Imagining iPad 5: Lighter, thinner design, gold as standard

Imagining iPad 5: Lighter, thinner design

Analyzing rumors and speculation surrounding Apple's 5th generation iPad casing, color, and design

Looking back, the original iPad was thick, heavy, RAM-starved, and low resolution. It was also magnificent. A big iPhone, according to its detractors, unimaginative, and, of course, doomed. Turns out it was an iPhone gone IMAX, bigger but also broader, as imaginative as the person using it, and the next evolution of personal computing. But, thick and heavy. Apple fixed that somewhat with the iPad 2, regressed slightly with the iPad 3 and 4, and then showed the world a thinner, lighter future with the 7.9-inch iPad mini. The iPad mini was so light and thin it was impossible to look at it and not want the same design on the 9.7-inch iPad 5. And it looks like that just might be exactly what we get...

Barriers to lifting

Would you want an iPad 5 that looks and feels just like an iPad mini?

The iPad mini is a fantastic device. Never you mind the screen is still standard density - for now - it's so small and so light it's very quickly become the tablet for many people. The size is important, of course. The ability to fit into purses and even pockets. But the weight is important to. The ability to hold the iPad mini up for longer periods of time just makes it better for everything from reading a book to watching a movie to surfing the web.

Yet size matters too. For many tasks, you want as big a screen as possible as well. Whether you're working on documents or reading a comic or catching up on a TV show, for the same reason people love big screens in the living room and theater, they love big screens in their hands.

Up until now, technology simply didn't allow for a 2048x1536 Retina display in a thin, light enclosure, with anything approaching 10 hours of battery life. All Apple could get was two of the three. For the iPad mini, that meant light and long-lasting, but not Retina. For the full-sized iPad, that meant Retina and long-lasting, but not light.

Going for all three requires more power efficient screen technology, including backlight, and more power efficient processors. Battery chemistry isn't getting better anywhere nearly quickly enough, but Apple is getting better at improving and sourcing everything around it.

If they can go from two LED backlights down to one, if they can use an Apple A7X and the Apple M7 coprocessor instead of the older Apple A6X, and if they can squeeze as much power to performance efficiency out of everything else, they have a shot at doing it.

A 9.7-inch iPad that's proportionately as thin and light as the iPad mini, will let everyone who wants a bigger canvas to work and play on to have it. It won't be as light as the mini, but it won't be anywhere nearly as heavy as past full-sized models as well. Many people may still choose the much more pocketable iPad mini, but it'll give everyone who really wants the bigger screen and much better, much more usable package for it as well.

Metallics unfinished

Imagining iPad 5 and iPad mini 2: Touch ID, Apple A7, and M7

With the iPhone 5s Apple kept the same silver and white finish they used on last year's iPhone 5, but they switched the old slate and black to a new space gray, and added an entirely new gold and white finish to the mix. In a tock year where the iPhone didn't change design, it turns out the appearance of change was even more important. People flocked to the gold.

The 9.7-inch iPad has never had multiple metallic options. The original faceplate came in your choice of black or black, and subsequent models have come in your choice of black and white. All with the same, stately, aluminum backplate.

The iPad mini, however, got the same white and silver and black and slate options as the iPhone 5. So, if the full-sized iPad is taking on the same design language as the iPad mini, and the rest of the line, it makes sense it'll take on the same finishes as well.

Slate was a hard color to anodize, and it was prone to all sorts of chips and scratches. Space gray should be far more resilient, and isn't exactly bad looking either. The iPad 5 going from slate to space is a no-brainer.

Gold, however, still requires much brain. Apple has tended towards uniformity of color across their product lines in the past, and it's certainly possible they'll do so again and push gold out across their premium product line. Gold is an easy color to produce, and Apple proven they can do it and do it well. It looks great on the iPhone 5s, but would it look great at full-sized iPad scale? Would it be more gold to love, or too much of a gold thing?

More to come

iMore will be providing complete coverage of Apple's October 22 iPad and Mac event, including and especially the iPad 5 and iPad mini 5.

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Apple's full-sized iPad gets slimmed down. Features include:

Complete review >

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Imagining iPad 5: Lighter, thinner design, gold as standard


I was hoping they would keep slate around. Really like the look and feel of it. Looks like I'll be stuck with space gray which.. I suspect, won't be such a bad thing.

Georgia's dream of a narrower bezel just might come true. I think the iPad mini's narrow lengthwise bezels are possible only because of the chamfering. The chamfering adds two slightly sharp edges, which create more friction against your thumb. This makes it possible to one-hand the iPad mini, with thumb on top, without covering much if any of the screen.

As a demonstration of the chamfer's friction increase, try holding an iPad mini upside down with one hand and thumb on top (over a bed or other cushion.) You won't be able to move your thumb anywhere near the edge, because the edge is rounded on the back. I think we'll be seeing that chamfered edge on all iPads present and future.

I've had every iPad there ever was and have always been able to hold it under one thumb, on the edge, without any part of my thumb touching the screen. The iPad 3 was so heavy that it threatened to flip out of your hand when held this way, but it was the weight that was the problem, not the design of the edge. Any reasonably nimble fingered person can hold *any* iPad this way.

I would personally like to see Apple reduce the side bezels by about 50% on the iPad mini as well. They are currently 6.5 mm which is huge and could easily be 3mm.

"All Apple could get was two of the three."

And yet again the perpetuation of the myth. I don't remember Apple saying that this was impossible at the time, nor anything about this "two out of three" theory. I wish there would be some references from Apple about that.

This is purely speculation based on the assumption that Apple did not use a lower resolution screen simply to keep its margin as high as possible and to test the 7" market minimizing its research effort. There was simply no need for a retina screen at the time because Apple knew it could get away with a cheaper screen and everything they had ready from the iPad 2.

Truth is, at the launch of the iPad mini last *everybody* knew that the next model would have a retina screen so people could be induced to upgrade.

I hope Apple doesn't go gold on the iPads, it would look incredibly tacky.

What worries me more is the idea that the iPad mini might actually be a heavier, thicker version like iPad 3 which was just an awful brick of a thing. With any luck they will have an iPad mini with an A7 and TouchID, and keep it within a gram of the current weight.

Retina is a boondoggle IMO and I would rather have a mini with a "standard" screen that weighed significantly less over a retina one that weighs more. People who drool over retina and think they "can't use" a computer without it are the same folks that buy a car based on the corinthian leather seats. It's nice to have but it has nothing to do with it's "car-ness," just like retina has very little affect on using your computer. It's really just something to brag about.

T's iPad 5 Wish List
- 10+ inch screen (seriously, I want an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper size screen, mainly for sheet music but also for reading)
- Thinner, lighter, faster, stronger
- Touch ID
- M7 (sure I'll take one)
- All the usual updates (faster processor, better camera, etc.)