iPad mini: Small and fuzzy is best after all

Posted on by Mike Evans


Reports are coming in that cellular minis are already shipping in the USA. Here in the UK, my order, which I placed in the first 30 seconds or so of availability, is still stuck stubbornly at "late November". I keep hoping for some good news and it is especially frustrating that wifi models appear to be plentiful.

Last evening at the London Mac Users Group we had a quick discussion on the iPad mini and the screen bluhaha. One member, a professional photographer, had no truck with all the fuss. He believes the mini's screen is perfectly adequate. His sole complaint was the Smart Cover which, he says, is overpriced and not as good as the original bigger protector. The main problem apparently is that it has only two folds instead of three, thus making it less versatile for folding and supporting the device. To be avoided, I'm advised.

But is all the fuss over the non-retina screen really overdone? This morning Marco Arment waded in with the most sensible analysis I have seen so far. He agrees that the screen is "rough", but:

If you’ve never used a Retina-screened device, you probably won’t care, but if you’ve been spoiled by Retina, you’ll notice the lack of it in the Mini almost every time you turn it on. I stop noticing after I start doing something with it, of course, but those first few seconds are a rough reminder every time.

He goes on to analyse the very pragmatic reasons why the iPad mini, at least at the moment, cannot have a retina screen. Essentially, current technology will not allow a retina screen without compromising size, weight and, crucially, battery performance. As he points out, the higher-resolution screen is a power hog: That is why the iPad 3 had to be thicker and heavier than the iPad 2:

Apple didn’t make an arbitrary decision to withhold Retina on the Mini to save money, upsell more buyers to the iPad 4, or “force” the first generation of iPad Mini owners to upgrade next year. They chose not to ship a Retina iPad Mini because it would be significantly worse than the previous iPads in very important factors.

When technology catches up, we will see a retinia mini, probably this time next year. Until that happens, millions will buy the iPad mini for reasons other than the screen. It is small, light and perfect in form for most people. Only those who currently own a retina iPad will really notice the screen; and, as Marco points out, even those of us who are used to retina will be content after a few minutes' use.

Someone else who agrees on the potential for the mini is John Gruber of Daring Fireball. Responding to this negative article by Dave Winer in Gizmodo, he confirms his earlier choice of mini over bigPad:

I completely stand behind [my verdict], and still have barely even used the iPad 4 I have on loan from Apple. Winer seems to agree with me that the ideal iPad is one which doesn’t yet exist (but surely will): a Mini with a 2048 × 1536 retina display. In the meantime, we have to choose: big iPad with sharp retina display, or small iPad with a fuzzy one. I’ve gone small and fuzzy.

Although my iPad mini has not arrived, the short time I have spent handling demonstration models and nitpicking the screen has convinced me that both Marco Arment and John Gruber are right: I will join them with the smaller device. Small and fuzzy it is.

by Mike Evans, 13 November 2012

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