In a pre-publication note, DigiTimes claims -- citing Taiwan-based supply chain sources -- that Apple (AAPL 1.41%) will unveil its next-generation iPad Air in March. The company's suppliers are then expected to kick off mass production of the device during the second quarter of 2016, suggesting that availability will happen a little while after the unveiling.
Let's take a closer look at everything we know about the device and what it should mean for investors.
What do we know so far?
Apple's attempts to "double down on secrecy" appear to be working. Very little has leaked to the Web about this device. We don't know what applications processor it will have, what display enhancements Apple intends to make, or what other internal enhancements Apple will bring.
We do know -- thanks to a report from KGI Securities' Ming-Chi Kuo -- that it won't feature the 3D Touch technology that made its debut on the iPhone 6s/6s Plus.
Additionally, per a sketchy, purportedly leaked schematic of the exterior of the device, the iPad Air 3 may adopt the same four speaker setup found on the iPad Pro launched in late 2015. Although the iPad Pro wasn't for me, I did appreciate the noticeably better sound quality of the iPad Pro compared to my iPad Air 2.
I think the inclusion of a much improved speaker/sound system would be a wonderful improvement.
Additionally, that same schematic showed the inclusion of an LED flash, something previous iPads have not had, making it better suited for photos than previous iPads have been, potentially serving as an additional selling point or reason to upgrade.
Further, I believe investors should expect either an A9 or an A9X applications processor in this next-generation iPad (I think the A9X would be the better choice, but the A9 should be smaller and cheaper to make) as well as a significantly higher-quality display.
Apple's iPad lineup in fiscal 2016 should be quite strong
My fellow Foolish colleague Adam Levine-Weinberg made the bold prediction that iPad sales would return to growth in the fall, something he now believes is unlikely to happen, in no small part thanks to the lack of a new iPad Air in fall 2015.
Once the iPad Air 3 lands, though, Apple's iPad lineup should be extremely strong. At the top of the iPad Air product stack should be the Air 3, which should offer some very nice improvements over the Air 2. The Air 2 will probably receive a price cut and take the place of the current iPad Air, with the original iPad Air getting phased out.
Apple also successfully remedied the competitive/product issues it had with the 2014 iPad mini 3 with the quite excellent iPad mini 4 launched in the fall of 2015. This product should do a good job of holding the line until at least fall 2016, when I would expect a mild refresh to include an A9 processor (the iPad mini 4 features an A8 chip).
At any rate, I'm not willing to make a call on whether the iPad product category will return to growth or not during fiscal year 2016. However, I do think the combination of the iPad Pro, iPad Air 3, and a much better iPad mini 4 should put Apple in as good of a position as it could hope to be in for fiscal 2016.