Apple's next all-virtual launch will be April 20: Upgraded iPads, iOS 14.5 privacy push on tap
Apple is expected to upgrade the screens of its iPads with a Pro-inspired design. Rumored AirTags may show up too.
Ian SherrFormer Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Apple has set the date for its next online-only event, sending out invites to the media for Tuesday, April 20, at 10 a.m. PT (1 p.m. ET). Apple is expected to introduce new iPads, with upgraded screens, and possibly the company's long-rumored AirTags trackers.
The new devices will be shown off during a stream on Apple's website. The tech giant has been holding online-only events amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has spurred waves of lockdowns around the world.
Apple's invite, sent in an email to reporters, shows an Apple logo rendered as a squiggle, a seeming reference to the iPad's popular Apple Pencil. The invite also included a phrase: Spring Loaded. Scant details like these often set tech industry watchers abuzz with attempts to decode what the company's hinting at.
The invite also arrived a few hours after Apple's Siri voice assistant appeared to spill the beans on the event before the official announcement. Close-watching Apple observers noticed that if you asked Siri when the next Apple event was, it responded, "The special event is on Tuesday, April 20, at Apple Park in Cupertino, CA. You can get all the details on Apple.com." Later in the morning, Apple changed Siri to merely tell people that details about Apple events are on its website.
The event marks another milestone for Apple as it aims to stay on track with its product launch schedule, which typically includes events in the spring, summer and fall. In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Apple made its Worldwide Developers Conference online-only, with slickly edited videos adding to the typical stage presentation format for its June event.
Apple didn't appear to let up on its device updates, either. Last year, it announced long-rumored changes to the technology powering its computers, moving away from the Intel processing brains it's used for more than a decade and switching to chips Apple designed in-house. The first of the new chips, called the M1, went on sale inside the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini later in the year.
The company also updated its iPhones with new square-edged designs and 5G wireless technology, promising superfast mobile internet connections -- if you're in an area that connects to 5G. CNET reviewer Patrick Holland called the iPhone 12 one of the highest-rated phones we've ever reviewed. "5G support, a new striking design, improved cameras and four different models all add up to make the iPhone 12 an absolute unit," he wrote.
The updated iPad will likely be a less dramatic shift, but it'll still be important. Students remain stuck at home, needing tablets and computers to do their schoolwork. Some people also use iPads to watch movies and TV shows.
One change we know is coming will be iOS 14.5, a free software update that'll introduce major privacy changes to the iPad and iPhone software. A standout feature is App Tracking Transparency, which Apple says will force companies and developers to be clear about how they're collecting user data and whether it's being used for advertising. Companies will also have to ask for permission from users to more closely track them.
Apple hasn't said when the iOS 14.5 software update will arrive, but it's expected in the coming weeks.
In terms of technology built into the iPad, rumors swirling around the tech world suggest that Apple's biggest change will be to the screens. They're expected to use a technology called mini-LED, which screen makers say offers improved power efficiency and better brightness. Apple is rumored to be transitioning its MacBook laptops and iMac desktop computers to the technology sometime later. Modern iPhones use OLED screens, which are considered higher quality but typically cost more money to make.
The tech giant may also offer entirely new products, rumored to be called AirTags. The devices are little trackers you can attach to backpacks, purses, toys or whatever else, so you can locate them using the iPhone's "Find My" app. Samsung beat Apple to market with its $40 SmartTag devices, announced in January. Other companies make similar devices too, including Tile and TrackR.