iPad mini is here, and some thoughts on non-Retina

iPad mini launch day, did you get yours yet?

Apple has begun selling the iPad 4 and iPad mini around the world, and while crowds have been much, much smaller than iPhone launches, which stands to reason, they've also been smaller than previous iPad launches. This is Apple's second full-size iPad launch of the year, however, and pre-orders have taken a lot of wind out of in-store, launch day crowds.

I lined up in the middle of the cold (39 degree F), rainy, Montreal night anyway, because that's what I do. There were 2 of us until about 7:30am, when the line had grown to about 20 people. The Apple Store staff handed out vouchers. Only the Wi-Fi models were available (cellular will follow in a few weeks). There were also no 32GB iPad mini in white, but all the other models were in stock. They didn't even bother handing out vouchers for the iPad 4; they had plenty of stock.

Starbucks coffee was served, the store opened at 8am, and most of us were done by 8:20.

I'll be following up with the prerequisite unboxing and hardware tour videos soon. Based on trying the iPad mini out in the store, however, said hardware is almost certainly going to impress.

And to answer the inevitable question -- yes, I'm bothered by the lack of Retina display. It irks my eyes. However, even Apple is bound by the laws of physics and shrinking a 2048x1536 display down to 7.9-inches, hitting 326 ppi, for an iPad mini would require so much backlight and power that it would make the iPad mini much thicker and heavier, and that would defeat the entire purpose. It would likely also increase cost. Miniaturization isn't cheap.

The Retina 4-inch Retina display in the iPod touch and iPhone 5 are "only" 1136x640 pixels by comparison, and the Retina iPad 4 is 48% thicker.

Apple will get Retina on the iPad mini one day, but it's absolutely better to start with thinner and lighter and work their way there.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 63 comments. Add yours.

jessedholm says:

I assume the apple store didn't have any accessories yet am I correct?

tomhoward says:

Lol @ "said hardware is almost certainly going to impress"
And a queue size of 2.... Revolutionary

nmg196 says:

Some odd comments in the article. Like saying a retina display would not fit or would be "too heavy" for an iPad mini! Since when did resolution weigh anything? Pixels have no weight and the retina displays in the iPhones weigh the same (or less) than their non-retina counterparts.

Also have iMore really not come across the iPhone 5 which has a higher res display than the iPad Mini despite being far smaller and thinner? At the very least, Apple could have just scaled up the display from the iPhone 5 would have given the iPad a proper 16:9 screen and slightly higher resolution instead of the obsolete 4:3 screen. I think most people will wait for the iPad Mini 2.

tqmcguire says:

The display itself wouldn't necessarily weigh more, but the supporting hardware would. In order to light all those extra pixels more LEDs would be necessary. With more LEDs comes more battery drain. To keep battery life acceptable they would have to greatly increase the size of the battery. Also, they would need, at a minimum, the A5X processor to drive all those extra pixels. More CPU power means even more battery drain. All of those additions would certainly add weight and thickness as is evidenced by the iPad 3 vs iPad 2 when the jump to Retina was made.

Carioca32 says:

Will all due respect, I call BS on that. There was no need to make the iPod touch heavier or thicker when it went retina, and the new iTouch is retina and its one of the thinnest and lightest iDevices.
By that reasoning, since the pixel density of the iPhone display is much higher than the iPad, you would assume that it need an insane light source to power the display, which is just not the case.
Apple chose to make the retina display brighter so it would look prettier, not because the regular backlights could not provide enough lumens. Physics alone would dictate that if you have the same area, it could be illuminated with the same lights, the "sieve" of the LCD is nowhere dense enough to block a light source so close. It would be different if we were talking about AMOLEDs or Plasmas, but not LCDs.
But I'll admit that it's all guesswork, since none of us had access to the prototypes to see the real effect.

SteveW928 says:

It's not as much a matter of pixel density, but overall number of pixels being driven. The iPhone or iPod touch have a relatively small number of pixels, even with Retina display. Why don't you take a look at the iPad 2 vs iPad 3.... and note how the 3 got heavier and bigger (with a MUCH bigger battery), and faster chips, yet didn't gain in performance or battery life.

nmg196 says:

What laws of physics?? The iPhone 5 does not break any laws of physics and yet it has a retina display in a device quarter the size (by volume) of an iPad mini.

