iPad Air: Apple's best all-around tablet is about to get better

Ideal for business, the iPad Air straddles the gap between high-end and entry-level tablets. It's about to be improved. Here's what to expect.

Apple, iPad, iPad Pro, iPad Air, iPhone SE, Mac

Pandemic time has not felt the same as normal time. It feels like just a few months since I reviewed the iPad Air 4. At the time, I said it was the best all-around tablet in the Apple fleet.

I haven’t changed my mind, but it’s now also the oldest model in Apple’s current range. (Where does the time go?) So, what can we expect from iPad Air 5 this spring?

What we think is happening

This is what we expect: Apple is preparing for a spring event during which it will introduce a brand-new iPhone SE, new Macs, an iPad Air 5 and perhaps an additional iPad model update, according to regulatory filings.

Most people have spent time focused on the iPhone and Macs, but not much attention has been given to iPad Air. But because the iPad Air has got to be the best choice for so many enterprise professionals and students, it's important to catch up with what’s coming.

What we already have

The reason to put iPad Air back in the spotlight is simple. The existing A14X-powered model is a fantastic tablet. It’s a little lighter than an iPad Pro, but you do get a lot for your money. Pad Air 4 is a fully functional tablet capable of handling most tasks. Its biggest limitation in comparison to lower-end iPad Pros at the time of its introduction being less memory — 4GB vs 6GB.

Time has, however, marched on.

The iPad Pro now boasts a Mac (M1) chip, a Liquid Retina display and at least 8GB of memory. This has increased the performance gap between the $599 Air and the $799 11-in. Pro. The Air also offers just 64GB of storage compared to the 128GB in Pro.

What this means is that while iPad Air 4 remains a great tablet, the space between the Pro range and the A-powered tablets has expanded. And that means the iPad Air 5 will be improved to fill it.

What will the iPad Air 5 bring?

So, how will Apple improve things? The most likely areas include the processor, memory, and display. You can anticipate a slightly better FaceTime camera, which should be upgraded to 12-megapixels as available on iPad mini. Design tweaks are expected to be minimal with Mac Otakara predicting it will look practically identical to the current model.

[Also read: One year on, developers still love Apple Silicon Macs]

Apple will certainly upgrade the processor, most likely with the A15 Bionic Chip used in the iPad Mini. Cellular models will gain 5G support. It may also offer new colors, though most enterprise users don’t care too much about this, as they probably put their iPads in a protective case from day one.

Now and soon

To reprise the differences we expect, the current iPad Air offers:

  • A14 Bionic chip;
  • 12MP rear camera and 7MP front camera;
  • 9-in. Liquid Retina display, with True Tone and Wide color gamut;
  • Touch ID in the power button.

The 2022 iPad Air is expected to bring:

  • A15 Bionic chip — this is likely to be optimized to run a little faster on Air than it does on the iPad mini.
  • 12MP rear and front cameras with Center Stage support and True Tone flash;
  • 9-in. Liquid Retina display (there was speculation this might be an OLED display, but numerous sources have denied this since), with True Tone and Wide color gamut;
  • Touch ID in the power button;
  • Cellular models will support 5G;
  • Slight design tweaks to make it look a little more like an iPad Air.

Given the global shortage in processors and the growing cost of doing business, I think we may see a price increase. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see a $629 entr- level price for the new iPad Air, possibly with small increases across the range. I could be wrong, but there will be a limit to how much margin squeeze Apple will carry before it passes some of the new costs on.

Who is the iPad Air 5 for?

The iPad Air 5 will be a good fit for anyone who requires a tablet that is more capable of getting tasks done, but who doesn’t use it all the time. That means for occasional travel, sales trips, customer-facing roles, students, and some engineering and field service roles. Those who need a tablet to work with semi-permanently, or for high-end demanding tasks such as image or movie editing in the field, should get an iPad Pro. I think the Air range is significantly better than the standard iPad, so I’d certainly see students and enterprise pros as suited to these machines. 

When will we learn more?

Apple is expected to announce these new devices, along with the iPhone SE 5G and new Macs, at its spring launch event in March/early April. I expect the new models to ship a week or two later.

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