Our iPad Air 3 dreams!

Rumor has it Apple will debut the iPad Air 3 this spring, possibly as soon as March. The original iPad Air took the Retina iPad 4 and made it thin as a pencil. The iPad Air 2 got even thinner, lighter, and brighter, with a laminated screen, better cameras, and Touch ID. So where could Apple possibly take the 9.7-inch form factor next?


Rene: I'm of two minds on the iPad Air 3 design. I don't expect any big changes. The original iPad mini established the modern design language back in 2012 and there's little indication anything substantial will change this year. But, that was 2012 and this is 2016, and that's a long time in technology.

You need some curve so people can easily pick the iPad Air 3 up off a table or similar flat surface, and you need some bezel so people can hold it without covering the screen.

But where could it be taken next?

Ren: Agreed with Rene. I suspect the Air's changes this year are going to be internal, not external. But I certainly wouldn't mind a front-facing camera adjustment; moving the small FaceTime camera to the center of the device in landscape, rather than portrait, would make it more usable in chatting apps when using a Bluetooth keyboard or Split View.


Ren: Might we see a better refresh rate on the iPad Air 3's screen this year, in part to support an Apple Pencil? Boy, I hope so. It'd be lovely if we saw OLED, but I'm skeptical it'll come to such a large device first — I'd expect it on the iPhone before the iPad.

Rene: I love the iPad Air 2 display. Apple has really nailed the laminated IPS LCD screen. Sure, there are technologies like OLED and Quantum Dot, and maybe they'd help on battery life or provide other advantages in the future, but the need isn't pressing yet.

I'd be super interested in 10-bit P3 color space, the kind the iMacs just got. Nothing really takes advantage of it yet, and Apple would be fine holding off on it as well for a while. But I'd still love it.

Most of the advances in the display will likely be on the other side this year.


Rene: The iPad Pro was the first iPad to get the speakers it deserved. Sure, the Air went stereo back in 2012, but it never boomed, and it never served all orientations. Because it's much smaller, I don't expect the iPad Air to get the same giant, echo-chamber equipped speakers as the Pro, but I do hope it gets the four speaker layout. And some boom.

That way, no matter which way I hold it, the sound will really be stereo.

Ren: Bring on the iPad Pro speaker revolution! Like Rene, I don't think the Air will get the exact speaker configuration that the Pro boosts, but I wouldn't bet against a four-speaker layout — assuming it doesn't take up so much space that it reduces the iPad Air's battery by a noticeable amount. I also wonder if we might see the rumored headphone jack removal on the iPad Air before we see it on the iPhone — that extra space would be a great place to add a speaker or some more battery.

Smart Connector

Ren:The Smart Connector is one of the coolest pieces of third-party connectivity Apple's come up with in recent years. Power and connection with a magnetic seal: What's not to love? But I'm not sure how much it would cost to add it to an iPad Air. I don't know if I'd trade an hour of battery for the Smart Connector, or pay an extra $100. There's also the question of feature differentiation between the Air and Pro: Does the Pro's moniker cement it as the MacBook Pro of the iPad line, offering a bigger screen but also better processor and more features? Or is it just a distinction on screen size? I don't know where Apple's mind is on this topic, and I'm afraid we probably won't know until the Air's release.

Rene: The Smart Connector, which debuted with iPad Pro, carries power, data, and ground to accessories like the Apple Smart Keyboard. In practice, it's much easier and more reliable to use than a Bluetooth keyboard. No pairing, no batteries or charging, and no connection lag or issues.

So, theoretically, I'm all for it on an iPad Air 3 as well. My only curiosity is whether or not Apple will make a Smart Keyboard to go with it, or leave that for third parties like logitech. The reason I'm wondering is the size — Apple's never made a keyboard this small. Could the company nail it?

Apple Pencil and 3D Touch

Rene: 3D Touch uses micro-distortion of the LCD to measure and register pressure, and that doesn't feel like something that would elegantly stretch to a 9.7-inch screen size. At least not right now.

Apple Pencil, on the other hand, uses a combination of the multitouch technology in the display and sensors in the Pencil to deliver something pretty fantastic. At least in how it's implemented on the iPad Pro.

If the iPad Pro + Apple Pencil is a workbook, the iPad Air + Pencil would be a notebook, and that's incredibly attractive.


Ren: I want 3D Touch on the iPad, but as Rene said above, I'm not sure it's technically feasible at the current iPad Air price point quite yet. Of course, if Apple wants developers to incorporate 3D Touch across their apps, it's going to need devices to support it beyond the iPhone line.

When it comes to the Pencil, technologically all that's stopping Apple is a higher-refresh rate for the display and the processing power to communicate lag-free. From a business standpoint, I don't see why the Pencil wouldn't come to the Air: It's one of the most talked-about accessories for the iPad line, and plenty of people (yours truly included) purchased an iPad Pro primarily to be able to use the Pencil to draw with it.

But I return to my musings over the Smart Connector: What makes the iPad Pro "Professional"? Apple may want to keep the Pencil for the highest-tier iPad as a way to encourage purchases of the larger tablet, and to signify it as something special.

I keep coming back to real-world skeumorphism, however. We draw in paper notebooks of all sizes and shapes; why wouldn't Apple similarly offer its best-selling drawing pen for its full iPad line?

Bottom line

Ren: I can only assume the Air's delay last year was to engineer in some of the goodies that hid in the iPad Pro until last October. By all rights and means, this revision should pack a lot of punch for its 9.7-inch screen. I'm personally hoping to see Pencil support come to the Air, but I wouldn't mind 3D Touch, speaker support, and the Smart Connector to make an appearance, too. We shall see — hopefully very soon!

Rene: Apple didn't update the iPad Air last year, which makes it feel inevitable this spring. Take what is, add an A9 processor, four speakers, some other goodies, and — dare we hope — Smart Connector and Apple Pencil, and we have an amazing tablet in our hands. Again.