What to expect from Apple in 2021 – Our Roadmap (1 of 2)

In spite of 2020’s… lets call them issues, Apple has had an incredible year. All the iPads (except for some reason the mini) got updated, we got 5 new iPhones, iPad Pros got magic keyboards, se watches, apple silicon and more. But that’s all in the past (and the subject of another video, subscribe and ring the bell so you don’t miss it.

What does 2021 look like for Apple – bearing in mind  things aren’t back to normal just yet but we have vaccine coloured light at the end of the tunnel. In this video we’ll break down the products we’re expecting to see from Apple in the next 12 months, based on what’s come before, rumoured updates and just a dash of optimism. Because we need some more optimism right now.

If you like this kind of video, please smash the like button, 2021 style and let me know in the comments if there’s any of the products mentioned here you want me to go into more detail on in a future video.

What will 2021’s iPhone lineup look like?

iPhone 13 (or 12s, depending if Apple decides to pander to the superstitious) will almost certainly keep the current form factors with its sharp flat sides with an Aluminium chassis in the regular “consumer” iPhone and iPhone mini, and stainless steel in the Pro models. And of course, we’ll almost certainly be seeing Apple introduce their A15 SOC for these. In terms of performance, Geekbench Single core we’ve seen 917 in A11, 1112 on A12 Bionic, A13 up to 1328 and A14 up to 1585 – so conservatively we could expect an increase of 200-250 points, putting the score most likely somewhere close to 1800.

Multicore scores have also increased generation by generation, with the same SOCs giving 2099, 2478, 3318 and 3950, so I’d be surprised if the multicore is below 4500 on this chip.

So, unsurprisingly, these will be the most powerful, fastest iPhone ever. They are every year, of course, but Apple will still tell us how its the “best iPhone we’ve ever made”. I mean, it had better be Tim.

We’ll see the same display sizes, 5.4” iPhone mini, 6.1” iPhone and iPhone Pro and 6.7” Pro Max, but those Pro displays, should finally have that sweet sweet ProMotion that the world was so devastated was missing in 2020 that iPhone 12 became the fastest selling phone in years. Look, I’m being slightly facetious here, I know a lot of the people watching this probably do care about 120hz refresh rates, but remember that simply by watching a video predicting what Apple will do next, you’re in the 1% of iPhone users. Most people just want a great iPhone that works. I do think people will love them when they have it in their hands and will wonder why old iPhones suddenly seem like trash. Is that a good thing?

Other rumours include the new iPhones getting Wifi 6E – using 6Ghz bands as well as 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz, reducing congestion and potentially offering 1-2 Gbps speeds, around what the rarified millimetre wave 5G can offer.

Other than that, maybe Apple can bring the larger sensor from the Pro Max into some of the smaller form factors, maybe even sensor shift stabilisation. One underrated feature right now is the Lidar in iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, which honestly has made the focus on mine (which I’m shooting this video on right now) absolutely rock solid, and I’d love to see that come to the whole range, maybe to support that portrait mode video that I thought we might get this year.

We’ve heard rumours of the lightning port going away for Apple to go full MagSafe and I think it could happen. I’ve exclusively charged via MagSafe with my 12 Pro Max and its been awesome.

Finally I’m sure we’ll get a selection of new colour options, and just Maybe apple will allow contrasting bands of colour on the sides vs the back glass panel – I’d love a yellow band/graphite back combination – what would you choose if you could mix and match?

iPhone SE

While we’ve had a number of rumours in the past of an iPhone SE Max, either taking the iPhone 8+ chassis and adding modern internals or a larger all screen style design but deleting the FaceID tech and adding a TouchID Sleep/Wake button. But then, what happens to the notch? Do you shrink it to a hole punch? Do you keep the size for the speaker, front camera and just leave the rest empty? Neither seems particularly “Apple”, so If they were to offer a larger SE phone, I would expect it to have the home button TouchID sensor but in all honesty I don’t actually expect this phone to emerge in 2021. The current SE is still very capable and is designed to fill a role of giving a low cost entry point to the iPhone and wider Apple ecosystem.

Extended iPhone Range

The iPhone XR is most likely to be removed from Apple’s range as it is powered by the A12 chip, which seems to be being phased out across the board in 2021. iPhone 11 and SE are likely to become the base budget options powered by A13, iPhone 12 (yes, the vanilla, nothing after the name 6.1” variety) likely hanging around just under the pricing of the incoming iPhone 13 mini, but ONLY assuming Apple is able to slot in their own 5G modems. If they had to continue using Qualcomm Units, it would almost certainly cost more to continue producing iPhone 12 than the new iPhone 13 models. This just demonstrates the power of Apple bringing more and more of their design and production in house rather than using off the shelf parts.

iPad 2021

With Apple’s iPad line up in 2021, I think that following the introduction of Apple Silicon Apple will be aiming to update models across the board every year from now on even though we’ve seen 18 month refreshes in the iPad Pro line up in the past.

