When will the iPad Air 3 be released in the UK? And what design, tech specs, new features and UK price should we expect from Apple’s next mid-size (9.7-inch) iPad, whether it’s called iPad Air 3, iPad Pro 2, just plain iPad (The New iPad?) or something else? Finally, is Apple killing off the iPad Air brand – or even the entire Air brand, laptops and all?
The most recent mid-size iPad was announced in March 2016, but it wasn’t the new iPad Air 3 we had expected; instead, Apple unveiled its 9.7-inch iPad Pro, featuring improved specs, design tweaks and more. Does this mean Apple has finished with the iPad Air line, sticking to Pro branding for both 9.7- and 12.9-inch iPads in future? (And maybe even releasing an iPad Pro mini or iPad Pro 7.9in instead of the iPad mini 5?) Or will it carry on releasing 9.7-inch iPads in both Pro and Air configurations, much as it has done with the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro? Does the iPad Air have a future?
In this article we examine rumours about the the iPad Air 3’s release date in the UK, and talk about possible new features and design changes to expect in Apple’s mid-size iPad range. Bookmark this page and check back regularly for the latest information: as rumours circulate and news leaks out, we’ll update it with everything you need to know about the new iPad Air 3: design, features, size and specifications, the differences between the next-gen iPad Air 3 and the current iPad Air 2, the iPad Air 3’s UK launch date and likely UK pricing, and much, much more.
Last updated on 15 December 2016, to talk about predictions of a Westworld-style folding iPad; on 6 Dec, to refresh our wishlist of new iPad features; on 29 Nov, to discuss rumours of a new line of iPads with a 10.9-inch screen; on 15 Nov, to adjust our predictions of the iPad Air 3’s UK price based on recent changes for other Apple hardware; and on 1 Nov, to discuss the rumour that the iPad Air 3 will launch in March 2017, and be the last ever Air-branded tablet.
iPad buying advice: If you’re more interested in the current iPad range, read our 12.9-inch iPad Pro review, 9.7-inch iPad Pro review and iPad Air 2 review, and our iPad mini 4 review and iPad mini 2 review. And remember to check our iPad buying guide for 2016 and best cheap iPad deals UK.
iPad Air 3 release date rumours UK: Release date
Long, long ago, we predicted an October 2015 launch for the iPad Air 3, based on past behaviour from Apple. This seemed like a logical prediction: the iPad Air 2 was unveiled to journalists on 16 October 2014; the iPad Air 1 was announced on 22 October 2013, and released at the start of November. This is Apple’s traditional iPad release schedule, and the announcement of iOS 9 at WWDC 2015 on 8 June, same as every year, suggested that things were proceeding as usual.
But 2015 was a surprising year for iPad announcements. At the September press briefing, where we would traditionally expect to hear about iPhones, iPhones and more iPhones, the company risked overshadowing the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus by unveiling the iPad Pro (and then slipping out the iPad mini 4). Apple instead refreshed its mid-size iPad range the following March, when it unveiled the iPad Pro 9.7in.
With no new iPads appearing at either Apple’s September iPhone 7 launch or at its October MacBook Pro event, March 2017 looks like the next logical timing for new iPads.
iPad Air 3 release date UK: March 2017 launch – but iPad Air 3 ‘will be last in Air line’
Some pundits – reported by NeuroGadget, among others – are predicting that the iPad Air 3 will be unveiled in March 2017… alongside the iPad Pro 2. This seems off to us, and contrary to the strategy Apple has been pursuing with its tablets in recent years.
Having a brand-new (presumably 9.7-inch) iPad Air alongside new iPad Pros of the same screen size would be confusing for customers, and it’s hard to see how Apple would differentiate the two. Would the iPad Pro 2 be faster than the iPad Air 3? How much faster does it need to be, given that the iPad Pro 9.7-inch is already far quicker than is necessary to run any app on the App Store? Would the iPad Air 3 be slower than the iPad Pro 9.7in? Would the iPad Air 3 be thinner than the Pro 2, when the Pro 9.7in is already only 6.1mm thick? There are surely ways round this, but it would present a headache for Apple’s marketing department.
