Rumors of a major 2018 iPad Pro redesign have circulated for nearly a year, focusing largely on Apple’s expected addition of Face ID and removal of the Home button from its flagship tablets. Today, frequent image leaker Steve Hemmerstoffer of OnLeaks posted a CAD rendering that might reveal the upcoming device’s back, and it includes two surprises: a completely redesigned rear surface, and a relocated Smart Connector.
Regardless of its veracity, the CAD image is worth considering because of what it could mean for the 2018 iPad Pro: an all-glass back. Since releasing the iPad 2 in 2011, Apple has consistently used curved sides on all of its aluminum-bodied iPad models, but the CAD image shows flat sides and a flat back. Shifting back to the original iPad’s 2010 design language would only make sense if Apple planned to introduce a glass back — and thus inductive charging — into the iPad family for the first time.
Apple added inductive charging to the iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X last year, doing away with earlier models’ metal backs in favor of full-sized rear glass panels. Making the same change to a tablet could dramatically increase the chance of accidental breakage, though it’s possible that a chemically hardened glass — say, the just-announced Gorilla Glass 6 — could deliver similar resistance to accidental drops and impacts.
The CAD image’s other surprise is a pill-shaped surface on the device’s lower back, directly above the iPad’s Lightning port. This pill is roughly the size of Apple’s Smart Connector, an iPad Pro-exclusive second accessory connector that works with a small number of keyboard and charging accessories.
Many people are speculating that the pill shows a new location for the Smart Connector, which would be transitioning from the iPad Pro’s left side to a position immediately above the Lightning connector. In its historic position, the Smart Connector has enabled a rotated, landscape-orientation iPad Pro to have a basic charging and connectivity solution on its “bottom.”
A questionable report suggested last week that Apple might move the Smart Connector in this manner, necessitating redesigns for iPad Pro “smart” keyboards and other accessories. At the time, the report didn’t make much sense, but there is an explanation that would reconcile it with a full redesign of the iPad Pro’s back.
Apple may have superior wired and wireless charging paradigms in mind for the iPad Pro. Higher-powered USB-C iPad and iPhone wall chargers are said to be coming this year, and Apple may well have redesigned the new iPad’s power system to charge faster or with more types of power sources. Moving the Smart Connector next to the Lightning port could enable the iPad Pro’s charging system to be more tightly integrated.
Or perhaps not. It’s entirely possible that the image isn’t real, and that someone took the time to come up with a convincingly fake CAD rendering — Hemmerstoffer says that he’s sharing the image “for discussion purposes only” because he can’t confirm its accuracy. We’ll know for sure when the new iPad Pros debut in the fall, most likely alongside the final version of iOS 12.