First up, iPad Pro 2021

iPad Pro is expected to be refreshed early in 2021, most likely in March or April, but I would guess most likely March. Right now the A14 Powered iPad Air is really not far away from the performance of the current iPads Pro in several areas if with a few missing features like ProMotion displays and FaceID.

Because Apple will be making far more of their fab process at TSMC (who I 100% think Apple should acquire), I do think they’ll begin to make AX series chips every single year in line with their iPhone A series and Mac M series. In fact, the M1 fits almost exactly with the numbers that YouTuber Luke Miani (who you should definitely check out) predicted for Apple’s A14X which was assumed to be the powerhouse behind the first Apple Silicon Macs. As a result, I think M1 and A14X may well share the same die, but perhaps with certain parts repurposed or even left dormant in the different product lines.

While leaving parts of the silicon idle may seem a little wasteful, it would be more efficient most likely than fabricating multiple SOC designs, and may be another place we see apple taking advantage of chip binning – where the base MacBook Airs get a 7 core GPU rather than 8, this is not because of a different chip designs but that certain cores may not be working, so those where only a single core is non-functional could be used for those devices.

In the same way, Apple could, if the demands of the system are lower with less multitasking grunt, use some of the M1 SOCs with 7 compute cores for iPad Pro in future perhaps, again making more efficiency gains with their fabrication processes. Or maybe they’re just waiting for the production to ramp up enough to bring the full performance chips to the iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro also looks set to be one of the first products that Apple brings its miniLED displays to, and most likely in 2021. Though there have been suggestions of iPad Pro using OLED, miniLED brings the benefits of extreme contrast with blacker blacks but without the drawbacks of OLED like screen burn in, uneven brightness on larger displays for example.

I’m also expecting Apple to introduce their own 5G modems for the first time in the next iPad Pro refresh, and I call it a refresh as I don’t expect any major design changes. We’ll keep the 12.9” and 11” form factors and Apple Pencil will continue to lead the industry. But back to the 5G modems, why should you care about Apple making their own?

Well, I mean design their own, TSMC will do the making on their behalf most likely, their working relationship is blossoming like never before and the latest reports say that Apple has bought the entirety of TSMC’s initial capacity for their 3nm process as soon as its available. So Apple’s own designed 5G modems will benefit the line in a few ways, first of all, just like with Apple creating their own SOCs, the modem can be perfectly tuned for the hardware and aerials it will be working with. That should give better signal strength and speeds than a generic modem being designed to work as well as possible with any of many possible aerial designs and hardware chassis casings.

Second, the costs should be far lower, as it has been reported that up to $150 of the cost of materials in each of the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro models could be directly attributed to the Qualcomm 5G modems, which is insanely high as a proportion of the overall device. 

Finally Apple may well be able to better optimise power management for these 5G modems in its iPad range, and use these learnings to bring their own modems to the iPhone range and more later in the year, all being well.

iPad (SE?)

We’re also hearing fairly realistic sounding rumours of a 9th generation iPad being introduced in Spring of 2021, which I would also place in that March to April window. Not the full design overhaul that the iPad Air just got, but it may be inheriting a number of that iPad Air 3’s cast offs. So we’re talking about a slimmer build, 10.2” screen growing to 10.5” and also potentially getting a processor upgrade again (having just been updated in September to A14) up to the A13 that we’ve never seen in ANY iPad. Strange that, I always wondered why we never had an A13X based Pro, but I guess Apple’s Silicon team were a bit busy preparing for, well, Apple Silicon for Macs.

One more advantage fo picking up the iPad Air’s old display is that this was a laminated display, meaning the LCD is fused to the digitiser layer, meaning it feels much more like you’re touching your content, whereas Apple’s budget iPad lineup has always in the past had two separate components with a small air gap between the cover glass and the LCD. While this has never bothered me in the past, there are a lot of people who hate this, and I will admit since picking up the iPad Air 4 recently, I do think the fused display is really great. It does however make it a much more expensive repair if you have a break as you’ll be replacing the LCD display too, and as the cheapest of Apple’s iPad line up, its also the most likely to be thrown in the direction of children to silence them.

