A Retina mini?

I prefer reading text and browsing the web on the bigger iPad, but in terms of actually holding the device the mini wins hands down. One iPad is better to look at and one is better to hold. It's a real problem. The obvious solution would be to give the iPad mini a Retina Display. Once again, in our Podcast on this topic, Brian offered poignant insight: a Retina Display likely won't come to the iPad mini.

There are three routes Apple has to enable a Retina Display on the iPad mini:

1. Double horizontal and vertical resolution (4x the number of pixels, similar to what was done for the iPad 3/4)
2. Pick a new, in-between resolution that isn't an outright doubling in each dimension but maintain the 4:3 aspect ratio
3. Pick a new resolution that isn't an outright doubling, also pick a new aspect ratio in the process

With the exception of the iPhone 5, Apple has preferred outright quadrupling of pixel count (2x in each dimension, option #1) to create a Retina Display. With the mini's display using a 1024 x 768 resolution, this option would give it a 7.85-inch 2048 x 1536 panel. That would be the same resolution as the iPad 3/4, but in a much smaller display giving it a pixel density of 326 PPI (vs ~263 for the iPad 3/4). Apple could do this, but it would then need to make all of the same changes it made in going to the iPad with Retina Display, primarily the introduction of a larger battery and much larger SoC. The bigger battery is needed to drive the more powerful backlight, and the X-series of SoCs is needed to actually render the UI and games at such a high resolution. Both of these things would increase the size and cost of the mini, which would make it distinctly un-mini.

The second option would be to pick a new resolution that wasn't an integer multiple of the current one, say 1600 x 1200. You could maintain the same aspect ratio, but you'd just get greater pixel density. The problem with this approach is iOS for the iPad projects points in screen space to one of two resolutions: 1024 x 768 or 2048 x 1536. Picking a non-integer multiple of those resolutions would force Apple to do some scaling and filtering to hit the new resolution, which could reduce quality. Apple does this on the MacBook Pro with Retina Display to enable higher resolution modes. To maximize image quality however, Apple renders the desktop offscreen at 4x the resolution and then scales down to fit the panel. There are obvious performance concerns here as well.

The final option would be for Apple to take the iPhone 5 route and just pick a new resolution and enable support for it. The only downside to this option is that developers would have to target yet another type of display. As we've seen with the iPhone 5, that can be done but it also means a number of applications may take a while to get updated, if they are at all.

None of these options is particularly enticing for Apple, especially given the low (for Apple), starting price for the iPad mini. If you're expecting next year's mini to have a Retina Display, I wouldn't hold your breath.

Display Analysis CPU Performance
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  • Calista - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    ^+1

    I bought the original iPad and as many was amazed by the build-quality (stupid sharp edges excluded) and how fluid surfing the web felt considering the hardware. But I also within 15 minutes realised that it was badly memory-starved. Apple is an amazing company taking great pride in the user-experience of its products, but back then they goofed up badly.

    I feel the same about the Mini. The CPU may be old but it's still fairly competent, the GPU still among the best, and the screen size may be close to perfect. But only 512 MB of RAM just ain't sufficient for today, even less for tomorrow.
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Being slow to increase RAM and VRAM is consistently an issue with Apple. That's the case with Macs as well.

    For the iPad 1, it wasn't just that 256MB of RAM was small. Rapid drop-off in app support for the iPad 1, especially in games, is due to the resolution being so high in comparison to the RAM. The GPU was also underpowered compared to the resolution. 3rd gen devices have 480x320 screens and 256MB of RAM while the iPad 1 has 5.1x the pixels with the same 256MB of RAM. The 4th gen iPod Touch is affected by this too having a 960x640 screen with 256MB, but the iPad 1 is even worse with 1.3x the pixels of the 4th gen Touch. Support for the 4th gen iPod Touch in games isn't perfect, but is better than the iPad 1, which indicates that 256MB in itself isn't the limitation, but the drop in support for the iPad 1 is a combination of 256MB RAM with the higher 1024x768 resolution and the iPad 1 no longer being sold after 2011. The iPad 1 received 2 major OS updates (iOS 4.x and 5.x) post launch like other iOS devices so its OS support wasn't prematurely terminated.