The differentiation was easier to maintain for the MacBooks, partly because laptop buyers tend to be tech-savvier on average (and are liable to put in more pre-purchase research) than tablet buyers, but also because laptops have more room for difference in terms of specs and the like. Someone who just wants to read their email can settle for a netbook or Chromebook, while a video editor needs a laptop that’s vastly more powerful. But the current iPad range is as fast as anyone could possibly want. Releasing a new tier of products on top, aimed at creative professionals, seems redundant. Releasing a new (slower?) tier of products below, aimed at casual and budget users, would be deeply unlike Apple, which always chases the premium market in any given sector. And seems unnecessary too, given that older iPads are still available.
So we’re not exactly convinced by this. Apple may choose to release another iPad Air, but to release it at the same time as a new iPad Pro would a branding challenge, to say the least.
Separately, those same reports also predict that the iPad Air 3 will be the last Air-branded tablet Apple release. To wait this long, release one more Air tablet, then pack up the brand for good? Seems… strange. Still, we shall see.
iPad Air 3 release date UK: iPad Air 2’s second birthday
It’s been more than two years since the iPad Air 2 was first shown off to the world’s media. Back in 2014, Apple used to schedule separate iPhone and iPad launch events in consecutive months in autumn, and the iPad Air 2 (and underwhelming iPad mini 3) were revealed on 16 October, just over a month after the iPhone 6. (What an act to follow!)
As we discuss above and below, some pundits think a successor to the iPad Air 2 will be launched before the end of 2016. Perhaps it will. But now that we’ve passed the two-year anniversary of the Air 2’s launch with no word on the iPad Air 3 (and almost no movement on MacBook Air updates), we need to start facing facts: Apple appears to have lost interest in the Air brand. A two-year hiatus is enormous in the world of tablet updates.
iPad Air 3 release date UK: The end of the Air brand
There are widespread rumours that Apple has finished with the Air line, and will in future focus on the mini and Pro ranges – or even just Pro branding, with the various lines differentiated by size. Now that the Pro brand encompasses 9.7-inch iPads, this previously crazy-sounding theory could just be right.
Our feeling, based on the lack of love received by the MacBook Air recently, is that Apple is moving towards a twin-brand model for its laptops: a MacBook, and a MacBook Pro. Likewise, we could see a product or line of products called, simply, ‘iPad’, to sit alongside the Pro models.
iPad Air 3 release date UK: Onsale date rumours
When will the iPad Air 3 go on sale in the UK? There’s usually a delay of about 10 days between the announcement and the devices going on sale. If the Air 3 launches in late-October 2016, for example, then expect it to hit UK shops in early November.
There are occasionally shortages when a major Apple product launches, so those who are desperate to get their hands on the Air 3 would be wise to place a pre-order if possible. (Pre-ordering using Apple’s own Apple Store app rather than on the website often appears to give you a head start that could make all the difference.)
Read next: Best cheap iPad deals UK | iPad reviews | How to set up a new iPad | How to speed up a slow iPad
iPad Air 3 release date rumours UK: Poll – How often do you update your iPad?
The iPad Air 3 may arrive in autumn 2016, but by no means every iPad owner will make the upgrade. How often do you buy a new iPad?
iPad Air 3 release date rumours UK: Design
Let’s look next at the iPad Air 3’s physical design. What will the iPad Air 3 look (and feel) like?
iPad Air 3 design rumours: Folding iPad
Gene Munster – perhaps the most famous Apple analyst out there, albeit mainly for consistently getting it wrong when predicting an Apple television – has predicted that Apple will release a folding iPad.
