomberg’s sources blamed the production delay on issues with the supply of display panels. As noted by market research firm IHS, oxide LCDs tend to have lower yield rates than other types of displays due to the complexity of the manufacturing process.
Finally, DigiTimes’ sources claimed that production of the iPad Pro would kick off in July and August. The sources also predicted that around 45 million units would likely be produced in 2015. If true, the larger-screen iPad could provide a significant boost to Apple’s declining share of the tablet market. According to market research firm IDC, Apple’s share of the worldwide tablet market slipped to 28.1% in the fourth quarter of 2014 from the 33.1% share it held in the year-ago quarter.
Although this is likely due to the combined effects of the overall slowdown in the tablet market and cannibalization from the phablet-sized iPhone 6 Plus, the introduction of a larger-screen iPad with several new features may allow Apple to reaccelerate its iPad sales later this year. Either way, it appears that consumers will have a chance to get their hands on Apple’s iPad Pro before the end of 2015.
Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS