Did Apple mess up with the Retina iPad mini?

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Date: Wednesday, November 20th, 2013, 08:46
Category: Benchmark, Consumer Electronics, Features, Hardware, iPad, iPad Air, iPad mini, Opinion, The Apple Core

ret-ipad-mini-fanToday I broke down and bought one of the new Retina iPad minis. That is one of the dilemmas of living in a city with multiple, easy to get to Apple Stores. I’ve been watching the local stores’ inventories fluctuate using the Apple-Tracker web site, and noticed that there were several of the model I wanted in stock, so I ordered one for Personal Pickup and had it by this afternoon, which was rather impulsive considering I hadn’t spent any time with an iPad mini. One of the key factors of getting a new iPad was to upgrade to a Retina display, since I do a lot of reading on the iPad. Comparing some my iBooks between my iPad 2 and the iPad mini, there is a noticeable difference in the text, but so far I haven’t noticed the same difference in other graphics.

That finally brings us the subject (thanks for hanging in there). Recent comparisons of Apple’s Retina display against the screens of two recently released competitors, have analysts dropping the once “King of the Hill” Retina display to third place and possibly further behind as competitors turn to newer and better screen technologies. An article on The Apple Core relates the detailed findings of industry display expert Dr. Ray Soneira as he compares the displays of the Retina iPad mini, Kindle Fire HDX 7, and Google Nexus 7, all of which are competing to be the best of the mini tablet space. In the article, Jason O’Grady notes that by using over 10 different imaging factors, Dr. Soneira scored the three devices only to find that;

” …while the Retina display in the iPad mini has a high resolution, high PPI display (like the other two mini tablets) “shockingly” it still has the same small 63 percent Color Gamut as the original iPad mini and even older iPad 2. As a result, the iPad mini with Retina Display comes in a distant third place behind the innovative displays on the Kindle Fire HDX 7 and new Nexus 7, which both have 100 percent color Gamut. Even the iPad 3 and iPad 4 (and the new iPad Air) have 100 percent Color Gamut.”

The Kindle Fire HDX 7, which came in at number two, is the first tablet display to use an advanced technology called Quantum Dots, which produce highly saturated primary colors that are similar to those produced by OLED displays (the latter often used in the current attempts at color smartwatches). They significantly increase the Color Gamut to 100 percent as well as improve the power efficiency at the same time.

You can read further details in the article, but what does this mean for Apple? Even at number two, the  Kindle Fire HDX 7 is still lagging quite a bit behind the Nexus 7’s Low Temperature Poly Silicon (LTPS) technology. Both Amazon and Google are pulling away and preparing to lap Apple around the tech track by pushing ahead with newer and better display technologies with greater availability. It makes you wonder what Apple is waiting for. It leapt ahead with the original Retina display and it was a huge feature point in selling the iPad 3 when it was introduced, but now it seems like Apple has forgotten about the screen factor altogether. Sure, it added the technology to the new mini, but I have to question why, if they weren’t going to advance the display technology, did Apple short the mini on the best Retina quality that was available. The new iPad mini feels almost like a step backwards, which makes me feel just a little bit cheated since I paid over $500 for the 32 GB Wifi-only model of the mini. Screen shortages seem to be the major reason for the Retina iPad mini’s short supply, so perhaps Apple didn’t really think this through, or did they feel that the new A7 and 64-bit capability was an adequate trade-off for not giving the mini the same screen treatment as its bigger brothers? The technical details are putting kind of a bad spin on the new iPad mini’s debut, but it’ll really come down to daily usage, which I have yet to really experience. Perhaps the differences won’t be very noticeable, but I’d still like to see Apple pushing the envelope in order to stay well ahead of the competition.

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4 Responses to “Did Apple mess up with the Retina iPad mini?”

  1. I’ve always felt like the best Apple products deliver an experience that is greater than the sum of their parts. That will be the true test of the latest Mini. Weighing it against the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7 comes down to whether you want to live in Apple’s ecosystem or in one of their ecosystems. For myself, I know the answer to that question. For all that I do on a tablet, those other products just aren’t going to cut it, even if their screens are better spec-wise. And while on that subject, will you really notice the difference in normal day to day use?

  2. Excellent point, and one I alluded to at the end. It could be argued that the Apple ecosystem itself is a feature that stands out ahead of the competition, thereby diminishing the need to rely on cutting edge hardware, but there are some problems with that. One, the experience one has is largely subjective. As someone who maintains and thrives in a completely Apple environment, I totally agree that the experience and integration is superior, but not everyone would agree and some users may not have the option to maintain an Apple-centric system. There are many reasons someone may want to choose an Android device for their mobile experience. Second, if you read many review and market reports, the majority of comparisons break it down into features and hardware specs, mainly because those are the only objective comparators. On top of that, listen to any group discussion on its mobile tech and you will find that the comparisons generally boil down to feature and hardware parity. Rarely have I heard many discussions hinge on the overall interaction of the device with their operating system beyond perhaps how well it plays with Google services. Third, many customers just don’t understand “ecosystems” and may make their decision based on the product that has “the best technology available”. That means some decisions will be based solely on which device is reported to have the best camera or best screen, regardless of overall experience. So in the end, specs really do matter and influence sales, whether it’s justified or not. As they say, “your mileage may vary”. Personally, I just like to be able to say that Apple has the latest and coolest stuff. =)

  3. Tom, go ahead and buy a Kindle or a Nexus 7.
    I’ll be laughing at your with my iPad Mini with Retina Display.

  4. James, did you read the very first sentence? I did buy a Retina iPad mini and have been very happy with it. I was commenting mainly on whether or not Apple may be setting a trend of pursuing cutting-edge technology less aggressively than it has in the past. Competitors are turning to this in an effort to get ahead of Apple. The article was more or less an open question to speculate whether this significant or not.