SteveW928 says:

Umm, yea... and how many years of technology advancement to achieve that? Note, Rene DID say Apple will eventually get there.

nmg196 says:

Huh? Why do more pixels equal more LEDs? An LCD with only 1 million pixels needs the same light as one with 4 million (within a couple of percent) as proven by the iPhones which are no dimmer when they went retina.

And who cares about thickness? I've never even ONCE heard someone complain their phone was too fat. It makes absolutely no difference to anything. If anything, a thicker phone is easier to hold. They easily solved these issues in the iPhone 5 and iPad 4 so it would have been easy to fix them in the iPad Mini as well. I suspect they're just skimping for cost reasons, not battery life (the A5 uses LESS battery power, not more - hence the longer battery live in the iPhone 5).

tqmcguire says:

From TechRadar - "Achieving retina resolutions with current TFT technology isn't easy. The more tightly you pack the pixels, the lower the display's aperture ratio becomes. The aperture ratio is the ratio between the pixel's transparent area and the whole pixel area including wiring; the smaller the ratio, the less light gets through. To compensate for this, Apple has been forced to double the number of LEDs in the iPad's backlight, which uses 72 LEDs and requires two and a half times more power than the backlight in the iPad 2."
So think about that. Place a lamp in a closet and it lights the entire closet perfectly. Place the same lamp in a 20x20 bedroom and it lights it but the further you get from the light source the darker it is. iPhone is a closet. iPad is a bedroom. You need more light to illuminate a larger area. Now fill each room with screen doors every 2 inches. The closet will still light up but be slightly dimmer. The huge bedroom? I doubt you'd even see the lamp from across the room through all the screen doors. Maybe my example isn't perfect but there's an explanation for everything and Apple engineers are NOT increasing their costs of manufacturing just because they feel like it; it's because it's necessary.

025899 says:

So you are saying there is no option other than TFT? Surely Apple can afford to invest in OLED and other newer technologies.

tqmcguire says:

No, I'm sure they have invested in R&D of any and all various display tech. OLED has drawbacks in terms of burn-in and blue pixel lifespan. Maybe Samsung has solved those problems by now but I've witness them and it was bad. Also right now a 9.7" OLED screen would, I imagine, be prohibitively expensive not to mention the possible supply constraints, especially at that size and in the quantities Apple would demand. They're already sourcing their LCDs from multiple manufacturers so putting all their eggs in one basket wouldn't be wise especially when the basket is attached to the bicycle of the company they're seemingly trying to distance themselves from. Not saying it can't or won't happen, but when the LCDs they're using now are so beautiful, the question is why change?

ac3boy says:

This is where the Sharp IGZO technology is going to fix the density/wiring issue on TFT type displays. They are just not able to output enough for Apple's needs right now. Read up on it. Very new and interesting tech.

davjaxn says:

Not sure I buy that as being the reason. The nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD both have HD displays, the iPad mini could have too. Te likely reason it doesn't is to add on the retina display as the "killer feature" in the iPad mini 2 next year.

I have an iPad 2 (refurb when the iPad 3 was released) and am very happy with it. I've taken a look at the retina iPad and while it looks nice, I think it is blown way out of proportion as a "must have" feature.

SteveW928 says:

They are just HD (which is a rather vague term), not Retina. Unless Apple wanted to invent yet another resolution for developers to support, they'd have had to double the pixels, like they did with the iPad 3.

But, I agree with you on the importance of the Retina display. Maybe that's because I have older eyes... but even so, we got along just fine with MUCH lower rez displays for decades. The pixel density of the iPad mini should be absolutely fine, just not as optimal as some might like. (And, I'd love to run an experiment where that feature was just added to the spec list. and then see how many people complained it was making their eyes bleed...)

okli says:

U're right big W...
iMini has basically a iPhone3/GS display with more than double the size...no one complained for two years about that... even it had to be hold closer to the eyes... the distance is the key factor ... because retina judgment of our eyes depends on the distance of the device from the eye-pupils...

wdiggums says:

que the ipad mini 2 due to be released in 4-6 months farther disenfranchising the faithful. I dunno about the rest of you but when buying something "premium" made of metal and the highest quality materials.... i kind of want it to be cutting edge for more than a few months, wtf apple?

