Apple Special Event: Rumour Roundup

Apple is allegedly holding a special event on the 23rd of March to unveil various new products. It’s been a couple of years since Apple has held a Spring event and given the ongoing pandemic, I think we can expect this to be an all-digital event. When Apple does hold an event early in the year, they typically announce smaller product updates, social initiatives or new services. It’s been some time since Apple made any major announcement at a March event. The last substantial product announcement at a March event was the first generation iPhone SE in 2016. Despite that, the rumour mill is currently in overdrive so I thought I’d round up all the biggest rumours in one place.

AirPods 3

At the end of 2019, Apple unveiled the AirPods Pro and at the end of 2020 the luxurious AirPods Max. But the standard AirPods haven’t seen any attention since March of 2019. So after two years, it seems about time for Apple to do something about that.

The latest rumours and leaked images suggest that AirPods 3 will adopt a similar design to AirPods Pro. Sporting a shorter stem, they’ll also feature force sensors to enable easier navigation between songs, play and pause and activating Siri. The second-generation AirPods 2 by contrast use tap gestures. In my experience, the tap gestures can be a bit hit or miss so this is a welcome change.

Renders first shared by Gizmochina

Less welcome to some is the possibility of Apple introducing removable ear tips to the standard AirPods. Some people don’t like inserting earbuds into their ear canal or they just don’t stay in! Others who found the fit of standard AirPods to be hit or miss might embrace the change, however. We’ve also seen some suggestions that the tips will be opt-in. Attachable by those that want a ‘sealed’ fit. Optional for anybody that prefers not to use them. The leaked renders do seem to support this with the buds having a more recessed speaker grill than the AirPods Pro. Further evidence that suggests the possibility of ear tips are the air vents that make their way across the AirPods Pro. These serve to depressurise the earbuds and make them more comfortable to wear for long periods. But noise cancelling is expected to remain exclusive to the AirPods Pro/Max.

Other features of note are said to include spatial audio support thanks to the addition of accelerometers much like the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. We can also expect improved battery life and enhanced connectivity thanks to a next-generation wireless chip. The renders also seem to suggest the case will be smaller than the current AirPods, no doubt a consequence of the shorter tips.

iPad Pro

The iPad Pro was last updated in March of 2020. The 2020 iPad Pro was a modest update of the late 2018 iPad Pro. The design still feels modern and it isn’t expected that we’ll see much in the way of design changes. On the inside, however, we can expect some big upgrades. Expect the iPad Pro to ship with Apple’s ‘A14X’ Bionic. An enhanced version of the A14 from the new iPad Air and iPhone 12. With more CPU cores, more RAM and a more powerful GPU, the leap in performance is rumoured to be significant over the 2020 model. Some have even suggested that the new chip may even rival the new M1 chip from the Mac. I’d take that claim with a grain of salt. Still, a big performance boost is likely and would be a welcome upgrade.

Beyond the processor, the other major update that has been hinted at is the introduction of Mini LED technology and a stunning new display. The existing iPad Pro and every iPad before it has used an LCD. LCD’s offer some great benefits and are one of the reasons Apple was able to bring its 120hz Promotion to the iPad back in 2017. Unfortunately, LCD panels are lacking when it comes to deep, inky blacks and vibrant, high contrast ratios. On the iPhone, Apple has overcome these deficiencies with OLED. The secret behind OLED is that each pixel is comprised of an organic compound that is individually lit. It means they can be turned on or off totally independently. The problem with OLED is that larger panels typically have lower yield rates and the life spans of the panels can be relatively slim. They also don’t achieve the brightness levels that an LCD can achieve. It’s true that large OLED ship in TV’s. But TV’s don’t sell in the same volume over short periods as the iPad does.

Mini LED technology requires a backlight just like a regular LCD panel and doesn’t have self-emitting pixels like OLED. But what it does have is thousands of local dimming zones, huge contrast ratios, incredible levels of brightness for ultra HDR but without the unfortunate consequences of OLED. Namely a short life span created by the use of organic compounds and the high risk of burn-in. Mini LED can also get much brighter than OLED. It still won’t be able to offer the same precision black levels of OLED but compared to what we have in the current generation of iPad Pro, it should look and feel like a huge step forward.

AirTags

The elusive item trackers developed by Apple have been rumours for years now. They’ve achieved the status of the mythical unicorn on Apple Reddit. They’re the product that has been all but confirmed but for some reason, Apple just doesn’t want to ship them. Thanks to leaked renders, mishaps in the iOS 14 beta rollout and of course Jon Prosser, we have a good idea of what they’ll look like and how they might integrate into the ‘Find My’ network. It’s suggested that they’ll take advantage of Apple’s ultra wide-band technology, first introduced in the iPhone 11 for precision tracking.

Tile, the company behind the chief competitor of AirTags has complained and filed anti-trust cases against Apple over a product that has yet to even ship! Perhaps this might explain some of the delays? If AirTags are a product that Apple intended to ship before now….then they’re currently sitting in a storage facility somewhere. If Apple chooses to finally announce them remains to be seen but perhaps we’ll get an answer on March 23rd.

Software

We’ll almost certainly see Apple ship iOS 14.5 which is currently in the latter stages of the development cycle. New features include unlocking an iPhone with Face ID while wearing a face-covering (if you also have an Apple Watch), various new emoji, dual sim 5G support, new Siri features, default music player controls and perhaps the most prominent new feature, App tracking transparency. As of iOS 14.5, apps will be required to seek permission from you to track your browsing history across the web and in other third-party apps.

Wild Cards

Numerous other products might see some updates but pundits suggest that these will come later in the year. These include a next-generation iPad mini with an all-new design (please be like the iPad Pro!!) and various models of Mac. The MacBook Pro and the iMac are both overdue for a design upgrade and especially the latter. We can expect these to ship with Apple silicon but I bet that these are more likely to make an appearance at WWDC or even later.

Whatever Apple decides to announce it’s bound to generate buzz and excitement in what is currently proving to be a particularly dull start to the year thanks to the ongoing Pandemic. I for one can’t wait! But what do you think? Are there any features or new products that you hope to see? Let me know in the comments!

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