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Rumored OLED iPad Air could outshine iPad Pro, confuse buyers

Last year, Apple presented us with a confusing dilemma when choosing between the iPad Air 4 and the 2020 iPad Pro. For a brief period, a processor upgrade left the cheaper Air more powerful than the premium Pro. A new report suggests that things are about to get tricky again.

According to a new report from The Elec, Apple will launch several iPads with far superior OLED displays within the next few years. The iPhone maker will start with a 10.86-inch OLED iPad in 2022, followed by 11-inch and 12.9-inch OLED iPads in 2023. Those sizes are identical to the displays on today’s iPad Air and iPad Pro, respectively.

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The 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard.

The report echoes what well-connected Apple analyst Ming Chi-Kuo predicted earlier this year.

If the new report is to be believed, then the $599 iPad Air will spend at least several months having what should be a much better display than the $799 and $1,099 iPad Pro. Sounds strange? It is.

Presumably, the iPad Air 5 would still have the same minor drawbacks it has today. It would have a slightly smaller screen, no ProMotion 120Hz display, a slower processor that’s a generation behind the Pro models, and Touch ID instead of Face ID. And months after the iPad Air’s release, the 2023 iPad Pro updates will reportedly bring displays that are even better than the iPad Air 5’s.

Why OLED is better

A quick display-tech primer: OLED stands for “organic light-emitting diode.” OLED panels can turn individual pixels on and off as needed, leading to deep blacks and much better overall contrast. A well-made OLED display will also have richer colors than the LCDs used in today’s iPads.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro you can buy today has an LCD panel that comes as close as possible to OLED’s strengths. Its “mini LED” screen uses a backlighting trick that can dim or illuminate thousands of different display regions, giving the LCD blacks and contrast that comes close to mimicking what an OLED provides.

What this means for the iPad lineup

If this confusing crossover between the iPad Air and iPad Pro sounds familiar, that’s because it happened very recently.

From September 2020 to April 2021, the iPad Air 4 had a newer and faster processor than the 2020 iPad Pro lineup, leaving some customers wondering why they would bother with the iPad Pro. That ended when Apple launched the 2021 iPad Pro, with its blazing-fast M1 chip that makes it as powerful as the latest high-end MacBooks.

If you’re thinking about buying a high-end iPad today, do you buy now or wait until next year? The OLED iPad Air 5’s screen would be a massive improvement over both the iPad Air 4 and the 2021 iPad Pro lineup. If you don’t need Face ID or the ultrapowerful M1 chip, the iPad Air 5 could be worth waiting for.

The iPad Air 4 in hand.
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

Of course, once you get into the weeds of asking whether to buy now or wait for the next model, you can get lost in a never-ending cycle. There will always be a better gadget on the horizon.

Our advice? As long as a new model isn’t imminent – meaning within the next month or so – get the device you want today, and enjoy it. It won’t suddenly get worse once a better model inevitably supplants it.

Still, it does make us wish Apple would release new iPad Air and iPad Pro models simultaneously. That would eliminate these confusing crossover periods, making for a much more straightforward answer to what $600 gets you, versus what $800 gets you.

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