Now that the iPhone 5 is out, there's just one more thing for Apple nerds to freak out over: The iPad Mini. Rumours have been cropping up like crazy the past few weeks -- enough to start putting together what we'll actually see from a 7-inch Apple tablet. Apple is holding an event tomorrow for what looks to be the iPad Mini, but what do we know about it so far?
So let's talk iPads. Small iPads.
What Will It Look Like?
If the accuracy of the iPhone 5 leaks is anything to go by, we've probably got a pretty good jump on what the new tablet will look like. What we've seen so far jibes with previous thoughts that the bezel on the smaller iPad will be thinner than it is on the full-sized version, due to ergonomics.
Otherwise, surprise! It reportedly looks like a shrunk-down iPad (as opposed to a bigger iPod touch). There had been decent amount of conflicting speculation, but the rumourmongers (and, more importantly, leaked images) seem to have settled on the squatter version, to the tune of a 7.85-inch diagonal measurement.
iOS can easily scale down to a 7.85-inch screen as-is and remain usable. So there shouldn't be any concerns about fragmenting the platform with different versions of iPad apps for the two sizes.
Here's the first photo we've seen of a purported iPad Mini actually working:
We've also seen similar a similar model lined up next to a Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7.
Update: A Ukrainian iPhone blog has also claimed to have leaked parts to the iPad Mini, with some new details. Appearance-wise, it's got an anodised black aluminium backplate.
Chances are an iPad Mini would look a lot like an iPad 2 on the inside. That means using the die-shrunk 32nm A5 processor and probably 512MB of RAM. The only big internal departure from the iPad 2, in fact, would probably be the inclusion of a Lightning port instead of a 30-pin connector. And for what it's worth, all of the cases and mockups we've seen have had rear-facing camera.
Stuffing the iPad 2's guts into a smaller iPad Mini makes even more sense after Apple outed the new A5-powered iPod touch. Tim Cook's Apple is all about supply chain efficiency. And having sunk some cash into shrinking down the A5 fairly recently for the upgraded iPad 2 and now the iPod touch, it would make total sense for an iPad Mini to squeeze as much out of that component as possible.
Early on, it was assumed that a small iPad might not have a retina display. As a value proposition -- added cost and battery consumption -- it just didn't seem to add up. But the Kindle Fire HD's gorgeous 216ppi screen changed that calculus, as did the possible availability of battery-friendly Sharp Izgo displays.
Some photos and measurements (supposedly) of the iPad Mini seem to indicate that it doesn't have an Aspect Ratio of 4:3 like the full size iPads (see link below). Note that Apple just increased the Aspect Ratio of the iPhone 5 up to 1.78 from 1.50 for the iPhone 4, so it isn't unreasonable to assume that the same thing could happen with the iPad Mini, especially if it is positioned for selling TV content, which has 16:9. An Aspect Ratio of 4:3 is great for reading because it has the same Aspect Ratio as content on 8.5x11 inch documents, but a smaller 7 to 8 inch screen with a 4:3 Aspect Ratio will be noticeably Letterboxed with 16:9 content, with reduced image size.
Keeping the 768 pixel height will allow Apps expecting 1024x768 to be displayed with Letterbox borders in the same way as on the iPhone 5.
Here are the possibilities:
1024x768 is 4:3 = 1.33
1152x768 is 4.5:3 = 1.50 < -- Most Likely based on photo
1228x768 is 16:10 = 1.60
1366x768 is 16:9 = 1.78
The Kindle Fire HD's gorgeous screen really holds Apple over the coals to nail the display on an iPad Mini. Especially if the latter costs as much as we think it might.
Update: The WSJ reports that the iPad Mini will have a "lower resolution" than the most recent full-sized iPad, which implies no retina display for you. This makes the question of pricing very interesting.
There haven't been too many rumours about the price of a small iPad, but the biggest clue might come from Apple itself. The new iPod Touch starts at $329 in Australia. It would be kind of nuts if Apple started selling a 7.85-inch tablet for the same price as its iPod -- or for less. This year's iPad starts at $539, and the iPad 2 at $429. So the Mini will have to dance around those price points as well. Whatever it ends up costing, though, it seems like it will be a good deal more expensive than its competitors the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7.
There are a few rumours floating around that the Mini will have 3G, but there's nothing overly convincing either way. We would note, though, that both the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7 only come in Wi-Fi only. And that there may not be enough room in that 7.85-inch frame to squeeze a battery that can handle data suckage with any competence.
While we're all using "iPad Mini" as a working title, it doesn't seem to be based on anything in particular. So it could be called anything. For what it's worth, though, the backplates we've seen have just said "iPad".
Right now, the best rumour we have for a release date says the invitations will go out on October 10. That would probably mean an October 17 event. Apple typically releases products one or two Fridays after its keynotes.
For what it's worth, those Fridays are October 26, the release date for Windows 8, and November 2, just a few days before the US presidential election.
Update: The WSJ reports that iPad Mini component production has already kicked into high gear, with LG Display and AU Optronics cranking out LCD screens as early as last month. That reinforces the timeline rumoured above, but the one guarantee is that if Apple does put out a small iPad this year, it will be in time for the Christmas shopping season.