9.7-inch iPad Pro "mini": what we know so far

In less that two weeks, and just a day before it fully takes on the Justice Department in court, Apple will be holding an event that will finally put to rest a couple of rumors that just won't die. And admittedly, the all sound very, very interesting. Like an iPhone SE that's allegedly a smaller version of an iPhone 6s. And then there's what would have been the iPad Air 3, but now referred to as the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. And yes, it's a smaller version of Apple's biggest tablet to date. Of course, it will definitely be more than that.

It's been a while since Apple launched an iPad Air, almost two years in fact. If it followed is usual cadence, Apple should have announced an iPad Air 3 last September. Instead, it revealed the iPad Pro and, on the complete opposite end of the size spectrum, an iPad mini 4. Better late than never, they say, and, for a while, it seemed that Apple was indeed planning an iPad Air 3 for the first half of 2016. But then the rumors took a very different turn, one that could prove to be both a popular and unpopular one at the same time.

Early diagrams, both of the iPad itself as well as case accessories, revealed a few interesting holes that would later on shape the image of this regular sized tablet. For one, it had room for four speaker grilles. A similar format was used for the first time on the iPad Pro. It wasn't more speakers just for more speakers' sake, however. It allowed Apple to implement a dynamic audio system that automatically adjusted which speaker pair was use, depending on the orientation of the tablet. If you think about it, it makes almost no sense if a tablet would have those four speakers without this feature, so it was becoming likely that the "iPad Air 3" would have it as well.

But those same leaks also hinted at another feature never seen in any iPad prior to the iPad Pro, the presence of what is now called "Smart Connector", a row of pogo pins that connected the iPad Pro to accessories like the Smart Keyboard cover and similar third party accessories. In theory, those pins could be used to connect to other accessories but, so far, the only sanctioned type has been those keyboards. It didn't take much to make a logical leap from iPad Air 3 to iPad Pro mini, or, rather, a 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

Once those similarities with the iPad Pro were in place, the rest surfaced easily. An iPad Pro wouldn't be an iPad Pro without an Apple Pencil, right? So it stands that it, too, would support one. Whether or not Apple puts out a proportionately smaller Pencil, however, is still up in the air.

The smaller iPad Pro would also be powered by the Apple A9X, the company's latest mobile processor designed for tablets. Given the iPad Air 2 already used the older A8X, it makes more sense to put the newer chip inside a newer iPad of that same size and tier.

But perhaps the most curious speculation of all is the 9.7-inch iPad Pro's camera. The large iPad Pro sported a rather nondescript 8 megapixel iSight shooter on the back. The rationale for this camera is that you normally wouldn't take a photo using that huge slate. While not as gigantic, an iPad Air is still a large device. So it is intriguing that rumors put an iPhone 6s camera, with a 12 megapixel sensor, on that rear side. It might even have an LED flash, hinting that Apple might really want you to take pictures or record videos with this.

It is actually conceivable that Apple could make such a mini iPad Pro, and perhaps equally conceivable that it would indeed reveal one come 21st March. The biggest question, however, would be "why". Wouldn't a smaller, perhaps more affordable, iPad Pro steal would be buyers of the larger iPad Pro? It might seem that way, but reality could very well be different.

A 9.7-inch iPad Pro would most likely be Apple's confirmation of what market analysts like IDC have been predicting recently. The tablet landscape is changing. While there will always be room for smaller, content consumption tablets like the iPad mini, "regular" sized tablets, those 9 inches and above, will be turning into 2-in-1 productivity machines. Apple should actually already be very aware of that trend, considering all the content made and even edited on its tablets. It definitely makes sense to give its main tablet line the same productive capabilities of the iPad Pro. In the same way that might not make sense to put those same features on a more wallet friendly iPad mini. A better question is probably whether Apple will still continue the iPad Air line at all.

As for worries that it could affect iPad Pro sales, it may have some negative influence, but probably not as much. The iPad Pro is a great creative tool, especially for artists, as we ourselves experienced in our review. Artists and multimedia creators will pretty much be drawn to the larger screen, and perhaps larger storage space. Price will, of course, always be a sticking point, but, then again, this is Apple we're talking about. It will never run out of buyers of its products, no matter the price tag.