Update: A trusted analyst has hinted at a September or October launch for Apple's rumoured bigger tablet.
With Apple's thinner, lighter iPad Air (and now iPad Air 2) and Retina display-equipped iPad mini 3 out in the open, what's left for Apple to do? Rumour has it that Apple is working on a 12-inch Retina MacBook Air alongside another device, which may turn out to be a supersized version of one of the company's existing products.
That's right: it's believed that the Mac maker is working on an even larger iPad, commonly referred to as the iPad Pro - yet more recently we've also seen references to an iPad Air Plus. We've combed through all of the rumours and scuttlebutt to bring you everything we've heard so far about this alleged iPad Pro.
What's in a name?
Apple did something interesting with the launch of its fifth generation iPad (aside from a total hardware revamp): Gave it a new name. The iPad Air alluded to the Cupertino's company adopting the naming convention of its laptop lines, the MacBook Air and Pro series, for its premiere range of tablets.
Logic would dictate, then, that if Apple were to release an even more sizable iPad, it would be with a professional bent and named the iPad Pro. So, we're now looking at 2015 for a newer, bigger iPad entering a product category that has seen little success thus far. Will Apple be the one to legitimise the "professional's tablet?"
At the moment most people are referring to the upcoming iPad as the iPad Pro. However, recent leaks refer to it as the iPad Air Plus. This might be down to an incorrect leak or translation, but it does follow Apple's naming convention with the iPhone 6 Plus.
What is it? A brand new, larger iPad
When will it release? 2015
What will it cost? Likely somewhere between the iPad Air and MacBook Air
iPad Pro release date
With WWDC being a major event for announcements (albeit software, rather than hardware ones), it was thought that the iPad Pro might arrive in June. That event has now come and gone, with no sign of the iPad Pro - so what's next?
KGI Securities Apple analyst Ming Chi-Kuo, who's usually on the money with his predictions, is confident that the iPad Pro will roll into production during September or October, which could lead to a November launch.
The analyst - who accurately predicted the iPhone's scratch resistant sapphire Home button, a gold iPhone model and the introduction of an inexpensive entry-level iPhone (the iPhone 5C) - reckons that the iPad Pro's stylus will make it easier for users to navigate the device's 12.9-inch Force Touch screen and will also work on smaller iPad models.
The iPad Pro is gearing up to race out of the traps in the second half of the year, if a report by Bloomberg is to be believed. According to sources in the know, the 12.9-inch tablet will enter production in September, earlier than Chi-Kuo's estimate, which would make a release before the end of 2015 unlikely.
That's in contrast to a report by Japanese news website Macotakara, which says that Apple is eyeing a 2015 release date for the larger iPad. That report pitches the iPad as a 12.2-inch tablet that will come with a detachable keyboard to square up against business-friendly devices like Microsoft's Surface Pro 3.
A new rumour suggests that Apple is working with Foxconn Electronics to manufacture the iPad Pro, with components being supplied late-September for a mid-November release. The same rumour suggests that Apple is being rather cautious about ordering components, which suggests that the Cupertino company has relatively low expectations for the sales of the 12.9-inch tablet.
iPad Pro specs
Macotakara claims that the device also features a set of speakers and microphones along its top and bottom edges, which could function in a similar fashion to how the iPad 2 handles stereo sound. Details are sketchy, but the report also points to the possibility of an iSight camera, Touch ID sensor and Lightning connector.
According to HDblog, cited by IBtimes AU, the iPad Pro will have not one, but four speakers. Going by 3D cut-outs, the outer shell apparently places two speakers at the top of the tablet, while the other two can be found at the tail-end. That report also claims that the iPad Pro will measure 12.9 inches and will feature the microphone on the right-hand side of the device next to the primary camera. Mooted specs include an Apple A8X/A9 CPU backed up by 2GB of RAM.
So why isn't it here already? Another rumour claims the iPhone 6 was to blame for the iPad Pro delay. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple's suppliers struggled to keep up with demand for its latest smartphone, which had a knock-on effect by pushing the iPad Pro back to 2015.
According to supply chain sources who spoke to Digitimes, Apple has a 12.9-inch iPad Pro in the works that will run a hybrid OS X and iOS-integrated operating system. If that happens, reports from Taiwan that point to the iPad Pro as housing a more powerful version of the A8 chipset found in the iPhone 6 start to make a bit more sense.
One of the most credible updates – reports of a larger iPad release - peg it as right on track for a 2015 release date, Bloomberg reports, citing "people with knowledge of the matter," that an iPad Pro will enter production early next year. (The whole gamut of rumours and reports follow.)
A 2015 release date is further backed up by Korea Times' sources at a "local first-tier display supplier" who say a single version will launch "sometime early next year" with a nearly UHD resolution.
China's United Daily News point to another iPad Pro manufacturing partner: Quanta Computer. DigiTimes's sources (hit-and-miss with rumours) recently backed up this report, claiming that Apple expected the manufacturer to have either a 12.9 or 13.3-inch model ready. Now, the Taiwanese outlet's sources say that Apple is leaning toward the smaller of the two.
As if to mix things up even more, International Business Times reports that Apple is aiming for winter or even a spring 2015 release, according to its Foxconn sources.
According to a report published by KGI Securities, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo doesn't expect that Apple will be ready to launch the pro-grade tablet until 2015.
A recent leak published by Macotakara again hinted at a release date at sometime between April and June 2015. This new leak suggests that Apple will also launch an improved iPad mini 4 alongside the iPad Pro.
iOS 9 hints
Apple may not have launched the iPad Pro at WWDC, but it did show off iOS 9, which makes a number of hints that an iPad Pro could be in the works. The biggest feature that would fit the iPad Pro is simultaneous multitasking, which is missing from prior versions of the operating system but can be done on devices from some of Apple's biggest rivals.
