Why It Makes Sense For The iPad Mini To Be An iPad 2 On The Inside

So there is probably an iPad Mini of some sort coming next month. But while what it will look like is still anyone's guess, we may have just gotten a pretty big clue about what its insides — and they're familiar than you might think.

Last night, Instapaper developer Marco Arment wrote about two new iPad 2 models showing up in his usage logs — iPad2,5 and iPad2,6. Those names seemed to indicate new models using the iPad 2's A5 chip, which Arment probably correctly argues makes more sense as an iPad Mini. That sounds about right.

Why This Makes Sense

Arment rightly pointed out that using the die-shrunk 32nm A5 to the iPad Mini would continue Apple's (and especially Tim Cook's) time-tested strategy of extending the life of already-developed technology by continuing to sell it, just cheaper. Filling in a product lineup with a new product built around that old tech is just a natural extension of the idea.

And Apple really gets every last drop out of its engineering. Consider: It's still got the iPhone 3GS in production, even though it was released in June 2009. The super efficient 32nm A5 was just pushed out this year. It makes total sense that Apple would be willing to use it as the foundation for a brand new product.

And considering an iPad Mini wouldn't have to push the massive amount of pixels of the iPad 3 — probably not even a retina-level of pixels for its 7.85-inch screen — a drop back to 512MB of RAM wouldn't be the end of the world. Sure, the Nexus 7 has 1GB, but so did basically every Android phone when Apple ran out the 512MB 4S. And don't be surprised if price-conscious Amazon foregoes 1GB of RAM for less (and cheaper). The Fire's custom Android interface was actually really smooth, and it's probably not going to get that much of an overhaul. So an iPad with 512MB of RAM might not be as outgunned as you'd think. And it would help Apple be cost competitive with the cutthroat Nexus 7.

But Didn't Everyone Decide It Won't Be A Tiny Ipad 2?

Well, yes and no. We've taken a crack at imagining what an iPad Mini might look like. Others disagreed. But those are all ergonomics, not guts. In fact, almost all of the discussion about the Mini thus far has been about its size, and how that would be held, or if iOS could scale to that size and remain usable. No one's talked all that much about internals.

But maybe that's a mistake. How Apple decides to spec an iPad Mini is deeply interesting, because it's got to keep up with the high-octane Nexus 7, as well as a soon-to-be-updated Kindle Fire. But here's the thing: The A5 is actually still really good! It mostly held its own against the A5X (iPad 3) and the Tegra 3 in benchmarking, and the 32nm version improves battery life to boot.

What About Retina?

The one hiccup to the A5 theory is that it may not be powerful enough to support an iPad Mini retina display, and it's strange to think of a major Apple product being released without one. Sure, Apple has concerned itself with the lower end of the market more lately, with stuff like the free iPhone 3GS and the $US50 iPhone 4. But it's been a long time since we've seen a brand new Apple product without all of Cupertino's considerable weaponry at its disposal.

It might make sense this time, though, to forego retina. For one, the iPad had to get fatter and heavier and hotter in order to accommodate the battery its retina screen required. The smaller a device, the less surface area it has to cram in battery. A fat, sweaty, stumpy iPad Mini is no one's idea of a good time.

Plus, an inexpensive iPad Mini that sets the precedent for a one-and-a-half-cycle-old chipset to be used, in order to keep cost down, would fit perfectly into Apple's pricing structure.

Still, points of differentiation on seven-inch tablets are small as it is. The Nexus 7 with Jellybean is smooth as a tub of Project Butter, and the Kindle Fire has already proven its worth. Without a retina screen to blast the competition away, it risks looking average. But with it, all these reasonable, inexpensive guts look less realistic.


Comments

    It better come with sandpaper as promised by Steve.

    This is just a cash grab for Apple. They want the low end of the market but they don't want to give up their profit margin. Either you want the low end to use your app store or not apple - make a choice. The nexus 7 is successful because it's cutting edge at its price point. There are more tech savvy consumers than Apple think.

      Their strategy has served them pretty well so far, but I'm sure they will read what you wrote and change it. Oh, and it's 'thinks' - those plurals can be tricky.

        Where is everyone complaining about Apple fragmenting its market?

          wouldnt the OS be the same tho? and same app store, so not really fragmenting
          just making it confusing for their customers

          ppl who buy it will basically be branded as the porsche boxster drivers of the ipad world
          "i own a nice car, but i couldnt afford the full specced model, my peers will laff at me"

          The ipad is now a consumer fashion accessory more than anything now. the target market will buy it even without thinking whether its got great specs or not. So its all about price. ppl who buy apple products generally dont compare apple with android. they compare apples with apples. its just that up until now theres only ever really been 1 ipad

        Yeah the whole English language can be tricky buddy. You've probably never finished a year one English class or you could've learnt that sentence makes perfect sense, without the colloquial "s" appendage. Slow down turbo.

    Only reason I will be buying this is because of the music creation apps not being available on Android. If Android address the latency issues (the Jelly Bean improvements still not anywhere near as low as iOS) I would change my ecosystem from Apple to Google at he drop of a hat as I think the Nexus 7 is the ultimate tablet on the market at this point in time.

    Of course it won't have a retina display. They'll be saving that for gen 2. We all know the apple life cycle. Make a substandard product and hype the hell out of it. Once its sales figures start to drop release an updated version (with everything they could of put in gen 1) and let everyone buy it again.

    You think they're not working on gen 2 iPad mini right now?

    So they are going to sell 2 year old technology and pass it off as new?

    Brilliant.

    Honestly, after all of of these BS iPad mini rumours, I'm hoping it's NOT true. I'm gonna be laughing so hard if all Apple have to show is the new iPhone.

    I don't think apple will launch with anything less than the best specs in the category. That means a high Res display and enough grunt to drive the user experience smoothly. Anything else seems unlikely, given where their previous products have been positioned.

    At the heart of all apples is pure evil. I am sure whatever they produce it will be successful. Evil appeals to the masses.

      Yes. Every Apple product has a piece of a baby's soul in it. Also, they eat kittens.

    " the free iPhone 3GS and the $US50 iPhone 4." oh man I still find it hilarious when people say that sort of thing. I've actually had conversations with people where they talk about their free phone. Can't keep a straight face.

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