iPad mini preview redux

iPad mini preview redux

The iPad mini. It's been the subject of rumor and speculation. Its size has been labeled as DOA by no less than Steve Jobs himself. Its very existence has been doubted, and not without reason. Yet the iPad mini is real. 7.85-inches and not crippled by smartphone software stretched out, but made powerful by tablet software at scale. The iPad mini is an iPad, only slightly smaller and thinner, and much, much lighter. And Apple will likely be announcing it on October 23.

iPad mini timeline

Apple has been experimenting with smaller form factor tablet for while, perhaps as far back as the original Safari pad project that ultimately yielded the iPhone in 2007, and certainly since Apple SVP Eddy Cue helped warm Apple's late co-founder, Steve Jobs to the idea back in 2011.

Back in May of 2012, iMore learned that Apple had decided to go ahead with the iPad mini, that it would be running the iPad version of iOS, that it would cost around $200-$250, and that it was tentatively planned for an October 2012 release.

Since then more details have emerged, and the release has gone from tentative to likely. While nothing is ever certain, much less confirmed, until Apple holds it up on stage, here's an updated run through of what we think we know to date.

The iPad mini form factor

iPad mini won't be much smaller, but will be a lot narrower, thinner, and lighter

With a screen that diagonally measures 7.85 inches across, the iPad mini may not seem that much smaller than the current 9.7-inch iPad. That's exactly the points. It's not supposed to be a major compromise in screen size or usability. It's supposed to be a major compromise in overall volume and weight. It'll be a similar type of optical illusion to the one Apple achieved with smaller-but-larger, less-of-it-but-more of it iPhone 5. The iPad mini will seem impossibly thin and light, yet the screen will still look relatively big, especially with the reduced bezel around the sides.

That thinner bezel is made possible by the iPad mini's relative thinness and lightness, just like the iPod touch's thinness and lightness allows for almost no side bezel. As the physical size shrinks from iPad to iPad mini to iPod touch, so can the side bezel, without overly effecting usability.

The important thing to remember in all this, however, is that the iPad mini won't be a big iPod touch. It will be a small iPad. That makes for a huge difference.

The iPad mini finish and colors

The iPad has always had an aluminum back, unlike the iPhone and iPod touch which only joined that particular club this year. The iPod touch 5 even comes in multiple colors now, including blue, red, yellow, and pink, just like the iPods nano and shuffle.

Because the iPad mini is a lower-cost line, like the iPods, it's tempting to think Apple might release them in fun, flashy colors as well. The current iPad was black only in the first generation, and the more upscale and traditional white and black only in the last two generations. So, while it's possible the iPad mini could go polychromatic at some point, it probably won't be this year. What's more likely is that Apple could use the new finishing processes found in the iPhone 5 and iPod touch 5 to make for an incredibly precise if not incredibly scratch resistant iPad mini enclosure.

The iPad mini purpose

Amazon Kindle bikini ad

Neither the 7 inch BlackBerry PlayBook, nor the 7 inch Amazon Kindle Fire, nor the 7 inch Google Nexus 7 have taken the world by storm. In fact, most of them aren't even that usable outside the U.S. due to the lack of content RIM, Amazon, and Google can provide internationally.

Apple won't have that problem. They already have the iTunes Store at global scale, and they already sell the current iPad in over 90 countries world wide. The iPad mini will be the same story, only with lighter, less expensive hardware. And that's important. Even considering the current iPad's incredible market lead, some customers may simply not be buying it because it's too heavy or too expensive. With an iPad mini,

Apple's goal is to mainstream computing. They want to sell hundreds of millions of devices that delight exactly the type of consumer usually left frustrated and alienated by technology. The iPad mini removes two large, expensive barriers of entry.

It will also, frankly, step on Amazon and hard. If Apple chooses to put a heavy emphasis on books for the iPad mini, that pressure only intensifies. Right now, chances are if you walk onto an airplane you might see some Kindles mixed in with the iPads. The iPad mini is aimed at fixing that.

