Apple Spring Loaded: Everything we expect to be announced

After well over a month of speculation, Apple has finally made it official: It will be hosting a Spring event in 2021 with the name “Spring Loaded” in the invite.

What is likely to be unveiled at this event? As it turns out, quite a lot — from iPads and iMacs to AirPods and AirTags, we could see a bevy of Apple products make an appearance. It’s all rumor and speculation at this point, but we have rounded up everything we know about these upcoming devices, so you know exactly what to expect as soon as CEO Tim Cook steps out onto the virtual stage.

When will the event be?

The date for Apple’s spring event has been elusive up until this point. Several dates had been proposed and retracted, but it’s now official: April 20 at 10:00 a.m. PDT. Tuesday is a typical day for Apple to hold an event, and it will be hosted online at Apple.com.

Originally, Taiwan’s United Daily News reported that the show would fall on March 16. However, reporter Mark Gurman quickly poured cold water on the idea of the event going ahead on this day, and the date passed without incident. the consensus seemed to coalesce on March 23, with leakers Jon Prosser and L0vetodream both indicating this was the day to watch.

Yet once again, this date fell by the wayside, with Prosser saying the event will actually take place in April and suggesting Apple itself had fooled leakers like himself. The April target received a boost from Gurman shortly after, who said in a Bloomberg article that Apple could reveal new iPad Pro models in April.

New iPad Pro with a brilliant display

Apple’s top-of-the-line iPad, the iPad Pro, is currently the best high-powered tablet money can buy. The 2020 model has almost everything you need in an iPad, and while it is expensive, our review maintained that it “won’t be fazed by any task you throw at it.” So, with such a great starting base, is there much Apple can do to improve it?

The answer, of course, is a resounding yes — and the rumor mill has stepped in to explain just what Apple is apparently working on. The most persistent rumor regarding a future iPad Pro is that it will come with a mini-LED display. This packs in as many as 10,000 LEDs into the tablet’s display, massively ramping up its brightness and performance. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has been a strong proponent of this rumor and he has a solid track record, so this could be one to look out for. It has also been backed up by reporter Mark Gurman in a recent Bloomberg article.

Gurman’s article served up some other interesting tidbits. The first is that the new iPad Pro could have a new processor — dubbed the A14X — that is “on par” with the M1 in the latest MacBook models. The second is that the new iPad Pro may well come with a Thunderbolt 3 port instead of the USB-C slot. Thunderbolt 3 uses the same port design as USB-C (so your accessories and cables will not be obsolete) but is much faster, allowing for transfer rates up to 40Gbps compared to USB-C’s 10Gbps. This would also “enable connectivity with additional external monitors, hard drives, and other peripherals,” according to Gurman. The third tidbit is that the iPad Pro is getting better cameras, although Gurman has not shared further details on this point.

Elsewhere, Apple might upgrade the LTE connectivity of its cellular iPad Pro models to 5G, offering a big step up in terms of speed. If you are looking to buy an iPad Pro for productivity or simply need a tablet with super-speedy connectivity, this could be worth holding out for. We would also expect Apple to outfit the new iPad Pro with a new version of its A-series iPad chip for improved performance.

An overhauled iMac is a possibility

iMac 2021 redesign with five colors

Of all of Apple’s current products, the iMac is the most long-lived. But at the same time, it feels like it is the longest in the tooth, having not had a design update since 2012. According to industry rumblings, though, it is due for its first redesign in almost a decade, and we could see it as early as this spring.

Like many Apple products, from the iPad Pro to the MacBook Pro 16, the iMac is expected to get vastly slimmed-down bezels, bringing it closer to the Pro Display XDR and allowing for a larger display without increasing the physical size of the device. Specifically, rumors point to a new 23-inch size with an affordable price. That indicates this will be an update of the 21.5-inch model with a larger screen and thinner bezel. What’s more, the design is said to be more angular, with a flat back instead of the current curved rear, resulting in something that takes on the iPad Pro’s design language.

According to Prosser, it could even come with a range of bright colors that evoke the original iMac and take cues from the iPad Air, including space gray, rose gold, green, and sky blue, in addition to the current silver offering.

