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Stephen Hackett's blog about things that light up and make noise. 512 Pixels is about Apple, technology, journalism and design.

On the Theoretical iPad mini with Retina display

Word has it that the rumored new AppleTV will rock a die-shrunk Apple 5X processor.

Here’s Marco Arment:

A process-shrunk A5X probably won’t contain faster CPUs, but it would be smaller, cooler, and more efficient.

It’s obvious, in retrospect, what this is probably for: the Retina iPad Mini.

As Marco explains, the A5X could drive the display required for such a tablet, and keep the cost down, which is vital on the thinner-than-normal margins Apple enjoys on the iPad mini.

Now, I have no doubt that Apple will ship the iPad mini with a Retina display at some point in the future, but there’s more to it than the processor.

Both the iPad 2 and iPad 3 enjoy 10 hours of battery life, but the former does it with a 25-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery, while the latter packs a 42.5-watt-hour unit.

(The iPad mini boasts the same battery life, but with a measly 16.3-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery.)

The larger battery in the iPad 3 accounts for the device’s heavier (and slightly thicker) chassis, and was required for the A5X to run for 10 hours.

A die-shrunk A5X chip would in fact help the power situation, but I can’t help but think that a Retina-caliber screen sucks a lot of power, too. In fact, the iPad 4 — with its A6X SOC — still packs a 42.5-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery.

So, unless a die-shrunk A5X is drastically different than the A6X when it comes to power consumption, could Apple put it in an iPad mini and not make the iPad mini way thicker?

I’m no engineer, but I’m not sure they could. It seems to me that Apple needs a big breakthrough to cram a Retina display into a iPad mini. I just don’t think a smaller A5X is that breakthrough.

Sidebar on the PPI of a Theoretical iPad mini with Retina display

All of this talk about power and chips and unicorn tears aside, it’s interesting to think about what a iPad mini with Retina display would bring to the table. Here’s where things stand today:

The iPad mini, at 163 pixels per inch, boasts a slightly more dense screen than the iPad 2, but it’s a far cry from the 264 PPI found on the iPad with Retina display.

However, if Apple were to double the pixels on the iPad mini, it would clock in at an impressive 326 pixels per inch.

Now, that 326 PPI should sound familiar, as it’s the exact PPI currently found on the iPhone.

Excluding any conspiracy theories about the number 326, this move would be an interesting one. Would Apple ship the iPad mini with a noticeably higher PPI than its flagship tablet? How could it spin that on stage or in a press release?

If Apple were to release an iPad mini with Retina display, it would have to answer these questions, at least internally. Maybe the company sees the iPad mini as the true flagship product, and is fine with it shipping with a better display than its big brother. The price points don’t really reflect that, but hey, Apple’s done stranger things than this in the past.

Whenever the Retina-equipped iPad mini ships, I’ll be ordering one. I love the iPad mini, and with a Retina display, it’d be about perfect. That said, I still think the company may have more hurdles to release it than we think.