November 13, 2012

Further Thoughts on “Why Apple couldn’t make the iPad mini with a Retina display”

Excellent article as always by Rene Ritchie over at iMore.com: Why Apple couldn’t make the iPad mini with a Retina display

I encourage you all to read it before coming back to this post.

Read it? Okay good.

One thing that Rene didn’t point out that needs to be discussed is why Retina for the iPad mini must be 2048x1536. Apple’s reasoning here is what is sadly lost on most people arguing for Retina in the mini. They are not so much arguing that 2048x1536 (324 PPI, 3,145,728 pixels) is easily doable today in iPad mini dimensions. They are consciously or subconsciously thinking:

Why couldn’t Apple do an iPad mini at similar PPI to a Nexus 7 (216 PPI) or Kindle Fire HD (216 PPI)?

By this they are implying: why not a resolution like 1400x1050? Which would be 4:3 and a Retina-ish 222 PPI. They would then hypotetically take out their calculators and proclaim:

1,470,000 is way less pixels to handle than 3,145,728!

What is lost here is that Apple also made a trade off in terms of App compatibility. Most pundits making the argument for Retina don’t understand this. That is, by going with either 1024x768 or a perfect doubling: 2048x1536; Apple could launch the mini with no changes to iPad software required. 1024x768 and 2048x1536 are the exact resolutions of iPads 1&2 and iPads 3&4 respectfully. If they had gone with say 1400x1050, while still 4:3, it is not an even integer multiple of the existing iPad resolutions. So scaled apps would not look quite right. Apple would have to letter box old apps and require devs to build mini resolution specific versions of existing and new apps to facilitate pixel perfect iPad mini software (this is essentially the iPhone 5 strategy albeit in two dimensions versus one). This would not have been a developer friendly nor user friendly approach (at least in regard to apps).

This would have satisfied bloggers and nerds that don’t know better and look at devices as buckets of specs. It would not have satisfied customers who unbox a mini at Christmas and want to select from a smorgasbord of 270 000 existing iPad apps that run natively on their shiny new device.