Imagining iPad mini 2: Retina display and the gold play?

Analyzing rumors and speculation surrounding Apple's 2nd generation iPad mini, Retina display, and metallic finishes

When the iPad mini launched it garnered universal acclaim for its smaller, thinner, and lighter 7.9-inch form factor that looked light-years ahead of the then 4th generation iPad. Slightly cheaper, the only thing it really seemed to lack was the high density Retina display of its 9.7-inch elder sibling. The reason for that? Retina is hard. You can have Retina, you can have lightness, and you can have battery life, but not all three at the same time. At least not back then. So what about now? Has time let technology catch up? Can Apple ship a Retina iPad mini in 2013?

Retina tax facts

Every device, when it goes Retina for the first time, pays a price in performance. Moving around pixels requires power, and Apple typically pushes the boundaries of what their chipsets can do. That means the graphical processors (GPU) are typically redlined in first-generation Retina devices, doing everything they can simply to push @2x the graphics. The iPhone 4 suffered from this. The Retina MacBook Pro suffered from this. The iPad-3 suffered so badly from this Apple killed it within 6 months. It's the cost of clarity. However, second generation Retina devices, with their more powerful processors, typically do much better. The iPhone 4S and iPad 4 were both much better Retina devices. The Haswell Retina MacBook Pro should likewise be a better Retina device, because the tax has been paid.

When the iPhone 5 went to a 4-inch display, there was no perceptible performance hit, even though the pixels went from 960x640 to 1136x640. A retina iPad mini would likely be similar. Apple has already figured out how to power the 2048x1536 Retina display of the iPad 4 at 264ppi, so powering the same display on the iPad mini 2 at 326ppi wouldn't be too much of a stretch. Most of the tax has already been paid, and newer chipsets like the Apple A6/X and Apple A7/X would hopefully more than make up for any difference the higher density may demand.

So how did Google and Amazon and other competitors manage to go "Retina" with their tiny tablets earlier than Apple? Again, it's the raw pixel count that matter. 1920x1200 (2,304,000 pixels) at ~7 hours of batter life is significantly less than 2048x1536 (3,145,728 pixels) at ~10 hours of battery life. It requires more backlight, it requires more GPU, and it requires more power overall. It's why Apple, the company famous for ever-thinner devices, had to make the iPad 3 thicker than the iPad 2 when it went Retina.

Does the average non-geek know or care about Retina? Would some prefer a faster iPad mini to a denser iPad mini? (Arguably a faster iPad 2 would have been much better than the Retina iPad 3). These are the questions Apple has to balance during the transition.

Apple's a smart company, though. They no doubt have their bases covered with next generation versions of both the standard iPad mini, and the Retina iPad mini. We'll see the latter as soon as battery life allows it.

I'm guessing it'll be October 22 of this year.

Gold standards and deviations

Last year's iPad mini came in the same metallic finishes as last year's iPhone - white and silver and black and slate. Slate, like all shades approaching black, turned out to be extremely challenging to anodize. So, for the iPhone 5s, Apple switched to space gray. Does that mean Apple will switch to space gray for the iPad mini 2 as well? Likely, and for the same reasons. Not only does it look great, space gray is far more durable and resilient than slate, and less scratches and chips mean more happy customers.

The iPhone 5s also came in gold. Easy to produce and a hit either by sheer popularity or due to scarcity, it would also be an interesting option for the iPad mini 2. While Apple likes to keep uniformity in their product lines, what looks great at 4-inches might not hold up so great at 7.9-inches. However, with no design changes due this iPad mini tock cycle, a little superficiality could go a long way.

Would iPhone 5c-style unabashedly plastic colors work even better then? Maybe one day. Right now Apple has shifted the iPod touch down to the popular, colored end of their non-phone mobile device spectrum, and let the iPad mini sit alongside the full-sized iPad at the top. While "fun" is certainly a brand value Apple could use for the iPad mini one day, it's probably not today.

