The iPad Mini is dead. Long Live the iPod Maxi!

There’s been a whole load of rumour and speculation about a forthcoming “iPad Mini” to fight against the might of the Nexus 7 (That thing that’s, you know, only available in 1 country, and isn’t available in any stores anywhere, even in that one country). I tried to wrap my head around it, and failed.

The problem to me is with the word iPad. Now, there may be a mid-level device that sits somewhere between an iPhone and an iPad, but I’m willing to bet that it is not another iPad. You’ve got it all wrong. It’s the new iPod. Here’s why:

The original iPhone and iPod touch rolled out with a 3.5″ 3:2 ratio display pushing out 480×320. Future upgrades brought the first Retina displays, that doubled this to 960×640, maintaining the screen dimensions and aspect ratio nicely. This screen looks as great today over 2 years later as it did at launch.

Next up, we have the original iPad. We have a change in that the screen is much larger, and has a different shape, so we welcome that old vanguard of trusty resolutions SVGA, pumping a solid 1024×768 in a 4:3 ratio 10″ (I’m rounding for clarity of thought) rectangle. After that we duly get a Retina version in time, and once more the resolution is doubled to a mighty 2048×1536, maintaining all other details.

So, at this point we have a clear range of products when it comes to screen size. We have small; 3.5″ 3:2 displays for iPhones and iPods. And and we have large; 10″ 4:3 displays for iPads. Both sizes come in low (or shall we euphemistically call it “original”?), and high resolutions.

The key is that all along Apple have tried their best to ensure clarity of options for potential developers. Fragmentation is a real issue for Android developers, there’s no point pretending otherwise, and any future or further changes to the iOS hardware ecosystem can only make things more difficult for developers who up to now have had a relatively smooth ride with only having to develop for 2 sizes and remembering to include those good old 2x images for instant Retina compatibility…

Now, an iPad is an iPad, that’s why it’s called an iPad, and an iPad mini has to be an iPad too, seems straightforward enough, so therefore it stands to reason that it will have iPad properties, and those will extend to the 2 key properties of screen resolution and ratio. It’s just so obvious, right? We’ll go back to using our trusty SVGA screens at 4:3, and merely stamp them out in a 7.85″ rectangle!

That’s the theory anyway, but I have 2 problems with it. I’ll tackle the first one first, naturally.

So, firstly, let’s round up the imaginary product options from this point onwards, and see where the iPad Mini Fits:

  • iPhone 3GS 480×320 3:2 @ 3.5″ = 165 PPI (I’m rounding the PPI figures here by the way, and using an online calculator so apologies if they do not exactly match the Apple spec sheets)
  • iPhone 4/4S 960×640 3:2 @ 3.5″ = 330 PPI
  • iPad Mini 1024×768 4:3 @ 7.85″ = 163 PPI (Note 7.85″ seems to be the rumour mills – choice, even though I’d call this 8 not 7, but that’s another point…)
  • iPad 2 1024×768 4:3 @ 9.7″ = 132 PPI (or 10″, from here on in)
  • New iPad 2048×1536 4:3 @ 9.7″ = 263 PPI

Now to me, the obvious problem seems clear. Discounting the fact that you can still get an older non-Retina iPhone and iPad, the fact is that these are not considered current hardware, it’s simply a nice way to push the old tech down the line at a cheaper price point to more budget conscious buyers and in emerging markets, this new iPad Mini will be current generation, and will have to look the part. As such, take a look at those PPI figures. Yes, your new iPad Mini has a resolution clarity that is worse than the original iPhone, and barely better than the original iPad. Which, when you consider there is only 1.85″ difference in size, seems logical.

Let’s take away the numbers and the maths and the comparisons. This screen will be laughably woeful. There is no way that Apple would sell anything with such a screen today as a new product.

So, how would you go about fixing this? Well, the answer seems to be sitting there waiting to slap you in the face. Make it Retina. Pixel double that bad boy, and you’re set:

  • iPad Mini 2048×1536 4:3 @ 7.85″ = 326 PPI

That’s more like it! But, hang on while I just put my sanity hat back on, this iPad Mini is the budget iPad, right? And you’re telling me that it’s going to have a screen that matches the resolution and ratio of the full priced New iPad, and further bump the PPI by a whopping 24%? This is the budget iPad, not the class leading one! Not going to happen. Will cost too much, and there is no way that they will usurp the top of the range real iPad models, let’s face it the only difference is going to be this screen, not the other internals.

