Apple’s new iPad Pro in 2021: What to expect


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The 2020 iPad Pro arrived at the beginning of a year-long (and counting) pandemic, back in mid-March 2020. It’s likely due for an upgrade soon. But what can it add to make a difference this year? Think processors and accessories, based on recent reports that the hardware could get a new chip and a Thunderbolt port.

graphical user interface: The new iPad Air (middle) arrived last fall. How will a new iPad Pro (right) step up the game? Scott Stein/CNET

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The new iPad Air (middle) arrived last fall. How will a new iPad Pro (right) step up the game? Scott Stein/CNET

That 2020 model didn’t have much of a processor bump, and looked nearly the same as the model from 2018. It did introduce some new tech and accessories, though: It was the first Apple product to have a depth-sensing lidar sensor, and Apple introduced a trackpad-enabled Magic Keyboard case (that costs as much as an entry-level iPad).


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Apple’s recent Macs got massive performance boosts from Apple’s M1 processors, which already feel like advanced versions of the chips that were already in the iPad Pro. 

2021 seems like a perfect time to give the Pro line processor boosts, and that’s exactly what recent reports have indicated. But it’s unclear whether the iPad Pro will get the M1 that recent Macs have used, or a different custom processor, like an A14X. The next iPads could also improve how accessories connect, moving from USB-C to an identical-looking but better-performing Thunderbolt port. Display upgrades also seem overdue. Here’s what we expect.

a close up of a phone: The latest iPad Pro's room-scanning Lidar is made for AR.

© Scott Stein/CNET

The latest iPad Pro’s room-scanning Lidar is made for AR.

A better display

The iPad Pro display is great, and its 120Hz refresh rate still isn’t available on any other iPhone or iPad. But a shift to OLED (or in the meantime, Mini LED) feels overdue. Especially since the iPad Pro is aimed at graphic designers, photo editors and people looking for perfect displays.

An M1 processor (or, something nearly as good)

The A12Z processor on the 2020 iPad Pro is, to be clear, still fast. But it wasn’t much faster in benchmarks than the A12X processor from 2018, which points to an overdue chip upgrade. There could be an A14Z or A14X processor, that adds extra graphics cores and other boosts over the chip on Apple’s recent iPhones and iPad Air. Or, maybe,…