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.

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  • EnzoFX - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Just give the 7" the 2048 res treatment, and then double the 10" iPad's resolution once again! lol.

    Seriously though, it involves support on their end for some software changes, hope they follow through. I doubt they would want this mini to always (even the near future) have this resolution.
    Reply
  • Zink - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    LCDs in phones are at 440 ppi with some manufacturers testing almost 500 ppi so with a big investment from Apple, doubling the Retina (264 ppi) iPad's resolution would probably be possible within 1 or 2 years. It wont happen though because of reduced battery life and reduced performance on current hardware for a very subtle gain in image quality. It will probably be 5 years before we see 10 MP+ tablets because battery life and light weight are more important. Mobile SOCs also just aren't fast enough. Even with DDR3 next year the iPad will still only have twice the memory bandwidth it had for the iPad 3, not enough to even attempt 4x the pixels. Getting enough memory bandwidth for double Retina in an iPad will require next generation DDR technology or an even wider memory system which won't be viable anytime soon. Reply
  • jecastejon - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I just hope the "resolution war" on tablets and phones to be over at 400 dpi, but it should be already over at 350 dpi.

    From the human sight point of view it is basically over. The extra power and resources should go to better frame rates, better graphics and battery life.

    Today there are a few ridiculous measurements or also detrimental technology examples going higher every day like the dynamic contrast on TVs or the megapixel war on tiny consumer sensor cameras. They are misleading advertisement.

    500 dpi is useless to 99.9% of humans at almost all ages even if the technology allows to go further and further.
    Reply
  • Dribble - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    It's going to age very fast with that ancient cpu, and only 512mb of memory. Basically the moment the mini 2 comes out with a faster cpu this one will be forgotten and apps won't run on it.

    tbh seems like a rip off to me. It says something that the main reason I read for buying it is the shape of the screen - you've got to love that a lot to buy something that is all the other ways worse then it's much cheaper competition.
    Reply
  • marcolorenzo - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Did you look at the benchmarks? I'm not sure I would say that it is "all the other ways worse then it's much cheaper competition."

    As a HTC One X user, I can tell you first hand the Tegra 3 isn't the sum of its parts, and the benchmarks that Anand provides proves that.
    Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    You actually anticipate developers will drop support for the iPad Mini "the moment" the 2nd generation is released? The 1GHz A5/A5X CPU is also used in the iPad 2 and iPad 3, while the slower 800Mhz A5 is used in the iPhone 4S and 5th gen iPod Touch which will both be on sale into 2014 given Apple's 3 year iPhone and 2 year iPod Touch sale cycles as they move down price tiers. The majority of iOS devices are A5 devices and will be for the next year or 2. The vast majority of apps still support 3rd generation devices and 4th generation device support is even higher. Apple's license agreement guarantees the iPad Mini will get iOS 7 and historically each device runs 3 major OS revisions over it's lifespan, so the iPad Mini will likely get OS updates into 2015. The chances of developers dropping support for 5th generation devices like the iPad Mini in the next year or 2 seem slim. Reply
  • Dribble - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    You can think that if you like but 512mb of ram is already a limiting factor, and the cpu/gpu will start to be come one too as time goes by.

    This is the world of apple - if it's not new then it doesn't matter, and with the mini you are essentially buying something that's already 1 1/2 years old.
    Reply
  • drx11 - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    Except its 512MB (megabytes, no mb or megabits) of RAM.... but I know what you are saying. I suppose you should have some concern, but then again Apple - at least for the last few years - has been the best at SoC and even my old arsed iPhone 3GS runs well with iOS 5. It could run iOS 6, though it wont have the best features ... so that should change your mind.

    Unlike Google/OEMs/phone carriers, Apple supports its hardware and you get more out of the hardware - even when the specs are not "as good" as the competition.
    Reply
  • DeciusStrabo - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    CPU is still ok, GPU the same, but the 512 MB RAM is absolutely something that's a worry. It wasn't enough on my iPad 2 a year ago and it's very annoying in Safari if you have several tabs. And it will only get worse as time moves on. Adding another 512 MB RAM would have cost Apple basically nothing and made the product a lot more future proof (as far as it is possible in this fast-moving segment of a fast-moving industry). Reply
  • karasaj - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    Will it blend? Reply

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