Apple 'iPad Air 3' coming soon, report says

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Apple is reportedly planning to refresh its iPad in March but faces dwindling consumer interest in the tablet category as a whole.

At an event in March, Apple will introduce a new iPad that will “most likely” be the iPad Air 3, according to Apple enthusiast site 9to5Mac, citing sources.  A new 9.7-inch iPad – the screen size of the original iPad – hasn’t been seen since October of 2014 when Apple introduced the iPad Air 2.  At the same March event, Apple is expected to introduce a new 4-inch iPhone and updates to the Apple Watch, including new bands and a Watch operating system upgrade.

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Interest in tablets has waned as the once-red-hot category matures. Last week Apple said it sold 16.1 million iPads in the most recent quarter - a 25 percent drop from the same period last year and about 2 million units short of the sales analysts had expected.  And, overall, the tablet category is seeing a steady decline in shipments, as numbers from market researcher IDC indicated when it reported shipments on Monday.

What gives? Consumers are holding onto their tablets longer than expected and turning to large-screen smartphones to do more computing, Ryan Reith, program director with IDC covering mobile devices, told

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In an effort to breathe life into the iPad, Apple introduced the giant iPad Pro last September, its most ambitious attempt to offer a laptop replacement to date. The iPad Pro has a 13-inch display (like many laptops), offers laptop-like performance, and comes with an optional Smart Keyboard.  

But it’s pricey, starting at $799 for Wi-Fi-only and $1,079 for Wi-Fi-plus-cellular models. Though it fared relatively well in IDC's most recent quarterly report released on Monday, Reith doesn’t believe the Pro will spur iPad growth in the long term. “The way that we tend to view the iPad Pro is that it's kind of a stopgap solution until they get a Mac line to the point of a touchscreen and possibly detachable keyboard."

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Apple has vowed in the past that it will never do a touchscreen Mac. Time will tell if it sticks to that that pledge, according to Reith. "There's nothing from [suppliers] or from Apple that supports that right now [but] I just think it’s inevitable. I don't know if that's two years out or what," he said.

Arguably, Apple’s 12-inch MacBook gets pretty close to a tablet experience. Though lacking a touchscreen, it has the portability of a tablet and sports a novel, ultra-thin keyboard that emulates the detachable keyboards that come with hybrid tablet-laptops like the Microsoft Surface.

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Reith believes Apple is playing a waiting game to see what works and what doesn't. "In the typical Apple fashion, they're going to take their time and when they do it, they' it the right way," he said.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment on this article.