Today's devices, downsized

What to realistically expect at Apple’s iPhone SE & iPad Pro event

Apple is a company of cycles. Traditionally, Apple has been bound to the calendar like Christmas to December; WWDC in June, new iPhones in September, and new iPads in October.

But Tim Cook’s Apple has been considerably more open to switching things up, forgoing expected events or making announcements at unexpected times. Today we find ourselves on the verge of one such aberrations with the announcement of Apple’s “Let Us Loop you In” Media Event scheduled for next Monday, March 21.

Apple hasn’t ever held an event quite like this, and that means no one is one-hundred percent sure of what to expect. Even so, there are a few smart bets to make. Let’s loop you in – here’s what you can realistically expect.


1) Is it new iPhone time already? The 4-inch “iPhone SE” is a reasonably sized smartphone with more than reasonable specs.

Apple has never released a new iPhone off cycle before, instead opting to update the lineup all at once. That’s all about to change as Apple will on Monday announce the new “iPhone SE”, a sort of spiritual successor to the longstanding iPhone 5s.

The iPhone SE (the name is just speculation, by the way) will be Apple’s new “low-end” device, presumably filling either the slot that the iPhone 5s or the iPhone 6 – or possibly both? – do today. It will have a 4-inch display (the same size as the 5s) without 3D Touch support, the same A9 processor as the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, a top of the line camera, and Apple Pay support. Essentially, the iPhone SE will be an iPhone 6s mini in everything but the name, sans 3D Touch.

Seeing as there have been few to no truly reliable part leaks for the iPhone SE, it’s difficult to say what the new iPhone will actually look like. Reports from reliable sources have ranged wildly from a carbon copy of the iPhone 5s, to a miniature iPhone 6s, to somewhere in between. I’m most tempted to with Mark Gurman, who claims that the SE will resemble an iPhone 5s with the rounded glass and corners of the iPhone 6 and 6s. The biggest disappointment? I expect the iPhone SE to start with just 16GB of storage – or, in other words, not enough.


2) Will the expected 9.7-inch iPad Pro be the iPad we’ve all been waiting for? And what about the iPad Air line?

Apple will continue to surprise with the reveal of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, a tablet we all knew was coming but expected to be called the “iPad Air 3.” If the recent leaks are accurate, we’re looking at everything the full sized iPad Pro is today, shoved into an iPad Air 2. That means an A9X processor, vastly improved stereo speakers, and the Smart Connector.

Support for the Smart Connector suggests that Apple will be releasing a smaller version of their Smart Keyboard accessory, which Apple currently sells exclusively to the iPad Pro. Rather than connecting via Bluetooth, the Smart Keyboard case will use the Smart Connector to magnetically attach the keyboard to the iPad. The benefit of this is clear – unlike Bluetooth keyboards, which require repeated pairing and repairing, as well as batteries, the Smart Connector allows accessories to be “hard wired” to the iPad, also using it as a source of power.

The real curiosity here comes in the form of the iPad Air. Given that the new iPad Pro sounds like an Air 3 in everything but name, will Apple opt to discontinue the Air line entirely, keeping the iPad Air 2 around as the entry point for the 9.7-inch iPad lineup? Or will the Air coexist with the new Pro line, similar to Apple’s current Mac lineup? There have been no rumors of a redesigned iPad Air, so my bet is on the eventual death of the line.


3) We’re one year in, and that means it’s time for the Apple Watch to get… new watch bands?

When rumors of a March 2016 event initially started flying around, there were three big tentpole products rumored – a new iPhone, a new iPad, and a new Apple Watch. It now seems as though Apple has decided to wait on launching the expected Apple Watch upgrade, however, and will instead roll out a couple of nifty new watch bands. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I’m not expecting anything too crazy here, but rather just modest accessories for Watch owners to give them more choice. Expect more colors for Apple’s plastic Sport Band series, a new official “Space Black” Milanese Loop (finally!), and perhaps a new line of Apple designed nylon bands.

If you were holding off on buying a new Apple Watch until the second generation, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for that. Current whispers say a September launch is likely, however given how far away that target date, anything could change between now and then.