Why a new iPad mini without a Retina display just won’t cut it

iPad Mini Retina Display Analysis

Tim Cook has come under greater pressure from Apple’s board of directors to speed up the company’s pace of innovation, Fox Business Network reported on Thursday. In particular, Fox Business said that the board is “now worried about what’s in the pipeline” for the company and is concerned about whether it has enough “innovative stuff to keep the momentum going.” This report comes at a very interesting time for Apple, which has been very quiet throughout most of 2013 but is also preparing an army of new products to launch in the fall

The most intriguing of these prospective new products is the next-generation iPad mini, about which we’ve read wildly conflicting reports regarding its specifications and its release date. In some cases we’ve read that Apple will release only a minor refresh of the iPad mini this fall with a Retina-equipped iPad mini model due out sometime in 2014. In other cases we’ve read that Apple’s next iPad mini will have a Retina display and will launch in time for the holidays this year.

Apple is reportedly worried that a Retina-equipped iPad mini would quickly cannibalize sales of its upcoming fifth-generation iPad. This is an entirely reasonable fear on Apple’s part given how the company is already putting its margins at greater risk by releasing a low-cost iPhone this fall. All the same, I think that releasing a new iPad mini without a Retina display just isn’t going to cut it, even if the company is only billing it as a “refresh.”

The reason is that the original iPad mini was already behind both the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire HD last year when it came to display quality. Despite this, I still thought that the iPad mini’s superior overall design and user experience made up for this deficiency and gave Apple the edge in the market for smaller tablets. Sales numbers show that many consumers agree since the iPad mini is by far the best-selling tablet among 7-inch and 8-inch devices.

But now Google has really upped its game with the new Nexus 7 display that has a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels and Amazon looks poised to match it with its next Kindle Fire tablet. Simply put, there would be no justification for Apple charging $329 for a new iPad mini that still has a resolution of 163 pixels per inch when its competitors are charging $100 less for tablets that have resolutions of 323 pixels per inch. Raw specs aren’t everything but when your rivals are nearly doubling your display’s pixel density then you really need to deliver an upgrade for your next-generation device.

To my mind, then, Apple has two feasible options for the next iPad mini: It should either release a minor refresh of the iPad mini in the fall while drastically lowering the price to the $200 to $250 range, or it should hold off on releasing a new iPad mini all together until it’s ready to release one with a Retina display. Simply trotting out a slightly refreshed version of the device while still charging a high premium for a vastly inferior display would be delivering poor value, however, and it’s something Apple should avoid.

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