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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  • Greg512 - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    I haven't read through the whole review, just the conclusion, but the side-by-side photo with the Nexus really accentuates how much larger the Mini is. Other than that difference, I think ecosystem is the only significant reason to buy the Mini over a competing tablet. The hardware just doesn't impress like the iPad 3. Reply
  • Jorange - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    But is it too wide to hold one-handed for long periods? Reply
  • Greg512 - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    I tried it out at a store and my impression is holding it one-handed is pretty uncomfortable. I also find the Nook tablet pretty uncomfortable to hold one handed, but the Mini is certainly no better, probably worse. Plus, holding it one-handed in portrait (if you grip from the side) blocks some of the screen. Reply
  • Pantsu - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    I'd have to agree. While the mini is thinner and has perhaps somewhat better build quality compared to the nexus 7, when comparing them side to side, I'd have say my Nexus 7 was more comfortable to hold in one hand. Also it just happens to fit in my jacket pocket while the mini is too wide.

    Even though the aspect ratio in the mini might be preferable for web, you still end up zooming, and then again video is better with a 16:9 display.
    Reply
  • DERSS - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    But yes, it is 15 mm (1.5 cm, 0.6 inch) wider, it has to be taken into account. Though most of its width is compensated by lesser thickness, so overall perimeter just a little bit bigger than that of Nexus 7. Reply
  • DeciusStrabo - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    I think the backside material of the Nexus 7 is what makes it so comfortable to hold, next to the size. Unlike my iPad 2 it simply doesn't feel uncomfortable at any point. Can't get to cold or hot or be slippery.

    Oh, a Nexus 7 with the hardware of the Nexus 10 and a 1600x1200 8" screen and the Nexus 7 backside... My dream tablet. Alternatively a iPad Mini with a full Retina screen and a A6X/2 GB RAM (the 512 GB is the worst part of my iPad 2 and I can't believe they did it again in 2012 with the Mini).
    Reply
  • Solandri - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Standard paperback book sizes are:

    A: 110mm x 178mm
    B: 129mm x 198mm
    Trade: 135mm x 216mm

    Nexus 7: 120mm x 198mm
    iPad mini: 135mm x 200mm

    The A format paperback is the kind you can shove in your back pocket. Easy to hold in one hand. The B is slightly bigger, and most people can hold it in one hand. The trade paperbacks are the bigger more expensive kind, more like a hardcover book but with a soft cover. Most people have to bend them to hold in one hand.

    The Nexus 7's width falls between A and B paperbacks in width. The iPad Mini is trade paperback size in width, even with the reduced bezel. Personally I think Apple goofed here, picking a size larger than what the publishing industry settled on as ideal for one-handed carrying and reading after decades of product testing.

    I'm pretty sure Apple chose to make the iPad Mini 7.9" instead of 7" because the 4:3 aspect ratio would've made movies on a 7" iPad smaller than on 7" 16:9 Android tablets. By making the iPad Mini 7.9" they make movies on it slightly bigger than on a 7" Android tablet. But the cost in one-handed holdability isn't worth it IMHO.

    They tried to make up for it by cutting down weight, which makes it easier to hold by one edge. But that carries its own drawbacks:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MMmLQlrBws#t=0m30s
    Reply
  • Jakers Ugly Brother - Thursday, November 22, 2012 - link

    Actually, the iPad mini is almost exactly the same size and shape as the Amazon Kindle 2 (the old white keyboard one), differing only in slightly higher weight. The dimensions are so close that I have to believe that Apple was using the K2 as a reference for the mini.

    Most K2 users agree that it is extremely easy and comfortable to hold one-handed for hours, and very easy to carry.

    Put a $5 silicon or TPU case on the mini, and it too becomes extremely comfortable to hold for hours.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Friday, November 30, 2012 - link

    Apple did nothing with 7' Android tablets in mind. Reply
  • stfuyolo - Sunday, February 17, 2013 - link

    no i own one and if your hand gets tired then you can balance it on one hand, i can grip it for a while and I have a case aswell on it so that is thicker!! Reply

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