okli says:

not gona happa... in 4-6 months... the life cycle has been changed,,, get over it ... DUDE

ilongbored says:

I just now noticed that the color scheme is the same setup as the iPhone 5. White/Silver, Black/Slate. Took me awhile.

sleblanc1976 says:

nmg196, the iPad mini is thinner than the iPhone 5, not by much but it is. So mine just got delivered, and the reviews all nailed it (good and bad). My main concern was the screen, and it appears to be valid (my non retina owning coworker felt it looked great though for what it's worth), it is tough to look at for me. I am going to give it a bit of time and see how I feel after a week.

ac3boy says:

Please do post or PM(If you can do that here) all thoughts you have dealing with seeing the pixels. When I started using my iPhone 4s I stopped using my iPad 2 because of how much time I was spending staring at the pixels and not the content. It drove me batty. LOL

I just sold my iPad 3 to upgrade to the 4 or a mini. I really love the idea of holding a very light ipad but if the pixels are visible I will be returning it.

Thanks for any future thoughts.

LCW says:

You better plan on getting a 4 because with the mini the pixels are visible - think 3GS but 7.9" instead of 3.5"

dloveprod says:

If they couldn't do retina they could have at least done an A6 and gig of ram.

snookiesnoo says:

It was all about keeping the cost down with the screen, ram, A6...they say that even at $329 they aren't making nearly as much profit. ig google wasn't selling a $199 tablet there wouldn't be so much complaining about the iPad Mini price. But Google is making NO money from the Nexus 7 tablet and won't make any from the Nexus 10 either. Pretty hard to compete against that no matter how pathetic it is for Google to do that.

mstrblueskys says:

It's colder in MN than Canada?! Darn...

richard_rsp says:

I was initially disappointed in the specs of the iPad mini (and wasnt going to get one mainly due to processor), but I just ran over to Bestbuy and picked one up. I figure if nothing else, it will replace my iPad 2 (which I will sell for almost the cost of the mini) and provide a more portable solution. Just in playing with it for the past 20 min or so, I know that I am going to like this device. The lack of retina really does not bother me at all - the screen still looks good and the speed is good. Better than I expected! :)

anderson_46 says:

Does anyone know if Apple fixed the Heat issue from the iPad 3 on the iPad 4? I know not much was changed but I hope they were able to fix that?

trmoney24 says:

engadget said the heat issue is still present on the iPad 4, unfortunately.

SteveW928 says:

That's the Retina display for you.

nmangiafesto86 says:

I agree, I had the iPad 2, and picked up the Mini this morning, I love it, it's so much better than my iPad 2! It's great!!!

SteveW928 says:

I'm curious how you feel about typing on it and UI accuracy, as the iPad 2, IMO, is already a bit cramped for that. When I've got the external keyboard going, it's fine... but I'd worry about typing on the mini (haven't seen on in person yet... so I'm curious).

Carioca32 says:

"...would require so much backlight and power that it would make the iPad mini much thicker and heavier ..."

Seriously Rene, how much power was needed to put a Retina on the new iPod Touch, or the old one for that instance? You're creating this phony physics barrier to justify Apple's lack of economic interest in providing a retina screen now. We all know Apple will launch a Retina iPad Mini next year, just as thin and light as this one, and at the same price point.

This is Apple's modus operandi, launch products with as few features as possible, to slowly upgrade through the years. It's not physics, its economics.

sleblanc1976 says:

Full size ipad requires a 2nd backlight, which accounts for the battery heft, assuming Rene believes that the same would be true of the mini

Rene Ritchie says:

Why isn't the iPad 3 or iPad 4 as thin as the iPad mini or iPod touch 5?

tomhoward says:

Well there newer for a start (iPad 4 is the same old carcass as the 3) so the battery density per size is most likely a bit better and mainly their screens are physically smaller so need to pump out less light, so smaller battery.
Its just the same as having a torch, doesn't matter what you shine it through, it takes the same amount of power.

tqmcguire says:

Using the flashlight/torch analogy: No the light itself doesn't require more power but what you shine it through restricts how much you see. Shine that light through a window. Perfect, no loss of light. Shine it through a screen door. You can still see the light but less of it. Now make each square of that screen grid 1/4 the size and shine that same light through it. You will see much less light. To get the same output through that smaller screen you need more light, hence more power.

cotton says:

I agree with this being Apple's way of doing things. I also see Rene's point of view that the physics barrier may be hard to overcome, BUT he's assuming this! With Apple extreme secrecy policy, there's NO way of knowing for sure if it's physics or economics.

