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What could Apple's big Tuesday surprise be?

Apple Event Spring 2021
(Image credit: Apple)

"Spring Loaded" is the tease for next week's Apple event, the first of 2021. The Tuesday, April 20 event is expected to feature an iPad upgrade, a brand new product, and perhaps one or two surprises. 

Over the years, Apple's ability to surprise ahead of an event has dropped considerably due to accidental and deliberate leaks. And yet, if there has been one positive to come out of the pandemic, it's been the virtual Apple press event. 

While it's always been a joy to see Craig Federighi and Phil Schiller jumping around on a live stage showing off something new, there's no denying these slicker productions are easier to follow and more action-packed. And because they're recorded around the mostly employee-free Apple Park Campus, there's more room to reveal something unexpected. 

Next week, we should see the reveal of next-generation iPad Pro tablets alongside the long-gestating "AirTag" item tracking accessory. Beyond this, Apple's 2021 pipeline is packed full of new products that could make an earlier-than-expected appearance on Tuesday. 

iPad Pro 2020

(Image credit: Future)

Locks: iPad Pro and AirTags

Apple has typically released new iPad Pro models every other year. That doesn't appear to be the case for 2021. A little more than a year since the previous models arrived, another round of iPad Pro models is incoming. 

Once again, we're expecting an 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Both could feature a mini-LED display for the first time. With this technology, there's better power efficiency and increased brightness. Beyond this and an upgraded chip, the new tablet models will be very similar to last year's Pro tablets.

And then there's AirTags. First rumored what seems like a decade ago, these tiny trackers will compete with the popular Tile series and work with Apple's Find My app across multiple platforms. AirTags are expected to include an all-new U1 chip and help you keep track of things like keys, wallets, purses, and the like. 

An Apple Pencil 3?

Last year, the iPad Air 4 became the first non-iPad Pro to support the second-generation Apple Pencil. With new iPad Pro models on the horizon that feature a new display, a third-generation Apple Pencil could be on deck. 

Perhaps this will be the one that ditches the color white or at least comes in more than one color. The invitation to next week's event features a colorful design perhaps drawn with an Apple Pencil.

Regardless, expect the new input device to offer some unique features exclusive to the iPad Pro lineup. 

iPad mini (2019)

(Image credit: Future)

Also possible: iPad mini and Apple TV

The 7.9-inch iPad mini is Apple's most overlooked tablet. First introduced in 2012, the latest model was released in 2019 alongside the discontinued third-generation iPad Air. The 2021 iPad mini is expected to feature an 8.4-inch display and an updated processor, perhaps the A13 or A14. 

Unfortunately, the fresh design found on the 2020 iPad Pro and iPad Air isn't expected to get carried over here. Instead, sixth-generation iPad mini owners will see the familiar home button with Touch ID and top and bottom bezels that give off a dated feel. 

2021 could see the arrival of the first new Apple TV since 2017. Rumored to feature 120Hz display technology and a brand new remote (finally), the newest Apple TV could arrive next week — or not.

Rumored iMac (2021)

(Image credit: Jon Prosser / Front Page Tech)

The most likely new Macs

Last year ended with the release of the first three Apple silicon-based Macs. This year, Apple will release many more as it continues to transition the Mac lineup away from Intel. If the rumors are correct, these refreshes will not just bring new internals to the table, as design changes are also nearly certain. 

In the pipeline are at least three new Apple silicon Macs for 2021, including an all-new 14-inch MacBook Pro, next-generation 16-inch MacBook Pro, and perhaps two radically different iMacs. A Mac Pro refresh is also possible, although probably not until later in the year. 

Apple isn't expected to announce any new Mac next week. And yet, if it does, it's probably going to be the iMac (2021). In recent weeks, we've seen existing iMac supplies drop, a sure sign that something new could be coming soon. 

With Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) kicking off on Monday, June 7, however, I don't expect new Macs until then. And yet, maybe you should prepare for a surprise!

A new iPhone?

The iPhone SE was last updated in early 2020, which means a new model could launch soon. Little is known about the "iPhone SE 3". However, the most recent iPhones have included 5G support and OLED displays. Expect more of the same on Apple's budget phone. 

Apple Watch Series 6

(Image credit: Future)

Other goodies

They won't be announced at next week's event, yet spring-themed Apple Watch bands will probably launch in the coming days. Offered first on Apple's website, the new bands should have lighter hues but the same expensive prices.

Not likely: iPad, iPad Air, or MacBook Air

Apple will probably hold off on announcing new versions of the traditional iPad, iPad Air, and MacBook Air next week. All three products could see updates later in the year, just not now. 

Final prediction

Besides new iPad Pro models and AirTags, I expect Apple to reveal at least one new Mac on Tuesday. Though iMac seems like the most likely candidate, I'll place a small bet on the second-generation 16-inch MacBook Pro to make its debut. 

First introduced in late 2019, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is now the oldest MacBook Pro on the market with the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Air receiving updates in 2020. An incoming 14-inch MacBook Pro is expected to feature an all-new design with a mini-LED display and the return of the popular MagSafe charging system. I believe Apple will wait until the developer-focused WWDC to announce this model. 

These points suggest Apple will update its largest MacBook next week. Find out if I'm correct on Tuesday, beginning at 10 a.m. EDT!