Apple's next tablet will reportedly be a smaller iPad Pro

With Apple gearing up to release a 4-inch iPhone dubbed the iPhone 5se next month, it's easy to forget that Apple is also planning to release a brand new iPad model. Over the past few months, it's been widely assumed that the device would be an iPad Air 3; but now comes word via 9to5Mac that Apple's next-gen iPad will, in fact, be a smaller version of the iPad Pro rather than an iPad Air 3.

While this might initially seem like a trivial point about product branding, it does point to Apple releasing a 9.7-inch iPad model with Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard support, two features which launched exclusively with the iPad Pro this past fall.

Apple will further differentiate the next-generation 9.7-inch iPad from its predecessor by making it part of the new iPad Pro line, according to sources. Much like the MacBook Pro comes in 13-inch and 15-inch sizes, the iPad Pro will soon come in 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch variations. This trend follows Apple not calling its 12-inch MacBook a new Air despite developing the product as an apparent successor to the MacBook Air.

Rebranding issues aside, the smaller version of the iPad Pro looks like it will be an extremely compelling device. Some of the rumors we've seen suggest that the device will come with a 4K display, 4GB of RAM, a vastly improved speaker system, a blazing fast A9x processor, a camera with LED flash support and even better battery life.

Rumor has it that Apple's upcoming media event, where the company will likely introduce a new iPhone model and a slightly revamped Apple Watch alongside its new iPad, will take place in mid-March, with March 15 being a likely candidate for the festivities.

More broadly speaking, it will be interesting to see how the public takes to Apple's new iPad. As we've highlighted previously, iPad sales have been slumping for years now and show no sign of picking up. That being the case, if sales of a smaller iPad Pro disappoint, one can only wonder if there's anything Apple can do to reinvigorate a once thriving product line that now continues to struggle mightily in the marketplace.

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