We would expect the new iMac to come with an Apple Silicon chip on board. Whether this is the M1 from the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro or a next-generation ARM-based chip from Apple remains to be seen, but the performance should be way above the current iMac 5K. And while Face ID is apparently on the way, it likely will not arrive until the second iteration of the redesigned iMac.

Device-tracking AirTags

We have known Apple is working on Tile-like tracking devices called AirTags for more than a year now. Aside from the usual leaks and analyst reports, evidence has surfaced from Apple itself, including references in iOS code and an Apple support video that accidentally mentioned the AirTags name.

According to the rumors, AirTags are small circular discs that can be fixed to your valuables, like a MacBook or a keychain. Once paired with your iPhone, you will be able to track the AirTags using the Find My app. Despite the delays, the mountain of evidence pointing toward their existence suggests it is only a matter of time until we see AirTags make an appearance. With any luck, they will finally debut at Apple’s spring event this year.

A big clue dropped in April 2021, when Apple published a press release announcing it was opening up the Find My app to third-party tracking products. While there was no mention of AirTags, its timing could be indicative that Apple’s own tracking product is just around the corner. On the other hand, the omission of AirTags seemed a little odd, given that unveiling an expansion of the Find My app would seem to be the perfect time to also reveal AirTags to the world. It may be that AirTags are simply delayed and were not ready to go live at the same time as the third-party alternatives. We will have to see if they make an appearance at Apple’s spring event.

iOS 14.5 brings new features

iPhone 12 range
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Apple’s iPhone operating system is likely to get updated to iOS 14.5 at the Spring Loaded event, bringing with it a number of handy new features. In an interview on the Sway podcast in early April, Tim Cook said the new version would be released “in the next few weeks,” which could put it in the crosshairs of the Spring Loaded show.

What can you expect from iOS 14.5? Well, quite a bit. First and foremost, the update will see the long-awaited launch of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature that has created waves in the advertising industry over the last few months. This will give you much more control over how apps track you across websites and will allow you to simply block apps from tracking you if you so desire.

Various new features have been discovered in iOS 14.5 betas, such as improved battery health tools, new workflows in the Shortcuts app, the ability to change your default music and podcast apps, as well as 217 new emoji to choose from. There are signs iOS 14.5 might allow you to unlock your iPhone while wearing a mask as long as you are already wearing an Apple Watch, too. Plus don’t forget the slew of security and updates and general optimizations that come with every iOS update.

A third-gen Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil is already an excellent drawing tool for the iPad, but there are signs Apple is set to update it this year. Given the expected revamp of the iPad Pro, it would make sense for Apple to also update the Pencil at its Spring Loaded event.

This one is a bit shaky, though, given one major source does not have an extensive track record with Apple leaks. According to “Uncle Pan Pan” on the Chinese social media site Weibo, Apple is preparing a third-generation Apple Pencil, as well as new AirPods (more on those later). This leaker has previously shared alleged new colors for the iPhone range, which could also be released soon. You should probably take their claims with a pinch of salt, though.

“Uncle Pan Pan” is not the only person to have claimed a new Apple Pencil is coming. In early March, Apple leaker “Mr White” shared an image of what they claimed to be a new Apple Pencil with an elongated screw-in tip, possibly indicative of internal changes to the drawing tool. “Mr White” is a little more of an established leaker than “Uncle Pan Pan,” but until you see the Apple Pencil update at the Spring Loaded show, treat the leak with a degree of skepticism.

A redesigned iPad Mini

iPad Mini Apple Pencil

The iPad Pro is not the only iPad said to be getting a revamp this spring — the iPad Mini is also on the agenda. According to Japanese site Macotakara, the iPad Mini 6 will come with an 8.4-inch display (up from the current 7.9-inch screen) and thinner bezels. Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman has also claimed the bezels will be shrunk, allowing for a larger display. Those slimmed-down bezels will allow Apple to fit the larger screen inside the device without having to increase its footprint, much like what has already happened with the iPad Pro and iPad Air.