So, busted, there is no way that the screen on an iPad Mini is going to be either worse than an iPhone 3GS, or better than a New iPad. It has to sit somewhere in the middle.

This brings me to my next point, and that is…the New iPhone (iPhone 5, iPhone 6, whatever…). Now, I didn’t want to talk about it much, but I am sure that most people are aware that the dominant rumour seems to be that the screen technology will not fundamentally change for the next iPhone, merely the dimensions will, meaning keeping the same PPI roughly, and same fabbing, and simply punching out the screen to be longer on the X axis to achieve a phone with something approximating the following specs:

  • New iPhone 1136×640 16:9 @ 4″ = 325PPI

So, this is where Apple really start to mess around, because this is introducing not only a new resolution, but also a new aspect ratio to the previous clear narrative of having a pair of sizes. I won’t repeat (or link to) the various reason why this options seems both likely and actually sensible, but let’s take it as read that it is accurate, after all we’re are specifically talking rumours here! Now we have a new option to run the iPad Mini at:

  • iPad Mini 1136×640 16:9 @ 7.85″ = 166 PPI

Hooray, we’ve finally bested the PPI of the 3GS! By one! But the problems remain, worse than the iPhone, worse than the iPad, not Retina, not going to happen. Also, and this is the real no-no for this particular resolution, you can’t call it an iPad, if you can’t run iPad apps on it, native. Make it Retina? No way, that would make it both higher resolution and better PPI than the New iPad, so same reason, no chance.

Anyway, that’s enough torture, here’s where I’ve been headed. It’s not the new iPad. It’s the new iPod. Here’s your new line-up of Apple Products:

  • New iPhone 1136×640 16:9 @ 4″ = 325 PPI Retina Class Display
  • New iPod 1920×1280 3:2 @ 7″ = 329 PPI Retina Class Display
  • New iPad 2048×1536 4:3 @ 9.7″ = 263 PPI Retina Class Display

But, wait, where did I get 7″ from? I thought it was 7.85″? Well, it is if you want it to be an iPad, and if you want to keep iPad ratios and resolutions. I don’t, so it seems clear to me that the only way to get a Retina display at something in the region of 7 inches without introducing a 4th resolution or aspect ratio for developers to contend with is to simple get the existing iPhone 4/4s Retina screen, and double it again, retaining the same ratio, and doubling the dimensions exactly in order to be able to use the existing fabbing process to create them.

Here are some other thoughts which help this to make more sense to my mind than having an iPad that is only 1.85″ smaller than what we have now.

Firstly, look at the product range in terms of size. Doing some slight rounding for clarity, we are talking 4″, 7″ and 10″. That’s 3″ between each and every model, not gaps of 4″ and then 2″ which skews the iPad Mini to be far too close to a real iPad, and nowhere near the iPhones. A clear distinction for each line, and each model has slightly different characteristics too, starting with the aspect ratios:

  • iPhone – 16:9 mainly used in portrait mode for single handed operation and ease of vertical scrolling.
  • iPod – 3:2 mainly used in landscape mode, for media consumption, and 2 handed gaming
  • iPad – 4:3 being a great compromise between the 2 above, and sensible for use in either orientation

Also, simply renaming is as the New iPod allows them to breathe some new life into the iPod name, and completes the distinction between it and the iPhone.

Secondly, take a look at some of the mockups of the iPad Mini at the suggested size and dimensions. It’s still got the big bevel. And at nearly 8″ without having a dominant orientation, it’s still going to need it. So instead, let’s think about how it would appear if it has a bevel that was, say, iPhone sized. It doesn’t look like an iPad, it doesn’t spec match an iPad, it’s a better ratio for media consumption (on the understanding that it possibly does not need to have a decent portrait mode like an iPad does, because if you need that, well, buy an iPad…).

It’s just a big iPod!

Well, that’s my idea anyway. What do you think?