The iPad mini interface

The original iPhone interface had 44 pixel touch targets at 163 ppi. The original iPad kept the same 44 pixel touch target but at a lower density, 132 ppi. That made them physically bigger. Scaling the 9.7-inch iPad interface down to 7.85-inches simply returns those 44 pixel touch targets to 163 ppi, the same physical size as the original iPhone. It will be slightly big for one handed use, slightly small for two, but it will be eminently workable. The "slack" that currently exists between 3.5-inch iPhone interface elements and 9.7-inch iPad elements would just disappear, and you'd have the same basic iPad look with the same basic iPhone usability. Here's how it would work:

The iPad mini display

On one hand, it's hard to imagine Apple releasing a non-Retina iOS device at this point. The current generation iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad are all running at Retina resolutions. On the other hand, no iOS device has ever been introduced with a Retina display. The original iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad were all launched with standard displays, and later received Retina displays as part of their upgrade cycles.

Rumor has it, Apple experimented with a Retina display in the 2011 iPad 2 but due to price and yield issues, had to wait until the 2012 iPad to ship it. Arguably, 2048x1536 is right at the edge of what the 9.7-inch iPad can handle. Even with a slightly more modern chipset, a smaller device might not have the room for a battery big enough to power it.

It's possible Apple has experimented with a Retina display for the iPad mini, and may well introduce one in a future model, but for cost and performance issues, a standard, iPhone 3GS density display sounds more likely this year.

What's more interesting, however, is whether or not Apple will use the same new in-cell technology as they do in the iPhone 5 and iPod touch 5. With the touch sensor combined into the LCD, two layers become one and the pixels get closer to the surface than ever before, and it could make for the best looking non-Retina panel ever.

The iPad mini and LTE

There have been some rumors saying Apple won't include cellular connectivity in the iPad mini in an effort to either keep costs down or artificially differentiate the iPad mini from the current iPad. Keeping costs down is a non-reason. The current iPad has a low cost, Wi-Fi only option, and a $130 up-sell for cellular. Apple could and likely will do the same here. And since there's a real differentiator, namely size, Apple doesn't need an artificial one.

Sure, the iPod touch has never had a cellular radio, but this is an iPad mini, not an iPod maxi. The Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire 7 are useless to anyone who needs cellular data. It's highly unlikely Apple will ship an iPad mini -- an even more mobile iPad -- that isn't great at being mobile.

Put the new, iPhone 5-class cellular radio in the iPad mini, and you have an international data powerhouse.

What Apple could call the 7-inch iPad

The name game: What Apple could call the 7-inch iPad

"7-inch iPad", "iPad mini", "iPad Air", or something else entirely, whatever name Apple chooses for the new, smaller iPad will influence how the public understands the device and its place in the iOS lineup.

Apple's branding is typically as succinct as Occam's Razor. Earlier this year, they took it a step further and rebranded what would have been the iPad 3 as simply the (new) iPad. While we probably won't see Phil Schiller on stage beneath a slide reading "the small iPad", we probably will see him beneath one reading something similarly simple. Here are the possibilities:

Could Apple sell a $200 iPad mini?

Apple has a long history of successfully marketing the same form factor at multiple sizes. Just look at the MacBook Pro and Macbook Air lines. You have 11-, 13-, and 15-inches options (and until a couple of months ago, 17-inches as well). Tablets could just as easily come in multiple sizes. Once you pick an aspect ratio, the size should just be an option.

An 8GB iPad mini with a 7.85-inch screen is a legitimate trade-off against a 16GB iPod touch 4 with a 3.5-inch screen at $2xx dollars. A higher capacity iPad mini is also a legitimate trade-off against a higher capacity iPod touch 5. For Apple, lack of size isn't a discountable feature. Mobility is a sellable feature.

Nothing other than what Apple thinks is the best balance between what will drive the highest revenue and gain the most marketshare will determine the price point.

iOS 6.x + apps

Rumors have persisted that Apple has more plans for iOS 6 than were unveiled at WWDC 2012 or were made publicly available in the iOS 6.0 release version that shipped back on September 19. Whether or not that's true, and whether or not Apple intends to show off more to coincide with the iPad mini and the release of iTunes 11, it's absolutely true that Apple believes software is the heart and soul of any new device.

