Apple settled its international patent licensing disputes with Qualcomm so it could guarantee a 5G iPhone in 2020, but its iPad tablets could be stuck with 4G until later — potentially after 2021. That’s the word from leading Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via Economic Daily News) today, who expects that Apple will preserve the 11-inch and 12.9-inch screen sizes of its iPad Pro tablets for next-generation models, but make internal changes designed to improve networking performance before and during the 4G to 5G transition.
According to Kuo, Apple will begin using a new component called an “LCP soft board” in next-generation iPads, adopting liquid-crystalline polymer resin to connect wireless antennas to their logic boards. The soft boards are designed to reduce signal loss and thereby improve networking performance, enhancements that could begin to be seen in models that enter mass production in the fourth quarter of 2019 or first quarter of 2020.
It’s unclear at this point whether these iPad Pros will be late 2019 or mid 2020 models. Regardless of when they’re released, the plan is apparently to use the iPads as a test of LCP soft board production before the new parts come to iPhones later in 2020.
Unfortunately for tablet fans, the report — as translated — suggests that the iPad Pros won’t get 5G baseband chips until “after 2021,” though it could be read to mean “in 2021.” In either case, the iPhone will beat the iPad to 5G, reversing Apple’s (somewhat controversial) 2012 order of releases for early 4G iPads and iPhones. Absent 5G hardware, the LCP soft boards alone might help the next iPads to offer superior LTE Advanced Pro cellular or Wi-Fi 6 performance, potentially doubling wireless connectivity speeds even without full 5G support.
If the “after 2021” translation of Kuo’s report is accurate, the iPad Pro might add 5G more than a year after the expected debut of the first 5G iPhone — a long wait for Apple’s first 5G tablet. Kuo questionably suggests the iPad’s wait could be attributable to higher expectations for wireless performance from productivity tools and entertainment platforms than mobile phones. Practically, however, it could be as much about Apple’s need to concentrate its wireless engineering and testing resources on the first 5G iPhone, which sells in much higher volumes than iPads, particularly cellular ones.