Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Theoretical iPad Mini With Retina Display

This is a biggie, which is odd, considering it’s a rumour regarding a physically small component of one product called “Mini”, and another that’s just a hobby.

Two days ago, Engadget discovered FCC documents which show a slightly smaller version of the Apple TV dubbed “3,2”. The current Apple TV carries the “3,1” internal moniker, which means that this is a small revision. Aside from the slightly smaller case, Brian Klug of Anandtech believes that this is a (relatively) low-output test platform for a die-shrunk version of the kludgey A5X chip found in the third-generation iPad.

Marco Arment is on fire lately. Not only is he smacking Microsoft around, but he’s predicting Apple processor upgrades. Again. He doesn’t think the A5X would be a good match for a product with such a small thermal envelope as the Apple TV:

That would certainly be an odd fit for my theories — the A5X is pretty terrible at everything except being the only option that could drive a Retina iPad screen with reasonable GPU performance in early 2012. That’s the last design I’d expect to be used in any new products, especially something as small, cheap, and low-powered as an Apple TV.

Just yesterday, however, Arment changed his mind:

I couldn’t believe that Apple would use the iPad 3’s A5X in anything again since it was huge, hot, power-inefficient, and too slow for CPU-bound operations on Retina iPad pixel volume. […]

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

Smart theory, and I’d put money on it (not money; just, like, ten bucks). A low-volume product to test drive a new processor which is the bare minimum for running a 2,048 × 1,536 display.

But Stephen Hackett isn’t buying this rumour, for the same reason I’ve long pondered:

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?

That’s going to be a tight squeeze. A smaller process would create a chip with lower power consumption, but by how much is a good question. According to Anandtech, the battery life of the iPad 2,4 (the one with the 32 nm A5 chip) is about 16% better than the 45 nm iPad 2. In a spitballing sort of way, that means that the battery in a Retina iPad Mini could be 16% smaller (35.7 watt-hours) to get comparable battery life to the Retina iPad. Of course, that estimation is based on a different chip and doesn’t factor in other hardware differences (IGZO?).

Hackett also mentions the big marketing question:

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?

This is something I’ve wondered as well. I think that the Retina brand offers Apple a way to sell products with different pixel densities in a simple way. They’ll put the pixel density on the spec page, of course, but to say that each has a “Retina display” is an elegant way to market them.