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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  • MadMan007 - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Here's another display-related thing to fix: the charts for Brightness (black and white) and contrast don't include the Nexus 7 for some bizarre reason..hmm...but the later charts on the same page 4 do. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Fixed, thank you :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • ksherman - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    While I understand where you're coming from, the reason the Nexus is zoomed in is because the Nexus "fakes" it's resolution in the web browser to about 603 so that responsive web pages render elements larger so they're easier to use on the Nexus 7. So the side by side photo is simply comparing the default view on load.

    In fact, this is actually somewhat of a negative for the iPad Mini on responsive sites because it means it's rendering pages designed for a much larger display.

    Source: http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1663
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Now this would be something interesting to investigate and inform readers about. I didn't know about different devices presenting different resolutions and am not sure what the differences really mean. Reply
  • Galatian - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    As a medical student I fast pretty fast in preordering the cellular white iPad mini here in Germany. It is the perfect size to fit into a white coats pocket. I will read a lot of books on it, so it was a hard decision between this and the 4th Gen iPad. But size does matter and eventually Retina will come to the mini line. For right now I just have to live with the resolution. Reply
  • Granseth - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    This is a big issue for me with the Ipad 2, and it will be the same with Ipad mini. When I try to use the Ipad2 as a productive device I often lose information I write because the webpages and apps has to reload when the device gets out of memory and have to free something to load the next app/webpage. And this has become much worse as the Ipad has aged, so it's terrible that they are selling a new device with only 512MB of RAM.

    But hopefully people will use this smaller device as a consumption device, and not a productivity device.
    Reply
  • ratte - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Excellent review as always, balanced and informative.
    It's a pity that Apple can't easily go to an intermediate resolution like 1600 x 1200, like Android can, but is stuck with the rezdoubling. For me the mini would have felt more futureproof if they had used an A6 with 1Gb memory. but then this is Apple....
    Reply
  • MadMan007 - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Yeah, they need something obvious but AWESOME to make sure everyone buys a new one next year. Reply
  • Gaugamela - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Now it's easy to understand why Apple wanted to ban the Galaxy Tab 7.7. The iPad Mini is a rip-off of it. With a much worse display since the GT7.7 had a Super Amoled + display of superior resolution.
    Samsung was a year ahead of Apple and it still holds up great, if Samsung updated it to Jelly Bean.

    I would like to see a new Galaxy Tab 7.7.

    And the display is a disapointment. It makes it a no buy device instantly, it's 130$ more expensive than the Nexus 7 and offers a worse display. Anyone that picks the Mini should only do it by the form factor or preference by iOS.
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    The form factor is why I'm considering the iPad Mini over the Nexus 7. It has great build quality, is thinner, lighter, yet has battery life that is similar or better and has a screen that's a third larger. The Nexus 7's advantage in screen resolution in itself is not as important for me because the screen is smaller so showing more tiny content isn't useful. The lower pixel density is a concern for clarity. The CPU may be weaker, but the GPU is stronger which given good GPU acceleration for UI responsiveness is a reasonable exchange. $130 more maybe worth it if the better form factor makes the device more useable so that it sees more use. Reply

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