In the past, when Apple released new versions of iOS alongside new iPhones in the summer, iOS x.1 releases followed new iPod touches in the fall. Last year it took until the spring. If Apple wants a software story to go along with the new iPad mini hardware, however, if they want Scott Forstall up on stage, showing off something other than iPad OS 6 but smaller, then we could well see iOS 6.x sooner rather than later.

Taking on Amazon means taking on books, however, and more boldly and broadly than ever before. So if Apple is serious about iBooks, we could also see the next phase of that alongside the iPad mini.

iPad mini release date

November 2nd makes a lot of sense. It's the next Friday after the event, which has been the traditional launch day for Apple hero devices in recent years, and it would give Apple as much time as possible to sell the iPad mini during their strong holiday quarter.

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 29 comments. Add yours.

tomsunny says:

it is a fake price, we can't believe the scientific website's rumors.
But we can judge the price of iPad mini depend on its parts here http://www.etradesupply.com/apple/ipad/apple-ipad-mini.html

eric6052 says:

I have an iPad 3 so I won't be buying a Mini but I'm really excited to see it in person. I will be ordering this size in a year or so for my kids instead of getting them an iPod Touch. They already use mine and my wife's iPads so it's a no brainier to get them a Mini that's cheaper and the size is more appropriate for kids. Rene and everyone else has been doing a great job covering Apple news this year and I look forward to more.

trickedoutdavid says:

i just feel that if apple keeps releasing products the way they do... (releasing the worst versions and then producing the one they actually intended on creating later on)... regular folks will start to catch on... i myself know to never get an apple product on its first year (or second for that matter)... its like how i got the 2nd gen ipod just to find that a hugely diff 4th was out next year... but this time.. 200 bucks wont be wasted... $350+ will... so what im really trying to say is that there is no real reason to buy a mini in its first year because Apple will just abandon in two years like it did the first ipad... wait two or three years... wait for the product to be ripe... then go ahead and spend the money

johnswilson1 says:

@trickedoutdavid

I disagree. For one, every couple of years Apple tends to redo the device completely. So you're basically suggesting waiting until when? 3rd year! 5th year? It'll continue to get lighter, thinner and faster. It has to. They'll always want to sell more devices. Second, you make it seem as though an old Apple device on eBay or Craisglist can't sell. They do. And for a lot.

paulthefencer says:

You could do that, but then you'd be robbing yourself of at least a years worth of pleasure with your iOS device. I've had every version of iPod, for example, starting with the classic, then I had every version of the iPod Touch, including the Touch 5 that I got last weekend. If I took your approach and just kept waiting for some unforseen "newer" "better" iPod, or iPad for that matter, I'd be missing out on a lot. That being said, I bought the first iPad. I didn't buy the iPad 2 as I didn't feel, at the time, that there were enough extra features to warrant spending another $600, seeing that I bought the first iPad about 5 months after it was released. So buying another one 6 or 7 months later didn't make sense. But even though the iPad 2 was out and going strong, I still had an absolute blast with my first iPad. I have since upgraded to the iPad 3 and it obviously is much more advanced than the first version. I have no real interest in the iPad mini, but for those that are seriously considering it, especially those that have never owned any iPad before...don't wait. Use it now and have fun with it. If something newer and better comes along in a year or so then so be it. You will have had a year of enjoyment out of it.

gizmotakeout says:

That is why you try it out first at gizmotakeout

meerkat says:

I wonder if Apple might be tempted to bring back a product name from the past...... iBook!

It's been a few years since the last iBook G4 was shipped and many of Apple's recent customers will never have heard of it. iBook is such a simple way to convey the probable, primary purpose of the device. It might sound a bit clumsy to talk of running iBooks on the iBook but I'm sure Apple could create the "language" to say this elegantly.

Anyway, just throwing it out there,I'm sure I'm not the first to suggest this name.

C.

nasned says:

I disagree that the mini wont have retina display. That would be one step forward and two steps back. The other products weren't released with retina because it was 1) not around yet or 2) too new (iPad 1). Apple would be making a huge mistake by not integrating retina out of the gate....IMHO

S.Mulji says:

Here's a good post from John Gruber on why he thinks it won't.

http://daringfireball.net/2012/10/ipad_questions_and_answers

KCMike says:

I don't believe it'll have the Retina display either. It's gotta be part of the keeping the costs down.

