Practical, Pragmatic Reasons Why We Don’t Have a Retina iPad Mini

Marco Arment is a smart guy. Helped create/develop/invent Tumblr, created Instapaper (which I couldn’t live without), and started The Magazine (which I love to read), he also has some practical and pragmatic things to say about why we couldn’t have made a Retina iPad mini—at least not yet.

In Marco’s post overnight—The iPad Mini and the cost of Retina—he goes through the good (size, built, fast and easy charging) and the bad (the screen) about the iPad mini, but most importantly he points out a few things we’ve been forgetting about the “amazing” iPad 3 and iPad 4.

Remember how we noticed how heavy the iPad 3 was? How it had to be thicker to allow for the bigger battery? How about how warm it got because the processor and GPU had to work so hard to make it all happen like magic?

Yeah, we did kvetch about those things, remember?

The iPad 4? Sure it’s better, but as Marco points out, it might run cooler, but it’s still thicker and heavier than the iPad 2. You want to know what I really notice when switching between my iPad 4 (where I’m writing this post, btw) and my iPad mini? How freakin’ heavy the iPad 4 is. I don’t really notice the screen. Remember I read from a screen for a living; my whole day is either putting things onto a screen or reading things from one. So when I pick up my mini to catch up on news, it’s fine. Really.

In order to have a Retina mini, Marco figures that we’d have to have a thick, bulky, more expensive device that might have had crap battery life. That, folks, would have been an abject failure for Apple. It would have made Maps look like a home run.

Imagine the fallout if a Retina Mini shipped with only three hours of battery life, or was inelegantly thick and heavy. Or, very importantly to the iPad’s market, imagine if its GPUs were slower and it ran existing iPad games extremely poorly. And then add the component-price differences: imagine a Retina iPad Mini that was bulkier, shorter-running, or much slower (or all three) and that started at $399 instead of $329.

That’s why we don’t have a Retina iPad Mini yet. It’s not only about price: it’s because the resulting product would suck in at least two other important ways.

(via The iPad Mini and the cost of Retina –

I think what we have to keep in mind is that Apple is certainly working on a Retina mini and when the technology meets up with what both Apple wants and we expect, it will appear. Nothing happens overnight. Everything is a step-wise iteration in technology. Undoubtedly there are similarly sized tablets that have better screens. I don’t think anyone is denying that. I think what maybe what we’re missing is that maybe, the iPad mini screen is actually pretty darn good and more than good enough for us—for now.

It’s stake in the ground time. I like the iPad mini’s screen. I love using the mini. I pick it up first now over my iPad 4. I proudly stand behind everything I’ve written about it and I really think Apple produced a device that we’ll look back on as a turning point for Apple.

Okay…let the comments fly folks.


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  • Jko0131

    Brilliantly worded and makes complete sense. Thanks for this insightful article.

    • Tris Hussey

      Thank you and you’re welcome!

  • Rounak Jain

    Folks saying Apple is doomed for shipping a non retina iPad: LOL

  • Shrivatsa Somany

    Damn , one awesome article after another…I am really enjoying reading these!

    I think anotherimportant (marketing) reason why it doesn’t have a retina display is because they would cannibalize the 9.7″ sales. Heres why, Apple always scales their resolutions to make it easy for the developers. If they wanted to go Retina, but not the 2048×1536, they would have to move to a completely new resolution, which might not be so good for their devs.

    • Tris Hussey

      Yes, Marco (interestingly enough as a dev) didn’t talk about that. Agreed, another size to deal with (and right on the heels of the iPhone 5) would piss developers off royally.

      • Shrivatsa Somany

        Plus, there really isn’t any 4:3 resolution that makes sense at that level…it would be so awkward :| (coming to think of it, just like the iPhone 5). Like you said, they can get away with it for 1 device…

  • Pacomacman

    Great article making some very good points. People forget the iPad 2 is actually faster than the iPad 3 running Retina. Anyone writing software for these devices already knows this but the public only ever see the optimised finished product that appears to run smoothly on all devices. The iPad 4 is now able to give the Retina device the edge, but the iPad Mini is far from underpowered and still a great buy!

  • Brian Charles

    and the iPad mini 2 will be out in 4 months anyway

  • Bandrax

    Interesting!! Are we saying… Apple screwed by having Retina display on iPad’s (increasing the weight and temp?)! I remember ppl praising about iPad3 when it was released… revolutionary, beautiful, and all those marketing heavy words.

    I feel.. Apple is getting on a wrong path. All they used to do previously is increase the display pixels, reduce thickness! now they are experimenting screeen size (iphone 5 and ipad mini)… they still keep calling in revolutionary… im sorry.. its not any more!

    iphone, iphone 3G/3GS, iphone 4 – all three had a one element in common which ppl liked…. NEW DESIGN and LOOK….! Apple just stopped doing that…. ipad 2 vs ipad 3/4 – same design… iphone 4 vs iphone 4s/5 – same design.

    • Shrivatsa Somany

      How could you possible call the iPhone 5 the same as the iPhone 4 in terms of design? What would you possibly have them do? It’s still, by a long shot, the best looking phone (or at least one of the most beautiful phones) on the market…and their current design evolution has pegged that top spot for them for more time.

  • Sleepy

    What I take away from this article and my experiences with Apple products is that Apple prioritizes their design specifications on their vision for the product and the niche it would fit. They aren’t terribly concerned with how the spec sheet looks if the inclusion of higher resolution screens and higher clock speed processors take away from their design goals. The Ipad mini is designed to meet the needs of people who want a very portable tablet hence their concentration on battery life, form, and weight. While a retina display would certainly look better and would make it more marketable, it wasn’t worth the trade off compared to a more efficient and lightweight screen with adequate visual fidelity. This can be seen in their marketing as well. They do claim for their products to be fast and their screens to look great but they generally focus on the end user experience. As for the Retina display being included in the IPad 4, that would seem to be designed for a different user experience where performance is the ultimate goal. Its already big so Apple decided that the extra weight and battery drain of the screen was worth the trade off in this instance.

    In contrast, Samsung and other manufacturers seem to be more about putting the biggest number on the box than what that number actually represents for the end user. I have been working for electronics retailers for a decade selling TV’s and now phones. I can remember when I first learned about the different ways of measuring wattage for amplifier ratings and how some manufactures (Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, etc.) used the open standard to put the biggest number on the box. Meanwhile the quality amplifier next to it was much more powerful and claimed less than half the wattage rating. Then there was contrast numbers on TV’s (2000, 5000, 10000, 1000000000000000 etc), Hertz ratings (by the way, everything above 120 hz is pretty much useless as grey to grey pixel response time is much more important) and other big number competition from various manufacturers. There is nothing wrong with this approach as their are many people that get almost as much enjoyment from looking at the spec sheet as they do using the product. This kind of design simply meets the needs of this demographic.

    Personally, being sick of the exaggerated numbers game, I appreciate Apple’s design philosophy. If it doesn’t help the end products actually user experience, don’t include it (looking at you 480 hz and your hazy interpolation artifacts).