Interestingly, the report from Macotakara says the design of the new iPad Mini “goes with iPad (9th Generation), which continues to use Touch ID and Lightning port.” This suggests Apple might decide to keep the Home button on the iPad Mini while simultaneously expanding its display and reducing the bezels slightly — but not enough to eliminate the button. This would set it at odds with the iPad Pro and iPad Air, which lost their Home buttons when their bezels were stripped back.

Ming-Chi Kuo has also weighed in, saying the iPad Mini would be updated to come with a display that sits somewhere between 8.5 inches and 9 inches. He believes it will be released in the first half of 2021, which would include Apple’s Spring Loaded show. Mark Gurman, however, has not mentioned it when discussing what to expect at the event, so it might not make an appearance. Either way, the last iPad Mini update came in March 2019, so it is due for some retooling.

AirPods move closer to AirPods Pro

Digital Trends

The original AirPods were a surprise hit for Apple, but the company has since cemented its strong position by upgrading them and supplementing them with the high-end AirPods Pro. Such is the success of the AirPods Pro that Apple is said to be seeking to emulate their look in the new version of the standard AirPods.

These will come with a shorter stem, much like the stubby stalk on the AirPods Pro. Not only will that make them more compact, but it will bring them closer to the Pros from the outside. Inside, though, there will be differences, with the standard AirPods lacking the noise cancellation features found in the AirPods Pro.

It is possible Apple will bring out a new entry in the AirPods family called AirPods Pro Lite. Details are scarce on these, other than that they will sit between the entry-level AirPods and the AirPods Pro. What we consider more likely is that the AirPods Pro Lite is actually the revamped base-model AirPods.

Industry speculation has shifted to the idea that the AirPods update will come later in the year, and reliable reporter Mark Gurman did not mention them in a recent interview about the Spring Loaded event. That means you probably should not get too hopeful that they will be updated at the show.

A long-overdue Apple TV update

This is probably one of the least nailed-down rumors of the lot. While industry analysts have been predicting an Apple TV update for a while now, details are still very thin. In May 2020, prominent Apple leaker Prosser tweeted: “New Apple TV 4K with A12X – 64GB/128GB ready to ship. Code name: Neptune T1125. Another one of those things that could drop any time.” Yet, nearly a year later, we still have not seen the update surface. In fact, the last new version came in 2017.

So, what could we see if Apple finally decides spring 2021 is the right time for a new Apple TV? Well, the A12X may not be part of the update — this year the chip will be three years old, and we would expect a much more recent alternative will make it into the finished product. Look out for either the A12Z Bionic in the current iPad Pro or whatever chip ends up in the iPad Pro refresh.

According to Bloomberg, a new version of the Apple TV 4K will ship with a revamped Siri Remote boasting a “find my remote” feature, not unlike Apple’s current Find My tool for its other devices. Bloomberg has an excellent record for Apple rumors, so this is one to keep an eye on. That said, Bloomberg’s own Mark Gurman omitted them in his round-up of what to expect at the Spring Loaded event, so don’t get too excited just yet.

Other possibilities

iPhone SE 2020 Screen Front
iPhone SE (2020) Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

This being Apple, there are even more things that are being talked about as possibilities for the spring 2021 event. Most of them are unlikely, but there are a few worth mentioning.

Macotakara has reported Apple is working on an updated iPhone SE due to be released in April 2021. The report contains no further information, though, and given that the most recent iPhone SE only came out in April 2020 (and is quite a niche product for Apple), it is by no means certain that Macotakara is correct.

It is also almost certain that Apple is going to replace the MacBook Pro 13 with an all-new 14-inch model. Apple occasionally releases updated MacBooks in the spring, but numerous reports have pegged the MacBook Pro 14 for a fall launch date, an idea backed up by a recent report from Nikkei Asia that claimed Apple has pushed back the production of the new MacBook Pro to later in the year. Still, a spring release is not totally impossible, so we may get a pleasant surprise.

Finally, Mark Gurman has claimed Apple will update the entry-level iPad with a “thinner and lighter design.” This suggests the iPad may get a similar treatment to the iPad Mini and have its bezels shrunk down, bringing it in line with the iPad Pro and iPad Air. We will probably have to wait a little longer for this, though, as Gurman’s March report says the iPad redesign is coming “later this year.”

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