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What iMore wants to see from the iPad Air 3!

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.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

  • How about upping the maximum storage capacity? Say to 256 GB?
  • There are rumors of 256 GB in the iPhone 7, so hope it happens in the Air 3 as well. I also hope they will finally drop 16 GB, as well. The cost of memory has dropped enough now that 32 GB or 64 GB should be the start point now. Sent from the iMore App
  • With the iPad Pro Keyboard, and the delay in iPad Air update, I can't help wondering if Apple will also have a new keyboard accessory for the iPad Air 3. Time will tell us all in a few weeks, if rumors are believable.. :-)
  • I agree with everything, but I do believe pencil support is the feature that will make people upgrade this time. I believe it is a necessity across the entire iPad line. Sent from the iMore App
  • I totally agree... but It's going to be interesting how the new Air 3 will be position with the Pro... because the Air 3 can't be more something that the Pro is not. Just bought a month ago the iPad Pro and hope they dont update it too or change something with it during that keynote to match and get more Pro. But Maybe they could add a few more cases (since now only 2 colours)..... and also a few more keyboard (no French yet) etc... I would love during the keynote, to focus more on services and os features dedicated to iPad Air 3 and maybe also iPad Pro.
  • I doubt it will get Pencil + Smart Connector support. That would basically make it an iPad Pro for half the price.
  • If they don't though, I don't think they will get many sales, especially upgrades. I think that the only customers who actually *don't* want this, are those that just bought the Pro and don't want to look silly.
  • I agree with most of what is said here except OLED screens (the technology isn't there for colour accuracy yet despite what you may have heard), and the argument that we need the same profile to be able to pick it up. It's really just as easy (but mostly hard) to pick up something profiled like an iPhone (round) as it is to pick up something shaped like the iPad (beveled) for most folks. Also, the bezels on the iPhone allow one to hold it just fine, so I don't see any reason why the iPad side bezels couldn't be reduced to at least the same *ratio* as iPhone (about half the width they currently are). Pencil support is a no brainer, it simply must be done. Despite the fact that including it in other iPad models immediately makes one wonder why the "pro" is even called a pro in the first place, I think it would be terribly rude, unfair, and very "money-grubbing" of Apple to disallow it simply to artificially boost the sales of the Pro. Tim Cook has also gone on the record saying iPad sales would actually be expanding soon, so the only way that can really happen is if innovations like the Pencil and the magic connector find their way into all models of iPads. Why would anyone upgrade if they don't?
  • I agree. Pencil support is essential. Otherwise there's not much point in getting one over an air 2.
  • "Tim Cook has also gone on the record saying iPad sales would actually be expanding soon" Actually, he said he expects iPad to get back to growth model holiday quarter of 2016. For some that's soon, others not soon enough. "Despite the fact that including it in other iPad models immediately makes one wonder why the "pro" is even called a pro in the first place," I agree but only assuming that the Smart Connector & Pencil do get added to the iPad Air 3. In that light, the 12..9" would've been better off being called iPad Plus.
  • As an iPad 3 user, add pencil support and I'll definitely upgrade, no pencil and I definitely won't. I never found a productive use case where I didn't vastly prefer working on my laptop, and as a consumption device, my sluggish iPad 3 is still good enough for video and light browsing. As someone who enjoys sketching, the introduction of the Apple pencil is the first time I can see something that the ipad could do better than any other device I own. I feel it's a pretty big missed opportunity if Apple doesn't capitalize on that.
  • I don't expect a lot here. I think that Apple at the newer A9 (not A9x) processor and pencil support. Like Renée I think that they will improve the speakers but they won't be iPad pro quality. I'm not really sure about the smart connector but at this point I don't think so since I really do think that Apple is going to want to make sure that there are clear differentiators for the iPad Pro this early on in its existence. Or year from now, yes I think that will eventually make its way down to the smaller size iPads. I mostly just expecting a spectrum from last year similar to what we got with the iPad mini 4
  • I think Apple figured out with the original iPad Air that they have to up the processor with the "x" factor just to push the extra pixels. I never owned one but used a couple and it was seriously underpowered compared to the iPhone 5s.
  • I'd say 3D Touch is the feature I want to see the most in the iPad Air 3 I think the Apple Pencil should be exclusive to the iPad Pro as it could be what separates the the two devices and would it clear the larger iPad Pro is indeed a more professional iPad for productivity. Sent from the iMore App
  • The most important thing for me is more RAM. I'd like at least 3Gb but preferably 4Gb like the iPad Pro. I mainly use my iPad for browsing, usually making the most of multiple tabs, and the more RAM it has then the less reloading when switching between the tabs.
  • #1 for me is the A9X processor, not the A9.
    #2 is more RAM. 3GB minimum.
    #3 is no more 16GB iPads for $500. Start with 32GB.
    #4 is the Smart Connector.
    #5 is better speakers.
  • M9 coprocessor for me. I love hey Siri and would love to see it be always on as it is on the iPhone 6s currently. I also think the more power it has the more future proof we will be. The Amazon echo will be giving hey Siri a run for it's money if hey Siri doesn't become untethered. Right now Siri's big advantage is it's texting and emailing abilities and voice dictation. But if both continue to have to be plugged in, Amazon will move ahead.
  • I believe that the iPad Air should use the pen and the mini should have forced touch. Apple can make it easier for people to choose which one to take.
  • Make no mistake, the Apple Pencil is coming to the entire iPad line - that's a no brainer $99 add-on cost. I think they've finally caught up with demand for the accessory, so this would be a good time to bring on another device that supports it. Then in the Fall, the next mini will get support for it.
  • I certainly hope so! I love my iPad Pro, but would love it even more if I could have a good drawing tool with the Mini and be able to only take the Pro when I know I'm going out to draw (vs. being able to draw any time with the mini in my pocket).
  • Apple Pencil support would be great! Sent from the iMore App