Apple iPad may get facial recognition in 2018 redesign

Apple Inc. is working on a redesigned, high-end iPad for as early as 2018 that incorporates key iPhone X features such as slimmer edges and facial recognition, according to people familiar with the matter.

However, the new version of the tablet is unlikely to include an OLED screen, which provides more vivid colors and sharper clarity, the people said. They asked not to be identified talking about private product development.

At least one new iPad model with a screen size similar to the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is planned to include Face ID for unlocking the device, making payments, and sending animated emojis. The feature would replace the iPad home button that has come with a fingerprint scanner since 2014, one of the people said. The updated tablet is expected to be released later next year, a little more than a year after the last major iPad Pro upgrade, the people said.

By removing the home button, Apple plans to noticeably reduce the size of the edges on the top and bottom of the device for the first time since its introduction in 2010, bringing the design closer to that of the recently released flagship iPhone X. The new version will mark the first revamped look for the iPad since the first iPad Pro debuted in 2015. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

The iPad had been Apple’s second-largest product line as recently as 2015. But demand waned and global tablet sales declined 17 percent the past three years. Apple couldn’t avoid the down draft completely and iPad revenue fell behind sales generated by the company’s services business and Macintosh computer products.

Now the iPad may be having something of a comeback. The Cupertino, California-based company reported last week that iPad revenue rose 14 percent to $4.8 billion in the fiscal fourth quarter, with an 11 percent increase in the number of units sold.

Apple still sees the iPad as its future for mainstream computing and has upgraded the device’s capabilities in successive years to appeal to business and professional users. It last updated the device in June by adding a 10.5-inch screen size option to the iPad Pro and a ProMotion screen that makes jumping between tasks smoother. Earlier in 2017, Apple released a cheaper version priced at $329 to boost sales.

One key iPhone X enhancement that is unlikely to make its way to iPads next year is an OLED — or organic light-emitting diode — screen, according to people familiar with Apple’s supply chain. OLED screens more accurately reproduce colors, but are more difficult to produce in mass quantities than standard liquid-crystal displays. Samsung Electronics Co., which supplies OLED panels for iPhones, would be the only display maker with the capacity to produce the new screens for iPads in 2018, but technical and financial constraints still make that unlikely, according to a person with knowledge of Samsung’s display operations.

Other suppliers, including LG Electronics Inc., Japan Display Inc., Sharp Corp., and smaller China-based firms like BOE Display and Tianma Microelectronics are also unlikely to have the ability to supply tablet-sized OLED screens to Apple next year, other people familiar with the supply chain said.

Face ID, the iPhone X’s main new feature coming to the next iPad, lets users unlock the device with their face and a glance of their eyes instead of a password or fingerprint. Early reception has been positive for the feature, which also allows for payment authentication and sending Animojis, an animated emoji based on a user’s facial movements and speech. Given that the new iPad model is about a year away from release, the plans could change due to supply and manufacturing constraints on Face ID components, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t public.

Like the iPhone X, the new iPad is expected to include a faster processor and a custom Apple graphics processing unit, one of the people said. Apple is also preparing a new version of its Apple Pencil stylus and new software tools for using the stylus, the person said.

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