I mean through distraction of course. And it seems Apple may be looking to lower the price even further too, right down to $299, a 10% drop and what they currently cost for education users. This price drop is also the reason I think they could pick up the SE tag, iPad SE explains better I think where they sit in the product line.

iPad mini 2021

The most neglected of Apple’s iPad Range, and not just once is iPad mini. Originally introduced with the A5 powered internals from iPad 2 but using lightning instead of 30 pin dock connector and with the slimmer side bezels that would later come to the original iPad Air, the mini also got some lacklustre updates in the past like just adding Touch ID for one revision, and when the otherwise fairly equivalent iPad Air 3rd Gen was upgraded from A12 to A14 and picked up the iPad Pro design, iPad mini stayed as it was, A12 powered at $399, even as the 8th Gen iPad at 10.2” picked up the same processor while keeping its $329 price tag. Confusing.

There has been talk of the 7.9” display getting an upgrade to somewhere in the 8.5” range, along with getting a design overhaul in line with the latest iPad Air and iPads Pro. If that’s the case, it may have originally been intended to launch with the iPad Air 4 in September with production delays keeping it back to early in 2021 and with that design I’d expect it to come with the A14 SOC too. Along with that design language would most likely be a Touch ID Sleep Wake button too, just like the iPad Air.

Of course, it could be that Apple are trying to realign the iPad mini with the base iPad as simply a smaller option, just as iPhone 12 mini is to iPhone 12, in which case I’d expect it to also launch with an A13 SOC, which could help simplify the range.

So I guess what I’m saying here is… There might be a new iPad mini. Or not. But probably, and that’s probably a good thing.

iPad Air

Finally, moving on to September, I think we’ll be seeing an A15 powered iPad Air coming alongside the iPhone 13, and that could well be its new release slot in years going forward. Getting the power of the latest iPhone in an iPad will always be a great experience, once A14X arrives with the iPad Pro we shouldn’t have what we had this year with the air almost leapfrogging the Pro which was still languishing with 2018 A12 based chips (and yet still destroying basically all other competition).

Beyond the chip upgrade, maybe we could see ProMotion coming to iPad Air too, I don’t think Apple worries about cannibalising their own products as much as everyone thinks, and maybe even FaceID could come to the tablet too. If any cameras deserve an update on iPads it’s the selfie camera, as many of these are being used daily on Zoom, MS Teams, FACETIME and so many other apps, so give it a good one.

Apple Pencil 3

I couldn’t leave the iPad without talking about one of THE best accessories, Apple Pencil. Now, with the second generation, Apple Pencil went from “wait I charge it HOW?” to “yeah, that makes sense” with it’s awesome magnetic charge mount. It picked up the “double tap to switch function”…function allowing you to switch from paint to erase with a double tap on the side, its so smooth to use and with Scribble this year it became even more useful, though it will be interesting to see how many people use this handwriting recognition system a lot of the time.

I think Apple should drop the original version in all honesty, move everyone over to the Apple Pencil 2 style of charging and where the iPad doesn’t have the magnetic charge capability, have an optional pencil case that magnetically charges the pencil separately from the iPad itself, like the AirPods case.

Also, I’d love to see a third gen version with a camera in the tip so you can grab colours from your environment, a magazine, the paint on a wall and use it to paint on your screen. I mentioned this in the middle of 2020 and still think it would be an awesome feature unique to iPad.

Apple Watch

Apple made big moves with Apple Watch in 2020, adding blue and red aluminium colour options, the first time they’ve expanded past the initial three launch colours in the entry price model, adding new health features like Blood Oxygen Saturation and for the first time, introducing a lower cost model directly instead of just keeping an older model at a lower price, in the Apple Watch SE. Apple Fitness+ was also launched (only just, but they made it!) which is Apple’s play to keep you in the Apple Watch family by placing your work out statistics right on the big screen where your workout takes place.

So what is in store for Apple Watch in 2021?

We’re expecting Apple Watch Series 7 to arrive in September 2021, and most likely with a new design language in line with the 2020 iPhone 12 and 2018 iPad Pro look, with those flat sides and removing the curved display edges. The original Apple Watch design was largely unchanged visually from launch to Series 3, with Apple Watch Series 4 to Series 6 and Apple Watch SE expanding the displays from 38 and 42 to 40 and 44mm sizes, pushing out to rounded corners yet still being compatible with existing Apple Watch straps.

