Here's what the iPad Air 5 needs to have to convince me to buy it

iPad Air 5 rumors
(Image credit: Apple)

I'll be keeping an eye out for the iPad Air 5 at the Apple Peek Performance event on March 8 — not just because I'm employed to stay up to date with the tech world, but because it may be the next member of my personal gadget collection.

I've been using an iPad 7 basically since it launched in September 2019, but now I want to move on to something more modern and more capable for my everyday streaming, note-taking and browsing needs. Sure, I'd love to be able to spend even more and get a top-of-the-line 12.9-inch iPad Pro but that's not within the budget I've got to work with.

The iPad Air 4 from latte 2020 is currently Tom's Guide's best iPad "for most people," and I think that covers my needs. Indeed, I was tempted by the iPad Air when it launched, but I didn't feel I could justify replacing my current iPad at the time. Now I'm in the right place to upgrade, but a year and change on, I'd like to see Apple make some key updates that will convince me to make the iPad Air 5 my new right-hand tablet.

I've listed my (quite reasonable) demands below. Some have already been rumored for this iPad Air update, whereas others are probably unlikely to happen. If Apple has the majority of these in place on the new iPad Air, then it might just have a guaranteed pre-order from me.

Center Stage and Face ID front cameras

Apple gave a welcome refresh to the design of the iPad Air (2020) by making a full-screen tablet like the iPad Pro. However, the company left the front camera pretty much as it was, which was a problem for two reasons. First off, that meant no Face ID unlocking for easy access to the tablet. Second, there's no Center Stage — a feature which was introduced to us on the iPad Pro 2021 and later appeared on the iPad mini 6 and iPad 9.

iPad Pro 2021 Center Stage

Center Stage on the iPad Pro (Image credit: Apple)

Apple would ideally add both of these capabilities onto the new iPad Air. Center Stage has been rumored already, which is good news, but Face ID hasn't. This is perhaps considered too "Pro" a feature for this particular tablet by Apple. As good an addition as Face ID would make to the iPad Air, Touch ID is still okay though since having it built into the power button is a smart place for a fingerprint sensor.

An A15 Bionic chipset

a15 bionic

(Image credit: Apple)

The A14 chipset that appeared in the iPhone 12 series and the previous iPad Air remains plenty powerful enough compared to other mobile chips. But I'd prefer Apple's latest A15 processor in its latest iPad. It just seems unfair to continue using an old chip even if it still works fine. Especially since I'm now accustomed to the A15's power from using my iPhone 13 Pro Max.

120Hz ProMotion refresh rate

This improvement is unlikely, and I accept that. Apple wants to keep some features just for the iPad Pro, after all, and no rumors have said anything about a refresh rate increase for the new Air. 

iPhone 13 Pro Max review

The iPhone 13 Pro Max offers smoother scrolling with a 120Hz refresh rate. Why can't the iPad Air? (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

But after growing used to ProMotion on my iPhone 13 Pro Max and other 120Hz phones due to my work reviewing them, a flat 60Hz rate doesn't really cut it for me anymore. If any one feature could appear on the new iPad Air, I would want it to be this one.

 An OLED screen

OLED panels are the gold standard for smartphones these days, including the iPhone. But Apple's yet to use it for an iPad. Even the iPad Pro has gone for mini-LED instead. An OLED screen, with its increased brightness and power efficiency and improved colors, would be great on the iPad Air. So would mini-LED, as it would still be an upgrade from the current LCD panel.

There were rumors some time ago about the iPad Air getting an OLED screen, but newer sources claim that's no longer happening. It's a real shame if that's the case.

128GB default storage

Apple has finally accepted the need for 128GB of space as standard on iPhones. Yet for whatever reason (perhaps one that starts with "i" and ends in "Cloud subscriptions"), Apple thinks we don't need as much storage space on our iPads as our phones.

Another 64GB iPad Air would probably be OK, and wouldn't put me off buying the tablet if the other things on my wishlist came true. I would still prefer a 128GB default though, or at least a 128GB option. The only other choice for the iPad Air currently is 256GB, which costs another $150 and makes the iPad Air almost as expensive as the iPad Pro.

Quad speakers

I often watch video or listen to music on my iPad without headphones connected, so I appreciate having good speakers in a tablet. The stereo-firing speakers on the base iPad work well enough, but they can sometimes struggle to fill a room. That's why I really hope the rumored quad-speaker system, as seen on the iPad Pro and other premium tablets, come to the Air with this new generation.

Improved battery

I'd like to think paying more than I would for another base iPad would mean I get superior battery life for my money. However that's currently not the case with the iPad Air 4, which lasts a shorter time on our custom Tom's Guide battery test than the iPad 9. I'd happily take a small size increase for the iPad Air so Apple could squeeze in more battery capacity.

iPad Air 5 outlook

That's seven possible additions to the iPad Air, some more must-have than others. Whatever Apple has to announce, I'll be sure to watch the March 8 Apple event to see whether I need to start budgeting for a new tablet.

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.