SteveW928 says:

Well, as Rene said... physics. We know it will take more battery power and GPU to drive. Even Apple's massive R&D budget can't break that! If you put in a higher rez display, you're going to give up some battery life and performance... or have to compensate with larger size/weight.

BWS10 says:

Ding Ding Ding. We have a winner.

Apple has reached Shepherd status. Just guiding the sheep in the direction it wants.

If they released an up to par product right now they wouldn't be able to release version 2 next year and expect as good of sales. What is the main attraction for the non-tech people that A4 or A6 chips mean nothing to? The screen. An improved screen is something everyone instantly notices and loves. Low res screen in version 1 and high res screen in version 2 will result in the most sales for both. If version 1 had the retina display like it should, that would only leave the processor or camera to be updated, maybe make it a little thinner, for version 2. Not worth upgrading in that case. As is the amount of people that will now buy the mini and the mini 2 when it is released will more than make up for the amount of people that wanted a mini but then decided against it after seeing the sub-par specs, mainly the low res screen, are not up to the level we expect from an Apple product at this point. People will buy the mini and buy into reasoning of why the specs are weak, then in March when the mini 2 rumors start surfacing they will grab their tents and camp in front of the stores without thinking twice. Starbucks must love Apple.
And LOL at the poster who said they are 'upgrading' from an iPad 3 to a mini or 4. GTFO with that ish. Donate the money to Hurricane Sandy victims instead. Don't buy into what is wrong with the world, give to something that is actually right with it.

Beezzy says:

The iPad 4 is more of my taste. Retina Display, a solid A6X chip, new Facetime HD camera.The iPad Mini feels like it I would be disappointed with this because of it's specs. I would rather wait for the 2nd Gen with Retina.

Carioca32 says:

Rene, I'll return the question, why isn't the iPhone 5, a retina device with a pixel density much higher than the iPad 3 or 4, much thicker than the iPad mini?

I'll wager a bet with you, next year we will see a iPad Mini 2 with retina, same weight and thickness, or lighter and thinner.

SteveW928 says:

Because it is an insanely smaller display (and the increase in number of pixels vs the non-Retina version is much less). So, it needs much less battery. A non-Retina version of the SAME device could be smaller and lighter.

Sure, by next year, battery technology will be better and GPU/CPU more efficient with higher performance. If that difference is enough, you'll probably be correct.

Rene Ritchie says:

Read the other comments in the thread, they explain it already.

trmoney24 says:

engadget said the heat issue is still present on the iPad 4.

stuntmonkey says:

When I picked up the iPad3, the heat was very noticeable. They trained the iStore people to deflect that, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the service guy to admit that it was running hot. I for one, am happy that they haven't Retinaized the mini yet, it's not ready for it, and it's not built for image detail intensive use.

sleblanc1976 says:

I have had an iPad 3 since launch day, and have never felt it even get remotely hot.. Not saying that it can't I just have never seen it.

west3man says:

Is yours a wifi-only model?

Gazoobee says:

There is a big difference between "you can feel it get warm where the processor is," and the device "running hot." You are making a mountain out of a molehill here and using the wrong terminology to describe what's actually happening.

By saying it's "running hot" you imply that this is both unusual and a problem or a fault in some way, when in fact, it's completely normal behaviour. It has a tiny *warm* (not hot), spot where the processor is if you use it for a long time with a lot of graphically intensive stuff (like an iPad in the Apple store which has no doubt been running games and so forth all day before you arrived). This is not unusual in any way and almost every tablet or laptop out there exhibits the exact same behaviour.

Does it get "too hot to touch?" No, not even close.
Does it cause any problems with the software or hardware? No.
Is the iPad the only device that exhibits this behaviour? No.
Is this the only version of the iPad that exhibits this behaviour? No.

davjaxn says:

The reasoning of "they couldn't, so they just went ahead anyway" makes me nervous for the future of Apple products and quality of those products.