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.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • No 64bit?
  • If it goes A7, it goes 64-bit. That'll be a separate post.
  • I was wondering if having a 64-bit chip would make it a better iPad than the iPad 3 was. Keep in mind, I bought the 3, and when the 4 came out, I didn't care at all. I loved my iPad. I'm excited for the mini 2, and if it jumps to 64-bit like we're all hoping, then it shouldn't need a refresh in March 2014.
  • The A5X in the iPad 3 struggled with Retina. A6X in iPad 4 handled it much more elegantly. 64-bit will help with a lot, but it will be the GPU, not CPU, I think, that dictates Retina display performance.
  • The A6x was still too slow. It was significantly slower than the A6, due to the vast amount of pixels it had to fill. Games simply ran better on the iPhone 5, than they did on the iPad 4. As the retina Mini will have exactly the same resolution as the iPad 5, it needs the same GPU, which being realistic, is still grossly underpowered for such a high resolution. An iPhone 5S has a GPU at around 50gflops. Compare that to the ancient Xbox 360 at around 200gflops, and the X360 renders games (at best) at 1280x720. Much, much more GPU power is needed. Hopefully this time next year Apple will finally be using the PVR Rogue and we'll start to see gFlops into triple digits.
  • Please tell me .. I cant stop googling for rumors :
  • But I really hope they release a new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, I am waiting for that.
  • Me to relpy
  • I truly hope the next mini will have retina, it will be my next tablet if it does.
  • I still use a BlackBerry Playbook wich with its 7" display at 1024x600 is of a similar pixel density to the iPad Mini. I do find myself caving that extra resolution. I think its nearly 2014 and Apple has the know how to put a 1080x1920 screen in an 7.9" tablet. Oh wait, its 4:3 aspect so it will probably be 1080x1440!! (Why!!!) ;-)
  • If past is any indication, then anything other than doubling the resolution is unlikely. It would end up being the same resolution as the current iPad 4. This would keep it on equal footing with all current iPad apps in the App store.. They are kind of stuck with that, or all devs would have to develop apps JUST for the mini.. don't think thats a likely thing to happen.. Basically, it's 2048x1536 resolution for the iPad mini or stay at the lower resolution.
  • 2048x1536. Way more pixels (see above) than 1080p.
  • What do you mean
  • If Apple indeed releases an iPad Mini 2 with the specs hinted/rumored in this article and under 400$, it will, in all honestly, wipe the floor with most of the Android tablets and the Surface 2/Pro 2. If it costs more than 400$ then it would be a nice but, a bit expensive, option.
  • If Apple does add the retina display to the iPad mini next week then it'll want a way to differentiate it from the iPad 5. That's why I think the iPad mini Retina will get the A6X SoC and no Touch ID, and the iPad 5 getting the A7X with Touch ID. As far as pricing on the iPad mini Retina, I still say sells for a starting price of $329 and the old iPad mini sticks around at a starting price of $279 to $299.
  • I can see a Retina iPad mini being more expensive, say $400, and a non-Retina being kept over, iPad 2-like, at $300. Splits the difference, lets people buy what they need.
  • You're right they can. Let's assume Apple does go with the price points you specifically mentioned. In that scenario, I can see the iPad mini Retina having the A7 SoC and Touch ID. The price points in my previous post assume that the iPad mini will get the A6X SoC and no Touch ID. But yes, it can go either way.
  • "Again, it's the raw pixel count that matter. 1920x1080 (2,073,600 pixels) at ~7 hours of batter life is much easier than 2048x1536 (3,145,728) at ~10 hours of battery life. " I don't know about that. The Nexus 7 has a resolution of 1920x1200 (2,304,000 pixels) with ~12.5 hours of battery life, it seems like it would be possible to get 10 hours of life with a greater resolution.
  • I have the nexus 7 and I don't get anywhere near 12 hrs of battery life. I do however, get 10 easily out of my iPad mini and got at least that on both my iPad 3rd gens. According to googles website for the nexus 7 it stAtes: "With up to 9 hours of HD video playback and 10 hours of web browsing or e-reading, there's plenty of juice to get you through the day" So it would seem what Rene stated kind of works and shows that it might just be harder to do than some might think. Not only that but my nexus 7 display seems much much dimmer and of much lower quality than my iPad mini. I don't know if that does anything, but I know apple is known for having very high nits in their displays. I was really hoping for a huge jump when I gave my wife my 1st gen N7 and got my 2nd gen N7. It was a lot better than the 1st gen, but I have to say I still prefer my iPad mini display even with the much lower ppi. I guess to each their own. I do love both for what they do. If android could just catch up on apps I would feel it was more on par (like their phones are to iPhones) with iPads, but they really aren't.
  • I'm just going off what AnandTech rated it. If you have an issue with that number, take it up with them (though cnet seems to back them up). As for the nits issue, it also seems to show you have a dud as the N7 has more nits than any other tablet color accuracy is where the apple displays really shine. nobody beats them.
  • They have a mini iPad ?
  • Great post. This makes an interesting read after seeing the 10/22/13 Apple event. As always, great insights by Rene. Thanks to @daringfireball for pointing the article out for me to re-read it.
  • Nice article. I think the one thing you're ignoring Rene is the display technology. Based on DisplayMate's testing of the iPad 3 display: the main reason the battery in the iPad 3 was 70% larger than the iPad 2 was the backlight. Not the GPU. Not the SoC. Not the individual pixels in the LCD that needed to be changed. The backlight. The reason apparently has something to do with the transmissivity of the display technology. The higher resolution displays have more "things" (devices, circuits) in the way of the light transmission and so less of the backlight is used to brighten the display (gated by the LCDs) and more goes into heat. At the time the theory was that Sharp's IGZO display technology was supposed to fix this. I suppose we'll here soon enough if that is what is in the new iPads or not, and how much of a change this made. However, given that the iPad is now much lighter than the iPad 2 even, I assume something like this had to happen. Should know soon.