The prediction, reported by Apple Must, is based on Apple’s recent patent activity; as we’ve reported in our iPhone 8 rumour roundup, the firm has taken out a number of ‘folding device’ patents that seemingly apply to the iPhone, but the larger and less portable iPads actually seem more amenable to such a development.
Munster may have been influenced by a popular current TV show, Westworld. In this series, which centres around a Western-themed park where realistic android ‘hosts’ interact with human ‘guests’ living out their fantasies, the programmers of the hosts all use neat folding tablets. It’s actually one of the most remarked-upon elements of the show’s aesthetic, and makes a lot of sense (if you can solve the technical challenges).
iPad Air 3 design rumours: Smart Connector for Smart Keyboard…
It’s an obvious logical progression from the 12.9- and 9.7-inch iPad Pro models, but it seems likely that the iPad Air 3 will have a Smart Connector on the lefthand edge for attaching a Smart Keyboard Cover.
Most iPad accessories are dependent on their own battery power – even the Apple Pencil has to be recharged, albeit very quickly, when it runs out of charge – but the Smart Connector allows a connected keyboard cover to draw power from the iPad’s battery. In the larger iPad Pro’s case, that means a very long usage time, since it has a monster battery; hopefully the iPad Air 3 will be able to offer something impressive in that department too.
iPad Air 3 design rumours: …and Apple Pencil compatibility
When Apple launched the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, it was the only tablet that was compatible with the Apple Pencil. That made sense at the time – it was a unique selling point for Apple’s most expensive tablet. But plenty of iPad Air owners have told us they would dearly love to be able to use the Pencil, one of the best styluses on the market, with their device, and it would be reasonable to add compatibility to a wider range of devices over the coming year.
Apple started that process with the 9.7-inch Pro, and we expect Pencil capabilities to diffuse downwards through the range.
iPad Air 3 design rumours: 10.9-inch screen
An upgrade mentioned in the new features wishlist later in this article, and which sounds like it may happen: a larger screen. More specifically, a screen that’s larger than that of the iPad Air 2, but smaller than the 12.9-inch display on the larger iPad Pro model.
Barclays Research has predicted that Apple will unveil three new iPad Pro 2 models in March 2017: new 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch models, and a 10.9-inch version that sits in between. The inbetweener will actually have a chassis that’s the same size as the iPad Air 2, while achieving the extra screen space by removing the bezel – which may mean the removal of the Home button.
Whether Apple will carry over these changes to the Air line as well remains to be seen.
iPad Air 3 design rumours: Thinner than iPad Air 2
Physically, it’s rumoured that the next iPad Air will be… wait for it… thinner than its predecessor.
It’s generally a sound prediction to make, given that the iPad Air 1 was thinner than the iPad 4 and the iPad Air 2 was thinner than the iPad Air 1. The iPad Air 2 is already really thin, mind you, and we do sometimes wonder how much thinner tablets need to get before the compromises start to outweigh the benefits. The Air 2 is sturdy and has stood up to more than a year’s heavy and frequent use, but we still recall the nervousness with which we handled it in the early days: it’s hard to see an even more slender iPad Air 3 inspiring a great deal of confidence in its ability to withstand bending, chucking on a sofa, holding by one edge etc.
(Note that the iPad Pro 9.7in, which improves on the iPad Air 2 in most other respects, is the same thickness.)
If batteries are getting smaller, couldn’t they just keep it the same size and incorporate a higher-capacity battery unit, and give us a few more hours away from the charger?
Indeed, one rumour suggests that the Air 3’s thinner chassis will actually mean it has a lower-capacity battery unit than the Air, which seems crazy to us. (Even though improvements in battery technology could mean that this lower-capacity unit actually lasts for a comparable length of time in practice, it seems barmy to consciously choose not to improve battery life when simply keeping the same capacity unit would achieve this.)
iPad Air 3 design rumours: 7000-series aluminium body
We mentioned above our general nervousness that a thinner iPad Air 3 would also be less robust. But one other change to its physical design could help with that.
