Why Apple couldn’t make the iPad mini with a Retina display

“It’s easy to say the iPad mini should have a Retina display, but unfortunately for Apple and for us, it’s not so easy to engineer,” Rene Ritchie reports for iMore. “It comes at a cost.”

“Apple achieves Retina display while maintaining software compatibility by pixel doubling both horizontal and vertical resolution. 1 pixel at standard density becomes divided into 4 pixels at Retina density,” Ritchie reports. “It comes down to technology and price. The goal of the iPad mini was thinness and lightness; to give you everything the full-sized iPad has but in a more concentrated form. When the full-sized iPad went Retina, it actually got slightly thicker and heavier. Apple couldn’t have an iPad mini that was that thin, light, and cheap, with 10 hours of battery life, and a Retina display. They had to choose 2 of the 3, and they chose form factor and battery.”

Ritchie reports, “Apple might have been able to put a Retina display in the iPad mini, but it would required it to be as thick and almost as heavy, and cost almost as much, as the iPad 4. That’s not the device Apple wanted to make, and likely not the device most of us would want to buy. So Apple compromised on screen density in order to deliver a thinner, lighter, cheaper iPad mini today. When technology and costs allow for a thin, light, cheap iPad mini with a Retina display and the same great battery life, we’ll get one.”

Much more, including photos and screenshots, in the full article – recommended – here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Brawndo Drinker” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
InfoWorld reviews Apple’s iPad mini: Far superior; outclasses Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD, Google Nexus 7, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 – November 6, 2012
Thurrott reviews Apple iPod touch and iPad mini: ‘demonstrably better than the competition; incredibly desirable tech devices’ – November 6, 2012
Ars Technica reviews Apple’s iPad mini: You’ll find yourself reaching for it over a full-sized iPad with Retina display – November 6, 2012
24 hours with Apple’s iPad mini: This is the real iPad – November 6, 2012
Why I just dumped my iPad 3 for iPad mini – November 5, 2012
DisplayMate: Apple’s iPad mini offers ‘just a very capable display’ – November 5, 2012
Apple’s iPad mini and ultra-mobile computing – November 5, 2012
Demand for Apple’s new iPad mini is huge – November 5, 2012
The Register reviews Apple’s iPad mini: ‘The tablet even Apple anti-fans won’t be able to leave alone’ – November 5, 2012
Apple sells three million iPads in three days; double previous first weekend sales – November 5, 2012
The Independent reviews Apple’s iPad mini: High-end gadget is worth the price – October 31, 2012
CNET reviews Apple’s iPad mini: The new standard for little-tablet design – October 31, 2012
NYT’s Pogue reviews Apple’s iPad mini: ‘All the iPad goodness in a more manageable size; it’s awesome’ – October 31, 2012
USA Today’s Baig reviews Apple’s iPad mini: ‘A splendid choice; terrific for reading, watching movies and playing games’ – October 31, 2012
Mossberg reviews Apple’s iPad mini: ‘An impressive feat; the perfect solution’ – October 31, 2012


        1. I have a full-sized iPad with retina display, and it gets warm during use. The processing power to move those retina pixels (four times more than a regular iPad, and even more than my 27″ LED Cinema display!) uses more power and generates more heat. I suspect the power and heat problems would require compromises in the Mini that Apple wasn’t will to make. And if they did, the public would be more than happy to complain about them too.

        2. Let me try…

          There are 3 resolution *layouts* in the history of iOS devices. This would be the iPhone 1->4S, the iPhone 5, and the iPad.

          The iPhone 5 layout resolution is a transition, and a modest one at that as many (not all) apps can scale vertically or worst case black bar the app to fit.

          Moving forward, Apple will have 2 resolution layouts. This avoids fragmentation (See Android).

          So for the iPad mini, Apple needed to decide whether it was going to be a super large iPod, or a mini iPad. The latter was chosen, so it had to either introduce a new resolution layout, or go with a resolution layout that matched the iPad.

          This meant that the iPad mini had to either have the resolution of the iPad 1,2; or the resolution of the iPad 3,4. Any resolution in between would not have been evenly divisible and would have resulted in fragmentation.

          Remember when the iPad 3 came out, people were astonished that Apple was able to do this. It’s a hell of a lot of pixels and Apple really pushed the envelop (a little too much if you ask me).

          You’d be looking at huge power requirements with a much smaller battery. You’d also have a huge problem with sourcing the screens. The screens would be much more expensive (if available), and the much more expensive A6+ would be needed.

          You’d end up with an iPad mini that was more expensive than the iPad 3,4 and had less battery life.

          The iPhone and iPods have *far* fewer pixels than the iPad 3,4; which is why they’re able to be retina.

    1. Bingo! This article is just an excuse for Apples mistake for not including a retina display on the iPad Mini. Don’t get me wrong I love Apple but I’m also not blind by their mistakes.