    I think the situation will be different for the iPad Mini 1. The iPad 2/Mini doubles the RAM to 512MB while keeping the resolution the same, which alleviates the poor resolution-RAM ratio of the iPad 1. 512MB of RAM represents the majority of iOS devices including the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad 2, iPad Mini 1, and 5th gen iPod Touch, of which given historical patterns, the iPhone 4S and 5th gen iPod Touch and perhaps even the iPad Mini 1 itself will sell into 2014. Given historical patterns, OS support for the iPhone 4S, 5th gen iPod Touch, and iPad Mini 1 should continue into 2015. Seeing it's only in 2012 that developers are really beginning to require 512MB of RAM, I don't see them already upping the minimum requirement to 1GB in 2013. Especially not when that eliminates the majority of their potential customer base, when those devices are still being actively sold into 2014, and receiving OS support into 2015. I think 2014 is a more realistic date for when apps will begin to stop supporting 512MB devices.

    Personally, seeing the CPU was unchanged and the GPU is only 2x faster despite the 4x increase in resolution making it slower at native resolution than the iPad Mini 1 and iPad 2, I wouldn't be surprised if the iPad 3 loses app support before the iPad Mini and iPad 2.

    Of course, just because apps continue to support 512MB devices doesn't mean the usage experience won't be degraded or sub-par. I can see that becoming an issue faster than app support.
    Reply
  • Klug4Pres - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I guess you reviews the Wifi-only version, but I'd like to see some analysis of the cellular connectivity options, especially what LTE bands are supported in the available SKUs. Reply
  • HighTech4US - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    The mini lacks a GPS on the base model making it useless for using any map software with turn-by-turn prompts.

    The Nexus 7 has a built in GPS chip (and a very effective one and way better pin pointing location than a TomTom) and Google Maps works great on the Nexus 7 (you can download maps for offline use).

    The lack of GPS on any tablet is a deal breaker for me.

    Adding in the omission GPS with the other short comings along with its sky high price makes the mini just an overpriced iToy. The Nexus 7 is a much much better deal.
    Reply
  • Calista - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I think we have all forgot what gave us forgot what gave us 7" tablets. A "tablet" - i.e a tablet PC running Windows was normally in the 12-14" range. The JooJoo was a 12" tablet as well. Apple brought it down to 10" and sold a ton of those.

    At the same time a large number of more or less obscure manufacturers brought out 7" tablets *not* because 7" was considered the best compromise but because those panels could be bought dirt-cheap. But this also gave us this idea that a small tablet was supposed to be 7" while a large tablet was to be 10". I would say this is an anomaly, tablets have for the last ten years been larger than 10".

    Maybe the "correct" size for a small tablet is in the 8-8.5" range? I was playing with my friends Motorola Xoom 2 (8.2", 1280x800) and while a bit heavier than my 7" tablet it seemed to hit the perfect size. Not so big or heavy as to be cumbersome, while still packing almost 40" more screen area.

    Too much focus is being put on the device being pocket-able, how many really bring a tablet in their coat or pants? Just the idea of asking for a device to be pocket-able while still lacking a 3G/4G connection is just plain silly. Instead focus should be put on how it feels in hand but also how much space it occupies on a table. The 10" iPad was always too big to fit comfortable on my table while still having space for a cup of tea, a notebook, a plain book or the remotes for the TV and receiver.
    Reply
  • Quad5Ny - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    There is a Pop-over interactive banner ad running that opens when you try to hit the x, please take a look. Thanks.

    http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?p=34271...
    Reply
  • vicbdn - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    "but in terms of repsonsiveness" In the conclusion. Reply
  • BSMonitor - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Incredibly too much... By the 4th generation of these, 32GB should be standard and 64GB a $100 upgrade...

    The BOM on 32GB NAND in this fashion is what? $15? Even if it's $20($10 x 2 16GB), they are getting a 1000% profit margin on that upgrade from 16 to 32 GB??

    But they know we all have huge iTunes libraries we'd want on it...

    Unfortunately there will never be a do-it-yourself tablet similar to the PC market. I stopped paying Dell and Gateway and HP a LONG time ago for their ridiculous profit methods.
    Reply
  • TouchPadKing - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Not sure if this has already been rehashed, but the pixel size is what kills the ipad mini for me. I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, and I can SEE the pixels and it drives me nuts. The ipad mini has an even bigger screen with about the same number of pixels... Also, samsung fits in pocket, mini doesn't. I like the ipad mini's form factor, but again if it won't fit in my pocket it'll probably never leave the house... Reply
  • Rising - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I bought Nexus 7 when it was released. This is what i can tell you after few months of usage..
    "Its a good hardware in a crappy software". Iwould say the higher price premium on ipad mini is justified for software.

    Most of the apps are zoomed over apps for Nexus 7. I hate that part of it. For example i use this app called apex launcher in my samsung s 3 and when i try using it on Nexus 7 all the icons are so small that they are hardly recognizable.

    I donot understand why Google cannot optimize the apps to their own Nexus tablets.
    Anand do you know whats stopping them from doing this?
    Reply

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