Craig Federighi, SVP of Software Engineering at Apple, showed off how users can run two iOS applications side-by-side, allowing them to juggle tasks without switching or closing apps. This PC-inspired feature in a post-PC era – along with better hardware keyboard support and an improved Quick Type software keyboard – seems primed for an iPad Pro launch.
Perhaps the biggest giveaway that Apple has an iPad Pro in the works comes from code found inside the developer beta of iOS 9. It unearths a larger on-screen keyboard, similar to the one found on Apple's MacBook notebooks, which features an additional row of smaller keys for symbols in the main view and numbers in a secondary view.
Apple teams up with IBM
In order to further its lead in the enterprise space through BYOD, Apple partnered up with IBM to create new business-focused apps for iOS. This includes exclusive apps created by Apple and IBM in tandem ranging from data and analytics to device management and security.
While this move is currently just to increase the amount of existing iOS devices in the office, is there a better way to grease the wheels for a pro-centric iOS device? Not without spending a ton more cash, that's for sure.
Sticking with the business slant, a report by AppleInsider claims that the over-sized iPad is set to come with NFC functionality which will be allow merchants to take payments using Apple Pay. That could make it a boon for the legions of retailers that have signed up to Apple's tap-to-play platform in the countries where it has rolled out.
Apple tries to quash the rumours
On the Macintosh computer's 30th birthday, Apple executives responded to rumours that the company was looking to merge Mac OS X and iOS into a single operating system. The retort? No chance in hell.
"We don't waste time thinking, 'But it should be one [interface].' How do you make these [operating systems] merge together?' What a waste of energy that would be," Apple SVP of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller told Macworld.
Craig Federighi, Apple's SVP of Software Engineering, echoed Schiller's statement with some rather sensible logic. Regardless, neither does this mean that an even larger iPad isn't in the works nor that iOS could become more professional-friendly to support such a device. Basically, if Apple were to release an iPad Pro, it wouldn't pull a Microsoft.
The competition already heats up
Samsung beat Apple to the punch in unveiling its 12.2-inch Galaxy Note Pro and Galaxy Tab Pro tablets during CES 2014. With that, DigiTimes expects Apple "to release its competitor by the end of the third quarter at the earliest."
The question is: would an iPad Pro help fend off the Galaxy Note Pro and other rumoured monster 13-inch tablets? Analyst house KGI reckons the answer is no. As spotted by 9to5Mac, KGI noted that while it's "confident that the expected 12.9-inch iPad model can create an improved user experience," it doesn't expect the device to "contribute meaningfully to shipments momentum anytime soon."
iPad Pro design
It's doubtful that Apple would do much to change the shape of the iPad Pro in its leap to 12.9 inches, the supposed size most rumours point to. The iPad Air's design was applauded by critics (us included), and early sales projections say that consumers are into it.
Update: However, the latest leak points towards a device that's a lot bigger than expected, measuring 223 x 206 x 7.2mm. It comes from OnLeaks, a source with a generally good track record, which repeats a common rumour that says the iPad Pro will come with a single USB Type C port on the tablet.
Another rumour, by French publication Nowhereelse, shows what purports to be an iPad Pro case and, just like the OnLeaks leak, it shows that it's far bigger than the iPad Air 2.
It's expected that Apple will use oxide TFT displays for its next-generation iPads, which would allow the company to make tablets that draw drastically less power, according to a CultofMac report. CultofMac cites an ETNews report that quotes an unnamed LG Display official, who has apparently gone on record saying that LG has ramped up production of its TFT sheets because Apple will need it for its upcoming iPad device.
Unreleased cases obtained by Sonny Dickson confirm early rumours that the iPad Pro may come with dual speakers and two ports. The images show that the iPad Pro could have a similar design to the iPad Air, positioining stereo speakers at the top and bottom of the tablet in a similar manner to Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Galaxy Note devices.
Coming out of HDBlog.it, another leak shows a device that could be the iPad Pro, depicting what could be either a secondary Lightning port or a USB-C port along the top edge of the device.
Another leak, which comes courtesy of French site NWE via Chinese supplier, shows a case that would appear to hold a 12-inch device. It positions the volume, standby and camera buttons in the same place as the iPad Air 2, meaning the iPad Pro could bear a stronger resemblance to what has gone before, rather than being outed with a radically new design.
An image supposedly showing an iPad Pro dummy unit has made its way into the wild and it certainly looks closer to 13 inches than 12.
It should go without saying that the iPad Pro will inevitably be heavier than the iPad Air. To even meet the iPad Air's feathery 453.6 g at 12.9 inches would be a miracle of modern engineering. That said, not much should stop Apple from meeting the Air's super svelte profile at 7.5 mm thin.
The concept designers at SET Solution seem to disagree. In the video above, SET Solution dreams of a device with an even narrower bezel with sharper edges, a camera with the dual LED flash found on the iPhone 5s, Touch ID and a textured aluminum backing.
The Macotakara website has published rumours suggesting that the iPad Pro will be as thin as the iPhone 6. If true this would mean the iPad Pro would be between 6.9mm and 7.1mm (the thickness of the iPhone 6 Plus).
A later leak published by the same website appeared to show schematics of the iPad Pro which claimed the dimensions of the tablet will be 305.31mm x 220.8mm x 7mm. The 7mm thickness would indeed make the iPad Pro thinner than the iPhone 6 Plus, though not quite as thin as the iPad Air 2, which is just 6.1mm thick.