If Apple was unable to deliver the best possible product with the iPad mini (and it appears to be general consensus that the best possible product includes an HD/retina display) then it simply should not have made it. Apple should have waited. Other companies cut corners and make concessions and produce junk just to make money, Apple doesn't. Or at least didn't.

SteveW928 says:

I guess that depends on whether you consider non-Retina, cutting corners. I've got an iPad 2 which I'm perfectly happy with, and the mini will have an even higher pixel density. If they WOULD have added Retina to the mini at this point, it would have too low of battery life for me to consider. Retina is a nice feature, but not a very necessary one.

okli says:

U're right W928 its over-hyped...iMini has 24% higher pixel density compare to iPad2

FlopTech says:

Apple probably won't ship a Retina iPad mini until they are ready to transition all iOS devices to some new screen technology. IGZO-based OLED seems like the leading candidate. IGZO conductors have 40 times the conductivity and are more transparent than the current amorphous silicon conductors. IGZO will enable brighter, lower-power displays. And OLED will eliminate the need for LED backlighting for yet more energy efficiency.

It just so happens that Sharp and Apple are working on IGZO-based OLED technology. Supposedly they have patented (important word) a low-cost, high-yield OLED "printing" process. It's just a matter of time before that technology is ready. Maybe by 2014, when we might also see a 64-bit ARM-based AX chip for iPhone and iPad.

S.Mulji says:

In case you haven't heard Sharp is in serious financial trouble.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/11/01/sharp_potential_bankruptcy/

Sharp has some really cool display technology, as you stated, so it'd be a shame if they went under. Even worse for Apple would be if Samsung bought out Sharp. This would be a good time for Apple to buy them and develop their own screens in-house.

imoredaddy says:

Just picked up my iPad mini. Whoever says that the non-retina is not noticeable has bad eyesight or hasn't seen one in person. It is obvious in a big way. Don't get me wrong. It's a great device. Perfect size and the build quality is impeccable. But this thing needs a retina display BAD!!!!

SteveW928 says:

It's not so much that it isn't noticeable, but that we've all been using displays for a LONG time, even all day at work, etc. with lower pixel density than the mini. (And, one doesn't typically hold a tablet as close as a phone, where it certainly becomes more noticeable... the distance away makes a huge difference.) It is a nice feature but not a necessity-type feature I'd be willing to trade battery life or performance for.

okli says:

right as usual big W...
7.9" is the only way Apple could go regarding software compatibility &batt.life&margins .
its basically a iPhone3/GS display with more than double the size...no one complained for two years about that... even it had to be hold closer to the eyes... the distance is the key factor ...
because retina judgment of our eyes depends on the distance of the device from the eye-pupils... HD fire/Nex7 has 30% more pixels than iPad mini... but iMini has a 35% bigger screen ... this does result in a actual 5% plus for the iMini.... because U could increase the viewing distance by 35% by keeping the same size of the viewed area... so that literally means the iMini is 5% more dense or more retinish (if U wish) than a fireHD/Nex7

angermeans says:

I agree with Rene. I really want this new iPad Mini as it looks great (I saw it today at work as someone got one), but after finally getting my 13" rMBP and thus completing the Apple retina tri fecta (3rd gen iPad, iPhone 4s, and now 13" rMBP) I think it will ultimately end up bothering me as you can see the pixels and as much as people want to say differently it is hard to go back.

iFancruze says:

Non retina now. Apple will get the retina on the next mini so that people will have a reason to upgrade. No more "wow" factor. Just add retina, camera mp, and processor. No wonder Samsung is dominating the smartphone market.

Pascal De Aguiar says:

it's not as well built. You can see it and feel it immediatly.

IamHahn says:

The iPad mini has the same resolution as the iPad 2 correct? My iPad 2 had a gorgeous display, and remember the videos of customers that couldn't guess which iPad was new and had the retina display? If the mini has the same screen in a smaller size it should actually look better...right?

Pascal De Aguiar says:

I'm using it right now to type this comment. It's really a great little machine and I've owned most of the ios devices. The size of this thing compensates the absence of retina. ipads big are actually way too big and heavy when people also travel with their 13" macbook pro retina. big tablets are frankly quite unproductive compared to a laptop so the only point is their portability and the ipad mini achieves that !