Get Ready for the 7inch iPad mini – Implications for Applications

Posted on July 4, 2012

The rumor du jour appears to be a new addition to the iPad family, the 7inch iPad Mini. The existence and commercialization of such a device has been often foretold, but Apple has not as yet released such a device. If they do through, service providers need to be ready to deal with the implications.

Steven Jobs famously said that to operate a 7inch tablet one would have to file down your fingers. He basically said that Apple would not release such a device.

But times have changed. As Montréal’s Rene Ritchie pointed out at iMore, there is an increasing amount of competition in the 7inch space, from Google and Amazon, and the quality of these offerings is getting better.

A 7 inch iPad ties up the tablet market for Apple, further democratizes computing appliances for the mainstream, and gives Apple another blockbuster product.

Rene Ritchie

Ritchie’s argument is essentially that a 7inch tablet can enable Apple to crowd out competition in the same way that the iPod mini and nanos did in the portable music player market. This is a very strong reason for Apple to have an offering at this size and at a lower price point.

However, with Apple, nothing is ever launched until its announced. Yet, when some of the major pundits start discussing such solutions, you know that there’s a strong chance that something will come.

John Gruber at daringfireball

I bet Apple could make a $199 iPad Mini and turn a profit on it — especially with a $249 version sitting next to it with double the storage. It’s that simple. If Apple thinks people would buy a smaller cheaper iPad and that they could turn a profit making them, they’ll do it. No reason to overthink it.

One of the biggest questions though, and one of the biggest implications of the 7inch iPad, is what will be the screen size and resolution? Again John Gruber:

they’ll cut [display sheets] into 7.85-inch 1024 × 768 displays for the smaller iPad. Same exact display technology, though — display technology that Apple has been producing at scale ever since the original iPhone five years ago. These are displays Apple knows they can produce efficiently and in enormous quantities.

I’m not sure about this. Apple has been touting the benefits of the retina display on both the iPad and iPhone. Why release an inferior display on a device that is all about content consumption, especially reading?

Obviously, a lower resolution display will be cheaper to produce, and that’s no mean thing to neglect in a cheaper device. However, Apple has always tended to err on the side of quality, and I feel that they may just do so again with the iPad.

Screen Size Implications

Another argument that is often given for the 1024×768 lower resolution is that it is the same as the iPad one, which would hence require no refractoring of applications to run on the mini.

I’m not convinced about this argument. Let’s go aback to Steve Job’s quote about filing down fingers. Applications for a smaller tablet will need to be re-imagined to make their touch targets bigger as fingers become relatively bigger. Also, the display will be different and less text will be able to be fit on the display than for an iPad.

Hence, I see no other outcome than having to specifically design screens for the iPad mini.

Big iPhone or small iPad?

While there are big differences between the iPhone and the iPad, the question surrounding the Mini is whether it makes more sense to scale up iPhone apps to the mini or scale down iPad applications. The increased portability of the 7inch iPad over the 10inch may mean it is more suited to many of the iPhone’s use-cases than the iPads; and with the amount of space on the screen, iPhone UI/UX may work better than iPad.

Hence, the iPad mini might be in reality a maxi iPod Touch! One good reason, in this case, to go for a 1024×768 screen is that existing iPhone apps can be upscaled to fit into the screen space, rather like they do on the current iPad.

What Will Apple do?

My expectation is that Apple will create a 7inch iPad, but do so at a resolution and screen size that makes sense for the user. This could very well imply that iPad applications will not run on it at all, and there will be some kind of 2x for iPhone apps.

Moreover, this screen resolution could be completely different from any currently known and may not be a multiple of an existing resolution.

Implications of the iPad Mini for Applications

Given the different screen size, there is almost no doubt that applications will have to be adapted to run comfortably on a 7inch device.