The design change for Apple Watch Series 7 that we’re expecting will bring several benefits that should make 2021 a super cycle year for the watch. First, the flush, flat display will be far less susceptible to damage if it doesn’t protrude above the frame, in line with the iPhone 12 design. It’s unclear whether Apple would be able to bring their Ceramic Shield displays to the watch or if it would even be required, as scratch resistance is probably more important if the display is more protected from impact by its frame.

What would be a much bigger advance would be Apple bringing their Sapphire glass to their Aluminium models, as the scratch resistance on these displays, currently reserved for Apple’s premium material watches like Stainless Steel, Titanium and previously Ceramic and Gold.

In terms of health features which have become the hallmark of Apple Watch, there is talk of blood pressure monitoring coming to Series 7, though it is thought this may require either specific straps with additional technology built in, which could signal that with the re-design Apple may add a smart connector style interface within the watch strap attachment to enable these types of features.

Please, please don’t expect FaceTime cameras coming to Apple Watch. Unless Apple has some ACTUAL MAGIC up their sleeves, that could only be a terrible experience.

One possible thing that Apple could bring more on the software side is audio only workouts for Apple Fitness Plus, because sometimes and especially for workouts like Treadmill or Rowing, you might not need to watch along, or especially if Apple starts adding outdoor runs or cycling for example, you know, when outdoors becomes a place we can go again.

I wouldn’t expect the Apple Watch SE to get an update in 2021, except perhaps some new colour ways, but I’d even find that surprising. With the S5 chip inside and the nice big displays, its going to be quite capable for another year as the entry level model, though I doubt the series 3 will stay around another year, so I’d say there’s a decent chance that the SE may see a small price drop, possibly right down to where the Series 3 was before – This would make all the sense in the world as Series 3 is already missing a number of the software features like hand wash detection, reasonably nice looking faces (Sorry, but the ones for smaller models look like hot trash now)

Apple Audio

2020 was a big year for Apple on the audio front, with the introduction of Spacial Audio for AirPods Pro, automatic device switching when you use different devices, the new HomePod Mini and AirPods Max. Almost universally, Apple’s audio products have been praised for their sound quality and ease of use, if not their intelligence with Siri having far more limitations than some of the competition. But we’re talking hardware right now, so what does Apple have in store for its audio products in 2021?

AirPods are expected to get a third generation, most likely taking design cues from the AirPods Pro but without the more advanced features like Spacial Audio and Noise cancellation, but with the sealed bud fit and smaller stalks from the higher tier product. I’d expect these would be at the current $159 price point with the same wireless charging case that the Pros come with now, which would be a nice value add. The audio quality is a little nicer by all accounts, though some people do prefer the regular AirPods fit, inherited from Jony Ive’s EarPods, introduced way back in the iPhone 5 days. These were a massive improvement over the previous iPod buds that became so iconic for their white wires.

Speaking of the Gen 1 & Gen 2 AirPods, I’d love to see their design stick around in an AirPods SE version with a wired charging case at $99. If Apple really is planning to completely remove the Lightning charging port from their iPhones, having a more accessibly priced AirPods option makes all the sense in the world. 

Apple also of course has their Beats line, and the Beats Flex offers pretty incredible value at $49 using the same wireless tech as AirPods and are an amazing option if you just want to get into the wireless headphones market.

AirPods Pro are also rumoured to get a design overhaul, possibly with the removal of the stalks, though this may make it more difficult for good microphone performance as the beam forming mics are currently located here. There are few substantial rumours about what else would change, though Apple has filed multiple patents regarding health data from ear based wearables, including heart rate, use of the accelerometer data and more. 

With AirPods Max only just joining the range in December 2020, there are few thoughts on what a next generation could bring, though before their launch expectations were that the headphones would detect which way around they were being worn (which, their very symmetrical design would suggest could well have been accurate). Touch controls were also expected to be a part of the design on the outside of the ear cups, which would also mean that the physical controls, not being there would make them more symmetrical, adding more weight to the reversible argument. So, could these features appear in a version 2, along with replaceable headbands too, the main part of the headphones not protected by THAT case? Sure. But who knows if they’re problems Apple is still working through.

There are rumours of a more light weight or Sports version of the over ear headphones, so that could be something else to look forward to from Apple, perhaps with a more affordable price tag and a little more sweat resistance, but it seems that these are built more for luxury listening than training.

On the HomePod Side, We have HomePod and HomePod mini right now, and I have a feeling Apple is probably going to hold this range as it is for now, perhaps with some internal updates coming to the full sized HomePod adding Apple’s U1 Chip for awareness of the other devices around it and the cool handoff trick that the mini already has.

I’d also love to see Apple integrate Intercom with Walkie Talkie on Apple Watch, so that everything could talk together.

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