            1. Yeah they’re actually doing just fine, but my point is they would have done much better with the Retina display. And in the long run I think the iPad Mini maybe hurt by this move because of the less then expected quality of it’s display.

          1. @radtech5000,

            You’re commenting as if Apple had two displays on the shelf that both used the same power and cost the same, and foolishly the designing engineer grabbed the non-retina version.

            You’re also commenting as if the iPad mini had a screen with a quality lower than what customers have been willing to accept, when in fact it’s a higher ppi than the iPad 2.

            The thing is, a retina display for the iPad mini is probably about 2 years away. I have had every iPad model to date including the iPad 4 and the iPad mini, and the iPad mini is my favorite so far. Had they waiting for the iPad mini retina to be a practical option, customers like me would’ve just gone without, despite being perfectly happy with the non-retina version.

            I don’t see Apple being “hurt” by people continuing to buy the iPad 2, nor anyone being disappointed who hasn’t already own a retina iPad. And those of us who have had retina iPads, either will stick with them, or appreciated the advantages of not having a retina display in the mini (longer battery life, thinner, faster charging, and potentially a lot more available storage for content).

            1. Do you even follow the technology trends? The Retina iPad Mini is not 2 years away more like 4-6 months away if even that, from what most sources are saying anyway. As far as Apple not releasing the iPad Mini with a Retina display originally I still think hardware fragmentation is a bad idea down the road, Apple could have waited. Anyway arguing this point now is futile if you like the non-retina version go and and pick one up if you haven’t already, otherwise wait till early next year and get the retina version like I will be doing.

            2. “Do you even follow the technology trends?”

              Yes, very much so. More so than those claiming a retina display is 4-6 months away. It’s not.

              iCal me if you want. Make a bet if you want. Mark my words, the next iPad mini will not be retina. Going on a yearly cycle, that would mean the 2013 iPad mini won’t be retina, and one would need to wait until 2014 for the iPad mini retina… roughly 2 years. It’s possible that it could be a few months earlier at WWDC, but it’s definitely closer to 2 years than 4-6 months.

              Those predicting the 4-6 months are foolishly thinking this is just about Apple choosing a different display off the shelf, and either “made a mistake” by not doing this in the first place, or “wanted to dupe customers into buying something they’ll make obsolete in a few months”.

              What those foolish analysts don’t realize is how hard the retina was pushed on the iPad 3, and even the iPad 4. Remember, the iPad mini retina will be the same power sucking monster as the iPad 4, but with a battery *much* smaller.

              And beyond the power and the cost… there are no displays in the pipeline that are 324ppi 7.9″. In other words, before predicting when Apple will use such a display, how about predicting when such a display will even be developed. The best estimates I’ve heard are still about a year away.

              “wait till early next year and get the retina version like I will be doing.”

              That’s bad advice. You won’t have a retina display at all next year, and in the meantime, if you do decide to buy one, you’ll end up paying the same price, but won’t have the use of it for the whole time.

            3. First I would never settle for anything less then Retina quality period. As for your belief that the new iPad Mini Retina won’t be available for two more years to come I find rather absurd. I might push my estimate back to a year max but time will tell who is right and who’s wrong in this case.

              PS: You said “iPad mini retina will be the same power sucking monster as the iPad 4, but with a battery *much* smaller”

              A: The iPad Mini Retina will have a smaller display compensating for the smaller battery. Conclusion is same battery life as the fill size iPad Retina.

            4. “The iPad Mini Retina will have a smaller display compensating for the smaller battery. Conclusion is same battery life as the fill size iPad Retina.”

              The mini will have a smaller display with the same number of pixels. It’s the GPU hit for those pixels that’s sucking the batter life far more than anything else.

              “I might push my estimate back to a year max…”

              That’s just it. You, and everyone else “estimating” early arrivals are guessing without any knowledge on the matter whatsoever. Nobody who is giving these early estimates can point to a display that could be used. Nobody making displays is saying they could do so that soon.

              At best, there are no displays on the visible horizon that could be used. When displays are available, they’re expected to be significantly more expensive than what the current mini uses, and use an unreasonable amount of power.

              What’s so absurd about talking to display manufacturers and getting their delivery estimates and using that as a basis combined with applying a Moore’s-Law-like model to the efficiency of Apple’s SOC and projecting that out to be around the same time period… 2 years (+ or – a few months, maybe as early as WWDC 2014, but certainly not the next model of iPad mini, nor anytime 2013).

              If you want to iCal, I’m totally up for a bet on this… donation to charity of choice or just bragging rights.

            5. I suppose I’ll yield to you on this issue because I don’t bet on anything period. However this doesn’t change my personal belief that Apple is working on a Retina version as we speek. It’s true that everything we’ve heard about a possible upcoming release date is pure speculation so you might be right who knows for sure? Although I still don’t agree with your timeframe, we will learn the truth of it soon enough ether way. You are welcome to the bragging rights though I don’t have any interest in that sort of thing. LoL

  1. They wouldn’t need to 4x the pixels to make it retina like they coincidentally did with their other devices. All they would need to do is use the same PPI as the large iPad (not the same number of pixels).