The Tampa Bay Review thinks the iPad Air 3 is likely to be made of 7000-series aluminium, like the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. There’s a certain logic to this: spending the extra cash on stronger materials to make the newest iPhones more bend-proof than their predecessors was a popular move after the (possibly overstated) traumas of Bendgate. But it does raise the question of why the iPad Pro (which is more valuable) and the iPad mini 4 (which is more portable, and therefore more likely to get crammed into a pocket) missed out on this upgrade.
If the Air 3 is thinner than either of those devices then we have an answer, but that only poses another: what is it about the Air lineup in particular that makes it more deserving of a super-thin body than those other Apple tablets?
iPad Air 3 design rumours: Colour options
Like the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, we’d expect the iPad Air 3 to be available in four colours: silver, gold, Space Grey and Rose Gold.
Black and Jet Black, the matt and gloss new colour finishes available for the iPhone 7, are also possibilities.
Every year someone suggests that the next iPad will come in the bright primary colours of the iPhone 5c and every year that person is disappointed. We don’t expect the iPad Air 3 to be particularly colourful (except for the two fairly muted gold finishes).
iPad Air 3 design rumours: Concept showcases everything iPad Air 3 should be
Although we’ve not seen many leaks for the iPad Air 3, the latest concept video to hit the Internet showcases everything that the unannounced tablet should feature – Smart connector, a flush camera and, more importantly, 3D Touch support. Apart from that, the concept tablet looks similar to the iPad Pro 9.7in but with smaller bezels at the sides of the display. Take a look at the concept video below:
iPad Air 3 release date rumours UK: Tech specs
It’s time to look deeper into the iPad Air 3. What do the latest rumours say about the iPad Air 3’s specs?
iPad Air 3 specs rumours: Processor and speed
The iPad Air 2 got a new processor chip, the A8X – a souped-up version of the iPhone 6’s A8. This has three billion transistors and offers (Apple says) 40 percent faster performance than the iPad Air 1’s A7 chip in most apps and up to 2.5x graphics performance.
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It would be a big shock if Apple didn’t upgrade the processor again when it launches the iPad Air 3, and it doesn’t take a genius to predict that the iPad Air 3’s chip will be an A9 or an A9X, and very speedy indeed. The iPad Pro 9.7in has an A9X processor.
Read next: Apple rumours & predictions for 2016/2017 | iPad mini 5 rumours
iPad Air 3 specs: Rear-facing camera gains LED flash
The iPad Pro 9.7in is the first iPad in history to feature a flash. This is attached to the rear-facing camera, but the front-facing camera also gets the Retina Flash feature, whereby the entire screen is induced to light up as a sort of substitute flash. We feel that the iPad Air 3 is likely to get one or both of these upgrades too.
The genie is clearly out of the bottle when it comes to iPad photography: as annoying as you find it when someone holds up their iPad to video a concert, the iPad range are being used as cameras, and Apple knows this. Just look at the hyperbole and feature list here. And a flash is a big gap to have in a device’s photographic armour.
iPad Air 3 specs: No 3D Touch
Ming-Chi Kuo, one of the most famous Apple pundits out there, predicted that 3D Touch wouldn’t make an appearance in the iPad Pro 9.7in, and this proved correct.
In a research paper, Kuo predicted that the a new iPad would launch in the first half of 2016 but wouldn’t get the marquee feature from the flagship iPhones.
In the past, Apple has frequently introduced a new feature on the iPhone line and then dispersed it through other iOS devices – Retina displays, Siri, Touch ID – and plenty of analysts have made the obvious logical leap of assuming that 3D Touch will migrate to iPad at some point. Ming-Chi Kuo was the most authoritative voice to doubt this. It would seem strange to allow this popular (if still fairly niche) feature to appear on the iPad Air 3 if it isn’t on the iPad Pro, so we assume 3D Touch on iPad will have to wait for a while longer.