Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad line of tablet computers is no longer the massive growth business it once was. In fact, it has suffered significant year-over-year declines for many quarters. Yet iPads still represented approximately 10% of the iDevice maker's revenue in the company's last fiscal year.
It is also a segment that Apple's still quite serious about investing in. According to Mac Otakara, a generally reliable source of Apple news and leaks, the iDevice maker is planning to refresh its iPad lineup this coming spring with three new models.
Meaningful display changes
Today, Apple offers its iPads in three display sizes: 7.9, 9.7, and 12.9 inches. Mac Otakara says the upcoming iPad refresh will replace the 9.7-inch tablet with one that's 10.1 inches and that the new models will include displays that support the wider DCI-P3 color gamut that the current 9.7-inch iPad Pro and iPhone 7 series already do. The new iPads are also expected to support Apple's True Tone display technology, allowing the devices to adjust the color temperatures of their displays in real time. True Tone is currently available only on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
Bloomberg's Mark Gurman reported back in August that Apple's next iPad would use a "faster display technology" -- in other words, high refresh rate displays. These should significantly improve the user experience in day-to-day usage and should also enhance the experience in gaming applications -- assuming that the graphics performance is there, which is why I predict the next chip iteration (A10X) to deliver a substantial improvement in graphics performance relative to the A9X and A10.
Better cameras for the largest and the smallest iPads
Currently, only the 9.7-inch iPad Pro features a 12-megapixel rear camera sensor. The smaller iPad Mini 4 and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro are still saddled with older-generation 8-megapixel sensors.
The report says that the new iPads will all get 12-megapixel sensors. All of these new iPads will apparently have wide color displays, and given that the 12-megapixel sensors inside the iPhone 7-series smartphones are able to capture wide color photos, I expect Apple to carry over the same rear camera sensors from the iPhone 7 to these new iPads.
Mac Otakara doesn't say anything about the front-facing, or "selfie," cameras on these devices, but given that only the new 7-megapixel front-facing shooters on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus support wide color capture, I expect Apple to carry that sensor over to the new iPads as well.
Quad microphone setup
The report also says that all of the new iPad Pros will include a quad-microphone setup, an upgrade from the dual-microphone setup currently used in the iPad lineup. This doesn't seem like a game changer, but Apple does advertise the dual-microphone setup in the current iPads as being helpful for "calls, video recording, and audio recording."
Presumably, the move to a quad-microphone setup will lead to noticeable improved audio quality in these applications, ultimately improving the user experience of the device.
The iPad refresh is looking good
Apple's iPad hardware has been, and continues to be, superb. I struggle to think of a competing tablet product that even comes close to what Apple's doing.
That being said, given that the upgrade cycles in tablets are quite lengthy, especially compared with those seen in smartphones, and given that large-screen smartphones have cannibalized tablets to a fairly significant degree, it's not clear if all of these innovations will be enough to have a real impact on sales of iPads.
Nevertheless, if demand for tablets industrywide should show signs of improvements, I continue to believe that the iDevice maker will be well positioned with best-in-class products to capitalize on that demand.