Apple 'Let Loose' event May 7
Image Credit: Apple

It's been more than 18 months since Apple Inc. last updated its iPad line, marking the longest gap in new models since Steve Jobs first unveiled the product in 2010. The drought finally ends on May 7.

That's the day Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook is poised to introduce major upgrades to the iPad Pro and iPad Air, as well as new versions of the tablet's accessories. The company is delivering the news through an online event dubbed "Let Loose" that's expected to last a little more than half an hour.

In a shift, Apple is making the presentation at 7 a.m. Pacific time, three hours earlier than usual. That will mean the Tuesday event is squarely within business hours for Apple's European fans, and "- perhaps more importantly "- something people in Asia can watch before going to bed. Boosting sales in China is a major focus for the company right now.

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It's also a critical moment for the iPad business. Following a pandemic-era sales surge, demand has declined in the past two years. The iPad's sales were particularly weak last quarter, when they plunged 17% and missed analysts' estimates. Apple predicted that iPad revenue will rebound in the current period, and it's counting on the new models to help win back consumers.

Unlike with Apple's bigger product launches "- the Worldwide Developers Conference in June and its iPhone reveal in September "- there won't be a major in-person gathering at the company's headquarters in Cupertino, California. Instead, Apple is holding smaller hands-on sessions in New York and London, where members of the media will be able to watch the video announcement and try out the devices.

Here are the new products to expect at the event "- and what probably won't come until later:

The New iPads

The star of the event will be a new iPad Pro with an updated design and crisper screen. It will be the first iPad to get an OLED display — organic light-emitting diode — the technology used in the iPhone since 2017. In addition to improving the image quality, OLEDs allow for thinner devices, and Apple is expected to slim down the Pro tablet accordingly. The new iPads are poised to come in 11-inch and 12.9-inch screen sizes and may also include Apple’s first M4 processors. Those chips will help power artificial intelligence tasks — part of a broader push into AI that Apple will explain further in June.

The iPad Air, Apple’s mid-tier tablet, is getting updated on Tuesday as well. The big story there is that Apple will add a second, larger screen option for the first time. The new 12.9-inch version will match the size of the iPad Pro, giving consumers a cheaper way to get a large-screen tablet. The current 10.9-inch version will stick around, and both models will likely be updated with the M2 chip that Apple first launched in the MacBook Air in 2022.

Updated Accessories

It’s no secret that the Apple Pencil will feature prominently in Tuesday’s presentation: The company depicted the device in the invitation to the event. The revamped Pencil will include haptic feedback, a feature that lets users feel a small vibration-like effect when triggering actions with the stylus. Users will probably also be able to squeeze the Pencil to conduct certain tasks. The accessory was last updated in 2023, when Apple rolled out a new low-end version. The new one will be a replacement for the high-end model launched in 2018.

Apple also will unveil an updated Magic Keyboard, a piece of equipment that serves as an iPad case and includes a keyboard and small trackpad. The new version is expected to be more durable, use aluminum and make the iPad look more laptop-like. Users have complained that the current version can tear or fall apart after several months of use.

Coming Later

Apple is working on a cost-reduced version of its 10th-generation iPad. That model is currently $449, but Apple will probably want to get the price closer to the $329 ninth-generation model — a move that would let it phase out that older version. But such a step isn’t expected until the end of the year at the earliest.

The company is also planning an updated iPad mini, which was previously revamped in 2021. That new model, featuring a faster processor, also won’t be coming on Tuesday.

New AI capabilities may get teased for the iPad Pro, but don’t expect a formal unveiling of the software features until June. That’s when Apple will introduce iPadOS 18 at its Worldwide Developers Conference.

The company is also nearing production of revamped low-end AirPods, but those won’t be launched until the fall — alongside new iPhones.

Finally, Macs aren’t expected to be part of the event. Though the iPad Pro may include the company’s M4 chip — a component that’s also coming to the Mac — new computers won’t arrive until later in 2024.