Rumors that 2018’s iPad Pros could adopt USB-C interfaces took an apparent step forward today, as iOS developer Steve Troughton-Smith (via MacRumors) discovered a new feature nestled within the Xcode Simulator for iOS 12.1: support for 4K external displays.
The feature adds a 3,840 by 2,160-resolution mode labeled “4K” to a list of virtual external display options supported by Simulator. Previously, the list included only aging 640 by 480 and 1,024 by 768 computer monitor standards alongside prior-generation TV options 480p, 720p, and 1080p.
Depending on how deeply one reads into this change, it could suggest any of four possibilities. Since 4K external displays typically rely upon either USB-C or HDMI interfaces, Apple could be preparing to debut new iPad Pros with USB-C connectors, a Lightning-to-4K HDMI dongle, or a Lightning-to-USB-C adapter for 4K displays. Historically, the dongles would have been the most likely, but there’s a relatively small chance of another option: Apple could introduce wireless 4K support into AirPlay 2, which is currently capped at a 720p resolution.
There are at least a couple of reasons the iPad Pro would benefit from supporting external 4K displays. An increasing number of iTunes videos come in 4K formats, but currently only play in 4K on Apple TV 4K hardware. Supporting the higher resolution could also enable iPad apps and games to look their best when displayed on modern Ultra 4K TVs, rather than being downscaled as is the case today. A USB-C or HDMI connection would make the most sense for ensuring graphic fidelity.
Rumors, notably including multiple reports from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, have suggested that Apple plans to transition its Pro tablets away from Lightning connectors to USB-C this year. While those rumors could be conservatively read to suggest that the USB-C standard’s underlying technologies will solely be inside the new iPads, there’s potential for Apple to drop the Lightning connector in favor of USB-C plugs, which are already found on its latest MacBook laptops and Apple TVs.
New 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models are expected to feature substantially redesigned enclosures, notably including a flat back with the Smart Connector mounted closer to the USB-C or Lightning charging port. Each iPad has been rumored to come with a new 18-watt USB-C charger and USB-C charging cable, but similar pack-in expectations for the latest iPhones did not pan out.
A beta version of iOS 12.1 was released to developers yesterday. It is expected to be released to consumers alongside new tablets at an Apple event this fall.
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