• The new 9.7' iPad Pro is displayed during an Apple special event

The new 9.7' iPad Pro is displayed during an Apple special event (Photo : Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)

Apple will refresh its iPad Pro line up in the second half of 2017 as the tech giant is reportedly opting for a staggered release mode of the new tablets. Prior to that, the Apple Pencil 2 is said to hit the market by March this year while the compact iPad Mini is likely to be discontinued.

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In its stead, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will become an entry-level slate, DigiTimes reported this week. The device will serve as Apple's most affordable tablet that will appeal to the education sector. The report added. It is understood too that the smallest of the iPad Pros, which will be powered by A9X processing chip, will commence mass production on or before March 2017.

The device will also be the first to become commercially available but the same report did not indicate a specific timeline on the matter though it mentioned that rollout will not happen until the second half of 2017 or as early as July.

Taking the place of the 9.7-inch iPad is a new form factor that the line will produce. "Apple reportedly is planning three new tablets for 2017, a 9.7-inch iPad with a friendly price range, a 10.5-inch iPad, and an upgraded 12.9-inch iPad Pro," DigiTimes said on its report.

Among the three iPads, it is the 10.5-inch model that generates the most interest, according to WCCFTech. "It is believed that the tablet will feature an edge-to-edge display and will serve as the flagship in the entire lineup of new iPads," the report said.

As the mid-sized iPad in the bunch, the 10.5-inch model is believed to be designed for use both by the average consumers and professional users that would want a productivity device on the go. The 12.9-inch variant, on the other hand, is enterprise-focus. Together, the two bigger iPads are seen as Apple's direct answer to the rising challenge being posed by the Surface Pro hybrid device from Microsoft.

And like the Windows 10-powered Surface Pro, which is rumored to get a refresh this coming March with the Surface Pro 5, the iPad Pro will be paired with a stylus in the form of the Apple Pencil. In a related report, WCCFTech said the input instrument to rival Microsoft's Surface Pen will get its version 2.0 also in March.

On release date, the Apple Pencil 2 is said to boast of longer battery life and a new feature that will allow users to magnetically attach the stylus with any of the iPad Pro models, further hinting that Apple is gearing up the line in an epic slugfest with the Surface Pro 5 from Microsoft.