Apple Inc. is developing new features for the iPad to cater to professional users, along with new Mac laptops and desktops, according to people familiar with the matter.
Upcoming software upgrades for the iPad include wider operating-system support for Apple’s stylus accessory, while hardware performance improvements are also in development, according to the people. The refreshed Mac hardware line includes new versions of the iMac desktop, MacBook Air laptop, and a 5K standalone monitor in collaboration with LG Electronics Inc., in addition to a thinner MacBook Pro laptop.
The company hopes to ship the updated iPad software next year, while the Macs are expected as soon as late 2016, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing unannounced products. Apple has not updated any Macs, besides the 12-inch MacBook, since last year. The company declined to comment.
While iPad unit sales have declined year-over-year for nine straight quarters, the average selling price jumped in the fiscal third quarter from purchases of pricier iPad Pro models. That produced the first increase in quarterly iPad revenue in more than two years. New features aimed at higher-paying professional customers could support this trend, while the goal of the Mac updates is to keep the line’s sales numbers stable even as sales of rival personal computers continue falling.
IPad Pro Features
Apple may roll out the new iPad software features as part of an upgrade to the iOS 10 operating system in the first half of 2017, or save the enhancements for the next major iOS version later in the year, said one of the people. Apple began integrating features exclusive to the iPad last year with the release of a mode to work in two applications simultaneously.
The planned iPad update will include improvements to the Apple Pencil, a handwriting and drawing stylus aimed at professionals, according to one of the people. Apple has considered allowing users to annotate objects in many applications across the whole operating system, including in Mail, the Safari web browser, and iMessage, similar to what Samsung Electronics Co. offers on its Note smartphones, the person said. Currently, Apple only supports Pencil functionality in specifically developed apps.
The new iPad hardware will include faster display technology that allows for smoother zooming, panning and scrolling, one of the people said. Apple isn’t planning to update its iPad lineup until next year, when a new version of the iPad Pro will be released with a 10.5-inch display, up from the current 9.7-inch display, according to a recent research note by analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.
While the new iPad features aren’t expected until next year, Apple is planning to release some of the new Mac products as soon as October, according to the people. The updated line includes tweaked MacBook Air devices with multi-functional USB-C port technology and iMacs with an option for new graphics chips from Advanced Micro Devices Inc.
A thinner MacBook Pro with a flatter keyboard is also in the pipeline, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News earlier this month. The standout feature is a digital function key display above the keyboard that allows for common tasks to be done more quickly for whatever program is being used, according to people familiar with the upcoming product. The feature is internally called the “Dynamic Function Row,” two of the people said, who added that Apple’s official name may differ.
For example, if a user is on their desktop, the screen will show a virtual representation of the standard function row, which includes brightness and media controls. When in an application, the virtual row will show options specific to the task at hand, but volume controls and a switch to show the default functions will always be present. The Safari web browser would enable controls for finding and defining terms, while the iMovie video editor would offer controls for cutting clips and a more-precise volume slider, the people said.
The feature requires the upcoming Sierra Mac operating system, which is currently on track to be released as early as the end of September, one of the people said. Sierra will also bring the Siri voice assistant to the Mac, support for Apple Pay transactions on the web, new animations in the iMessage application, deeper iCloud integration for file storage, and an auto-unlock feature for users wearing Apple Watches, the company said in June.
Apple is holding an event on Sept. 7 in San Francisco. The keynote will focus on upgraded versions of the iPhone, a new Apple Watch with GPS tracking and new health features, and an iOS 10 software update for iPhones and iPads, according to people familiar with the matter. The new Macs are currently expected to be announced at a later date, the people said.
In addition to the new Macs, Apple is working on a new standalone monitor to connect to its computers, according to the people. After exiting the monitor business earlier this year with the discontinuation of the 27-inch Thunderbolt display, Apple is working with LG Electronics on a new monitor with a high-resolution “5K” screen, according to one of the people. Apple currently sells an iMac with a built-in 5K panel, which includes over seven times as many pixels as standard 1080p displays. A spokesperson for LG declined to comment.