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Apple Inc.'s 9.7-inch iPad Pro -- Here's What You Need to Know

By Ashraf Eassa - Mar 2, 2016 at 3:15PM

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An overview of Apple's upcoming (smaller) iPad Pro.

Apple's iPads. Image credit: Apple. 

Apple (AAPL 0.88%) is reportedly bringing out a long-overdue update to its 9.7-inch iPad family in just under a month, according to numerous reports. Apple's iPad sales have plunged over the last couple of years, with the decline being blamed largely on long iPad/tablet upgrade cycles as well as cannibalization of tablets by large smartphones.

Let's take a look at everything we know so far about this next generation iPad, which 9to5Mac's Mark Gurman says will be branded "iPad Pro" rather than "iPad Air."

Everything we loved about the big iPad Pro
The iPad Pro brought some interesting technical innovations. The A9X chip inside smashed tablet performance records, with truly excellent CPU and graphics performance. The display also featured some neat tricks, such as a variable display refresh rate and support for the company's unique take on the stylus known as the Apple Pencil.

The device also has quite a nice four-speaker system, something that I missed quite a bit once I returned my iPad Pro and went back to using my iPad Air 2.

According to Gurman, the new 9.7-inch iPad will be getting the same blazing-fast A9X chip, support for the Apple Pencil, and even sport the same "smart connector" that allows users to hook up peripherals such as Apple's Smart Keyboard.

Frankly, I would have been shocked if Apple didn't include support for these add-ons as I'm sure Apple is quite keen to move as many of these high-priced accessories as possible.

Even better than the larger iPad Pro in this key way
Per Gurman, the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro will actually be better than the 12.9-inch variant in one key way: the camera. Previous leaks pointed to Apple including a flash on the upcoming 9.7-inch iPad Pro (the 12.9-inch model doesn't have this), but it seems that Apple is going a step further.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is expected to feature the same 12-megapixel camera sensor that's found on the iPhone 6s/6s Plus. This sensor didn't exactly bring massive image quality improvements over the 8-megapixel sensor found in the iPhone 6/6 Plus, but images are higher resolution and therefore sharper.

A better display, too
The display on the iPad Air 2 has been long overdue for an update. According to Raymond Soneira with DisplayMate, the display found on the Air 2 is inferior to both the one found on the iPad mini 4 as well as the one found on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

That, apparently, is about to change.

Per Gurman, the new iPad Pro is expected to come with an "updated display" with enhancements to both brightness as well as the anti-glare coating that first made its debut with the iPad Air 2.

Indeed, in Soneira's article discussing the different iPad displays, the display expert says that next generation displays will need to further lower display reflectance, as well as implement some other new features, in order to boost image quality.

A second generation anti-reflective coating seems just the sort of thing that Soneira is looking for, and I look forward to seeing how this new iPad Pro does in real-world tests.

This is the iPad we've been looking for, but it might not be enough to rekindle growth
When the large iPad Pro came out, I gave it a shot but was ultimately unhappy with just how gargantuan the device is. In my mind, the 9.7-inch iPad is the perfect tablet size and the improvements that Apple is apparently bringing to the table sound quite compelling.

Whether it'll be enough to help iPad sales out of their funk or not remains to be seen, however. Apple failed to return iPad to year-over-year growth with the introductions of the iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and iPad Pro, so it's hard to imagine that the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will be much more successful at stimulating sales growth.

Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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