By Stephen Schenck | August 6, 2013 10:19 AM
Is it too soon to start getting worried about Apple? Sure, the company has more money than some small governments, and despite the inroads Android has been making upon the mobile scene, there’s probably no group more loyal to an electronics manufacturer than Apple’s fanbase. That seemingly solid foundation aside, I’ve been left scratching my head when it comes to some of what we’ve been hearing about upcoming Apple hardware, and I’ve really been wondering if Apple’s lost sight a bit of the sort devices it needs to keep its brand relevant. Most recently, that’s been most true when it comes to the expected sequel to last year’s iPad mini.
It’s no big stretch to believe that Apple’s been cooking up a new iPad mini – an iPad mini 2, if you will, though after all that numberless iPad 3/4 nonsense, who can say – and a whole lot of leaked images have been arriving lately that do seem to depict a new iPad mini.
Indeed, the more appropriate question hasn’t been whether or not we’d see this device, but how we might expect it to differ from the first iPad mini. A whole lot of that talk has centered on the idea of the new mini getting a nice screen resolution bump, moving up to a Retina-quality display. This goes back nearly all the way to the initial iPad mini launch, and it had been a more-or-less consistent theme since.
But now some new rumors have arrived, talking about the possibility of Apple releasing a refreshed iPad mini 2 with a new SoC, but keeping the old 1024 x 768 display. While some of these have suggested that this low-res iPad mini 2 would also be joined by a proper Retina sibling, I think that’s besides the point: it would be absolutely bone-headed for Apple to release a new iPad mini with last year’s display.
This Ain’t 2012 No More
When Apple first launched the iPad mini, the smaller end of the tablet lineup was still in upheaval. The Nexus 7 was new on the scene, and its respectable hardware, combined with very attractive price, was winning it a lot of fans. Amazon had new Kindle Fire models ready to go, bringing new, higher-res screens to its offerings. And so we saw Apple join them with its own pint-sized tablet, offering iOS fans a more affordable alternative to the full-sized iPad.
Even then, the iPad mini hardware wasn’t particularly impressive (on paper, at least), but Apple’s never been much of a diva for specs, and despite middling RAM, a screen with a pixel density of 163ppi, and a base price a good 65% more expensive than Google or Amazon’s tablets, it managed to do quite well for itself.
Clearly, people are willing to pay a premium for the polished Apple experience – I mean, that’s been Apple’s business plan for ages – and last year that let the company sort of take the easy road when it came to designing the iPad mini’s hardware, not really pushing any envelopes.
The problem is, in the nine months since the first mini debuted, everyone else in the tablet business has been stepping up their game in some big ways. Last year’s Nexus 7 was all about being affordable, but this year’s model plays a little fast and loose with that label. Sure, it’s still cheaper than many out there, but shedding its $200 label for some flashy new hardware suggests that this year’s 7-to-8-inch tablets are going to be less about pricing above all else, and more about being seen as higher-end devices that just happened to be great values for your money.
That’s an issue for Apple, especially, with its “you need to pay extra, but it’s gonna be worth it” mentality. Hardware and software may be apples and oranges, but we’re seeing the Android side of this smaller-sized tablet market similarly embracing a “pay more, get more” attitude, though while still keeping prices far below Apple’s.
Who’s The Customer Here?
The forthcoming arrival of the iPhone 5C may have me eating my hat (though I still have plenty of questions about just how and where it might be sold), but iOS has never been a platform to accommodate penny-pinchers. Granted, you get a lot when you buy in to the iOS ecosystem, but you absolutely have to pay to play.
That makes me question whether a non-Retina iPad mini 2 would really be some sort of cheaper alternative to a HD version of the tablet. While Apple has no qualms about selling last year’s hardware at a discount, rarely do we see it come out with all-new hardware that barely even takes baby steps away from its predecessor. Simply put: a new SoC just isn’t enough to cut it.
The only explanation that I can even begin to wrap my head around is that Apple sees component shortages affecting availability for a launch of an only-high-res iPad mini 2, and maybe a non-Retina version would sell early, or even right along the Retina mini 2, just to take some of the pressure off demand.
But still, even that sounds remarkably short-sighted, and ends up giving a bunch of iOS fans some hardware that really doesn’t feel up to snuff anymore, especially for a company like Apple.
For Apple’s sake, and the good of its user base, I sorely hope that there’s nothing to these non-Retina iPad mini 2 rumors. Frankly, it sounds like a tablet that no one’s been asking for, and I’m not sure even Apple has the PR chops to convince us otherwise.