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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  • Zink - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MMmLQlrBws Reply
  • twtech - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    I hope Google keeps the same screen size for the next 7" Nexus, but trims into the border a bit on the sides. Right now it's right at the limit for wrapping a hand around it, and I have pretty big hands. Reply
  • Crocography - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    And also its all metal back is too slippery compared to the Nexus 7. I waited for both to be release before I bought the Nexus 7 32Gb. (bought one by selling my iPad 2013 model -- never really used it much) Reply
  • jjj - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 - link

    If Apple is Apple they should have made this higher end and price it at 400$, and that still is what Job's Apple would do.Next year with the ipad 2 gone,they would need to drop the ipad 4 to 400$ or retire it so covering the 400$ range with the mini would make more sense.The cost of the SoC is a relative thing,32nm yields will get better by then,keeping it thin could be problematic if they double the res.

    PS; i am in no way suggesting this would be a price worth paying, just sayiing what would Apple do.
  • dishayu - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Is it possible Apple made the iPad mini worse than they were capable of, right now, just so that they can effortlessly update it and make more money out of it? Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Like any product designer, Apple has got to optimize for a variety of factors including component availability, component cost, final sale price, what features customers want, what features customers can tolerate not having, etc. If they just cared about maximizing profits they might as well have just thrown in the A4 from the iPhone 4 and a larger version of the TN panel used in the iPhone 3GS since they share the same dpi anyways.

    The iPad Mini already has worse battery life than the iPad 2 even without a retina display. Adding a retina display and a faster SoC to drive it will make this even worse unless a larger battery is included. One of the main features of the iPad Mini is how thin and light it is, even thinner and lighter than competing 7" tablets despite having a larger screen. Gaining a retina display in exchange for a thicker, heavier tablet may silence some complaints but will only create new ones. What's worse, a thicker, heavier design might make the iPad Mini difficult to hold given it's thin bezel design with limited grip area, so is a non-starter given current technology in 2012. Hopefully Anand is wrong in his prediction that a Retina iPad Mini isn't possible in 2013 either and that improvements in display tech, battery tech, and a move to the Samsung 28 nm process for the SoC will make it happen.
  • marcolorenzo - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Whilst I'm sure it was possible for Apple to include the retina display and the A6 SoC, it's more likely that they chose not to since it would make the device bigger and heavier due to the bigger battery it would require. Apple was simply not willing to make that sacrifice. Next year when the technology is more mature, they will implement it. Reply
  • drx11 - Sunday, November 25, 2012 - link

    RE: On purpose by marcolorenzo on Wednesday, November 21, 2012
    Whilst I'm sure it was possible for Apple to include the retina display and the A6 SoC, it's more likely that they chose not to since it would make the device bigger and heavier due to the bigger battery it would require....
    Exactly - this is the iPad 4 (gen)!
  • aravenwood - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link


    Thanks for the article, but the most interesting thing you mention never gets explored at all in the article. On the first page you say:

    "But here’s the thing - I don’t consider the iPad mini a competitor to the Nexus 7. The Nexus 7, to me, is what I buy if I’m in the market for a $199 tablet or I want a 7” Android device. It’s a completely different experience than the iPad mini. In my mind, the closest competitors for the iPad mini are, in order, the iPad 2, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9”, and the Nook Tablet HD+. The iPad 2 is obvious because these are the two lowest priced iOS tablets right now, and with similar underlying hardware, they’re actually pretty closely matched. I think the latter two are especially interesting comparisons to make, because all three exist in the ~$300 “small premium tablet” niche that has suddenly appeared."

    You say that the comparison with the Nook HD+ and Kindle are the most interesting comparisons, in a small premium tablet niche, but you never come back to this. Can you elaborate on this, maybe in a followup article? I for one have basically discounted the iPad Mini, and the kindle in favor of the Nook HD+. I haven't bought it yet, but I am leaning heavily - the only drawback is the lack of camera and GPS. The price, quality of screen build quality is compelling. In general I feel that Nook HD/HD+ doesn't get the respect it deserves. I have been holding off because I can't any serious (e.g. Anandtech type) reviews of the device and i want to read some real discussion of it's qualities and get a no-bs assessment of the good and bad and comparison to the Kindle and nexus 10.

    So that's my Thanksgiving wish - if you have down time, can we please have a review of the Nook HD +?

  • MadMan007 - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - link

    Seconded. The Nooks and Kindles may be some of the more popular tablets among the less tech savvy. They aren't the fastest or most up to date, but they do have nice feature sets, and B&N doesn't overcharge for built-in storage upgrades. The Nook HD+ and Fire HD 8.9" both have very high resolution screens. Maybe the custom software makes them harder to review? I still think it's worth it even if they aren't directly comparable to other tablets for that reason, plus you could explore loading custom ROMs if possible (I didn't bother to look up whether they are hackable) Reply

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