Aenean144 says:

A 2048x1536 would require a rather expensive GPU to power properly, something in the class of an Apple A6 or A5X GPU. It's just too high end. Next year, when the A6 gets really cheap to produce, would be a logical time for it to happen.

nitishgera says:

Somehow I just don't see them NOT putting Retina on the iPad Mini.
It just doesn't fit into my Apple logic.
How're they gonna introduce that : "So here's the gorgeous display. It's not retina, but it's gorgeous" ?!?!
Just doen't fit.

renstein says:

I think they will try to show off all the content created with the iBooks Author. Amazon went really hard after the fiction market, but due to the limitations of e-ink has not been as successful in the non-fiction and textbook markets. This is what Apple will want to show off in the presentation. They will really want to show off the maturity of iBooks Author, and the selection of great textbook (and colourful photo and children's books) and non-fiction books available. This is how Apple competes in the book market.

I agree with the people about the lack of a retina display. This thing is supposed to be thin and light and cheap. A retina display would not be cheap and would require a powerful GPU that will increase weight and expense.

Faloopa says:

Great piece as usual Rene. One point of disagreement on this quote: "Nothing other than what Apple thinks is the best balance between what will drive the highest revenue and gain the most marketshare will determine the price point."

You left out what I think is the most important piece of the equation: profit. I'd replace the word 'revenue' in your sentence with the word 'profit,' and I don't mean that in a flippant way; I think it really is the way Apple thinks.

If we know anything about Apple's pricing, it's that they don't sell hardware at a loss or at cost like Amazon or Google. They make a standard profit margin across their line, with larger margins on more expensive products. If they can't make their expected margin, they don't do it. And I don't think they can make their expected margin on an 8-inch tablet if they sell it for $200. If you look at their existing line and pricing, it tells you what they think they can do. Right now they sell the iPad 2 for $400. I don't think they can shave a couple inches diagonally and then cut the price in HALF.

My prediction is $300. My second prediction is that the internet will throw a tizzy fit like we haven't seen for... well for about a month. My third prediction is that Apple will sell about 50 million in the holiday quarter.

iPadBadBoy says:

I hope apple go all in on the mini it's going to be a super seller my hope Is that it comes in colors and cellular radio

stuntmonkey says:

I won't mind if it doesn't have the retina display, but I do hope that it will have an iPhone-like screen in whatever way they manufactured the glass/lcd assembly. I went on vacation and was reading ebooks off of my 4s for hours on end without any eyestrain. If the iPad mini is going to be something portable and used everywhere, reading is going to be a big part of that.

chaoticbuddhist says:

No Retina. It will be called iPad. It will be more than JUST an iPad. I have been saying for almost two years that this product is going to be more like a big iPad with Apple TV remote control capabilities as well as ultimately controlling your entire home....

prophoto1 says:

man oh man! i am soooo excited about this one! i had an iPad before but the size was a bit to much for me! this ia the size that i have been waiting for! very portable! and its going to be released around my birthday! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! it also comes out in tme for my business trip! great for taking notes on as well!

gizmotakeout says:

We have seen a lot of interest for the ipad mini at gizmotakeout. So I am pretty sure it will sell well, however it may also mean that a lot of people want to try it out first in their hands before committing.

Dark_Blu says:

Besides an "affordable price point", what Apple could do here to crush everyone and everything is colors. Red. Black. Blue. Green. Pink. Purple. Even Yellow. And as much as some of us would bitch about Apple for this and that, every one of us would go out and buy one in OUR COLOR. :-)

Of course, you can get the same effect with different color cases. ;-)

eldops says:

why don't they change the name for ipod touch to iPad Nano, soo iPad 10inch, iPad mini 7inch, iPad nano 4inch, sounds good isnt it?

zunex says:

For me it sounds right with the name "7-inch iPad". BTW how is the battery life of this baby in your opinions?

Rosaura1234 says:

I am indeed excited about the news ,what will the iPad Mini give us?Surprise or disappointment,not sure.

Dark_Blu says:

Is anyone moderating these comments at all, because these fake work from home clowns keep showing up.