    1. That would then mean a different screen resolution, creating more problems for the app developers to have their software compatible with all the various iOS screen resolutions. All of Apple’s decisions (lengthening the iPhone 5 screen vs making it wider as well; giving the iPad mini the same resolution as the iPad 2 [1024X768]; pixel doubling on the Retinal Display iPads) all, in part, have to do with avoiding the fragmentation that is the reality of the Android universe.

    2. Steven, if Apple did not pixel double to jump the iPad mini into ‘retina’ display status, then Apple would be introducing a new display configuration which would not be directly compatible with software written for either the original iPad 1024×768 or the doubled 2048×1536 retina. The original software would not fill the display without upsampling. And the retina iPad software would have to be downsampled (cropping does not seem like a viable alternative).

      So far, Apple’s only deviation from the pixel doubling approach has been on the iPhone 5 and iPod touch. In the latest display evolution, Apple added height and pixels, but did not change the resolution (ppi) or the lateral number of pixels (960×640 grown to 1136×640, but still at 326 ppi). Older apps display normally, they just don’t use the extra 176 pixels. So the fragmentation issue is partially, although not entirely, avoided because there is no change in pixel density or number of lateral pixels. Forward app compatibility is maintained.

      Ideally, Apple would make iOS resolution independent. Right now, it isn’t, although modest display resolution and/or dimension changes are likely possible without significantly degrading the UI or app experience.

      1. One other point with this is that even with the 2048 x 1536 retina display, it is still considered as 1024 x 768 points as far as the UI is concerned, which is the more critical thing. If you go to any other resolution that isn’t an integer multiplier of that point size (or maintain one dimension like with the iPhone), the OS would then have to deal with partial pixels for displaying image and yield less then desirable results visually.

  2. Apple built the tablet that everyone wanted, and now everyone is bitching about the tablet that Apple made. In the meantime, it’s selling like gangbusters. You’re all experts. Have a nice day.

  3. The reason Apple could not have a retina display is because it has already engineered and ordered in bulk from Samsung for the first iPad mini …

    That’s the only reason, development was in force even before Steve Jobs died.
    Only a fool would think that apple has a 6 month R&D for a new products.

    The iPhone 5 was already in testing when the iPhone 4S was released.
    You can bet that the iPad mini with retina display with a LG or sharp screen is already being tested now … And release in March if sales of the current stock of samsubg iPad mini displays are too low …

  4. The IZGO display technology could bring down the power consumption of a retina display to the form factor of the iPad mini, but first they have to manage mass production in necessary quantities for a affordable price, then the regular iPad will get these displays first sometime next year and after that, when the prices come further down we could see a iPad Mini with retina displays sometime in 2014.

    1. That’s my bet too. I think a lot of people are expecting an iPad mini Retina “within months” as if Apple held back the Retina version for marketing purposes.

      The technology needs to evolve and I don’t even expect the next iPad mini to be Retina, but rather the one after that.

  5. Well it’s a matter of waiting 6 months to a year for Apple to sort it out isn’t it? I mean the next gen model would have to have this I would think to make for a true upgrade. Just saw it over the weekend at an Apple Store in Encinitas, CA (a really nice store) and the iPad Mini even with it’s present screen is NIIIICCE.

  6. Maybe Apple will eventually put a higher-rez display in the iPad mini, and maybe not. Meanwhile, the iPad 2 display looks great unless you’re comparing it pixel-by-pixel with the Retina display; and the iPad mini has exactly the same resolution as the iPad 2, but the screen is smaller, which makes everything sharper compared to the iPad 2. So what are people complaining about?!

  7. People forget that the iPad with Retina is heavier and fatter than an iPad 2. That was a turn off for some. The iPad mini is very compelling because it is so thin. It feels perfect. Yes, I would want Retina on a mini but if it was heavier, thicker, the mini wouldn’t be so mini.

  8. I really don’t think most of the retina-display whiners realize that having 4 times the number of pixels requires 4 times the CPU workload to run them. Fortunately, I enjoy it when people flaunt their ignorance.

  9. Dah. Like every other apple release, they release a slightly knee capped product, sell a bunch to those who can’t help themselves, and then release an updated version a year later with what should have been there in the first place. Simple money making, nothing more.
    Similar to original iPad 1, then iPad 2 with camera.

    With this process in mind, I’m excited about what the next iPhone update will have. Can’t just be speed or sales will plummet.

    1. I love my iPhone and is a heavy heavy user. Having said that the battery life is still abysmal. I have contact Apple and they say that the battery is fine doing extract what it suppose to to do after test it. I can just image what the battery life is going to be on a iPad mini with retina display. It is time that Apple spend money and time R&D on new battery technology, I think we have reach an impasse. Which ever tech company figures this out will be the winner.

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