Updated: A new leak gives us additional hints at the possible design, screen and release date of Apple's next iPad.
Apple's first launch event of 2018 is almost upon us, and rumors abound that we're going to see a new iPad announced.
This iPad is tipped to be a little different to what you're used to seeing from Apple though – it's not likely to be a high-end device, but rather something low-cost and aimed at educators.
Apple's desire to make further inroads into the education market makes sense, as this is a growth area for digital devices, with Chromebooks currently proving popular with educators and students… and the fact that this launch is at a Chicago high school hints heavily at a focus on eduation.
There's even a chance that the average consumer won't be able to buy this iPad, with it only being made available to students and teachers. If it were available at retail, it might hit sales of 2017's iPad, which we can't see being taken off shelves.
But before we go too far into the whole story – and also give away one of the most surprising features of the new device – let's break it down bit by bit so you can get a proper taste of what we expect from Apple on March 27.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? A new, low-cost iPad for schools and business
- When is it out? Likely April 2018
- What will it cost? Probably at least $259 / £249 / AU$350
New iPad 2018 release date and price
The invite above, for an event in Chicago on March 27, drops a lot of hints about when we can expect from the event.
The main things are the location: a fancy high school in Chicago, the 'field trip' reference and a note saying that we're going to see new creative ideas for teachers and students.
There's no mention of new hardware – this is an Apple invite, after all – but the invitation has clearly been written in the style of the Apple's Pencil swipes and swooshes, so it's pretty clear there's a new iPad approaching, as that's the only device that's compatible with the accessory.
The date means we'll be getting the new iPad at some point in early April if the usual 10-days-to-two-weeks model is followed, with pre-orders opening in between the launch and shipping dates… if indeed you can buy this from retail stores.
Though elsewhere sources have claimed that Apple is planning to sell a new 9.7-inch iPad sometime in quarter three (July-September), so it's possible that the wait will be longer if these two slates are one and the same.
In terms of price, we're hearing rumors that it could be pretty cheap, with the cost as low as US$259 (which converts to £190 or AU$340, although it'll more likely be £249 / AU350 based on the way Apple prices things these days).
The current model starts at US$329, so that would be a price drop of more than 20%.
Here's the interesting thing: we've been hearing that Apple is gearing up to increase the volume of its Apple Pencil production, almost doubling it to 10 million units this year.
If so it's going to need new customers to use them, and what better use for them than with a new iPad that's going to be used by more and more schools (if Apple actually makes this move a success)?
That theory looks more robust as it seems the new iPad 2018 will indeed support the Apple Pencil, giving it more scope to be used beyond the iPad Pro range.
There are rumors that Apple Pencil support will even extend to future iPhones, but that's not on the cards for now (and we're not sure it's part of the vision Steve Jobs had for the iPhone).
New iPad 2018 screen
Details are starting to get a little thinner here, but we have heard a rumor that the screen will be 9.7 inches, and given that the new iPad 2018 is supposed to be cheaper, we can extrapolate some other ideas.
Firstly, there would have to be a digitizer layer underneath the glass that can read the Apple Pencil's inputs – that's not going to make a difference to the look of the iPad, but it's another layer, and does add to the cost.
That means we probably won't see any of the True Tone display technology that's been used in the iPad Pro range, with sensors matching the white balance of the screen with the surrounding light.
Resolution on the likely LCD screen will probably match that of the entry-level iPad from last year at 1536 x 2048, and we'd anticipate it won't be the highest-quality color reproduction Apple has ever offered in an iPad as the focus will be more on function.
But the screen will still be in the standard 4:3 ratio and offer Apple's staple 9.7-inch display size, with larger bezels all around if everything appears as expected.
We've had few leaks about the design of the new iPad, all we've heard is one source say that the enclosure will be the same as on the 9.7-inch iPad 2017.
That makes sense, as given how adept Apple is at repurposing older designs for cheaper models (think the iPhone SE and iPhone 5C) it's easy to imagine that the model we're likely to see on March 27 is going to be something quite familiar.
In fact, we're willing to bet that the event will be more about what you can do with the device than the specs on board, so expect something that looks almost identical to the iPad 2017, with a metal back and rounded corners.
The thickness of the iPad from 2017 was something some weren't super-impressed by, but we expect the new device to be the same at around 7.5mm (although that's hardly chunky). And don't expect there to be masses of storage in there, as the cloud is more likely to be the destination for much of the content on these devices.
We'd expect Apple to unveil more iCloud storage for students – so again, if this does also get sold as a retail unit it'll be a pretty basic, utilitarian one, in the manner of the lower-end Chromebooks.
New iPad 2018 power and OS
The operating system is the easy one here: it'll be iOS 11.3, as Apple always uses an event to debut some new feature of what its devices can do.
There's word that the new software contains something called ClassKit, which doesn't need a lot of analysis given that we're expecting these iPads to be used for students and they'll need new software.
The question is which processor Apple will chuck in the new iPad – it could well stick with the A9 chipset that powered the iPad last year.
That would leave it quite underpowered (although it would help with the cost reduction) and we can see Apple making a huge deal about the new things you can do to learn with these iPads, including 3D rendering of items for more interactive education.
We're going to guess at the A10 chip from last year being used, but don't be surprised if the teardown reveals a poorer engine and less RAM than we're used to, and Apple tailoring the message it gives accordingly.
What about the iPad Mini?
Stick with us here – we've not heard anything about a new iPad Mini, and we don't expect to see one launched alongside the 9.7-inch device.
The key thing about the bigger screen is that it can double for word processing or as an interactive companion, and it's better suited to those tasks. The iPad Mini is capable of them, but to a lesser degree.
That said, we can see Apple sticking with the more diminutive device in the future, as should ClassKit prove popular then having a smaller, more pocketable, tablet option could be really useful.
We saw the Mini being used as a virtual tour guide in Paris, and it was perfect thanks to its portability. A slightly retooled iPad Mini 4 would also cost less to make, thanks to Apple being able to reuse components in the same way as in the iPhone SE, and would be a good fit for Apple's supposed educational ambitions.
Will this come any time soon? Unlikely, but fans of the smaller device might not need to give up hope just yet.
What else should I know?
Well, the first thing you should know is that TechRadar will be liveblogging the launch event for you, as there's no stream to watch it on – so you're going to want to check back here on Tuesday March 27, when we'll be covering the event in depth from when it kicks off at 8am PT / 11am ET / 4pm GMT, which in Australia is 2am AEDT on Wednesday March 28.
Beyond that, the main difference with this iPad is that it'll be optimized for use in the classroom, so there could well be an appearance from the Smart Connector for low-power accessories, enabling the tablet to become a word processor when paired with a snap-on keyboard.
There could also be new options on show, which would please iPad Pro users, but again this would add cost to a device that Apple is looking to keep affordable.
So make sure you keep it locked to TechRadar for all you need to know about the new iPad 2018. We'll be doing our utmost to be among the very first on the web to bring you information on the new tablet, so you can decide whether it should be your next purchase – if you're able to buy it that is.
- 2017's iPad is likely to be even cheaper when the new device lands… is that a better choice for you? Check out our review to find out.