As my colleague Harry McCracken pointed out recently, Apple’s not great at keeping secrets anymore. So although Apple hasn’t announced a mini iPad yet, the smaller tablet is almost certainly about to break cover.
The latest sign comes from the Wall Street Journal, which reports that an iPad with a 7.85-inch display is in mass production now. This is just one in a long line of iPad Mini rumors, and when pieced together, we already have a good idea of what Apple’s smaller tablet would be like. Read on if you want to minimize the suspense leading up to the inevitable Apple press event.
All About the Smaller Screen
A 7.85-inch display doesn’t sound much different from 7-inch tablets such as the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7, but it’s actually a 40 percent difference in usable space, as this image conveniently points out. The smaller iPad would likely have the same screen resolution and aspect ratio as the original iPad, at 1024-by-768, iMore and others have reported, which means it should support all existing iPad apps.
The smaller iPad would likely be wider and slightly taller than the competition, but its display wouldn’t be as sharp. As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber notes, the 7.85-inch display would allow on-screen elements to be roughly the same size as they are on a non-Retina iPhone, which may address the complaints that Steve Jobs once made about 7-inch tablets.
A Slim Frame
The only problem with a mini iPad, as rumored, is that it wouldn’t be as portable as 7-inch tablets, which are narrow enough to slip into a coat pocket. Still, Apple could try to compensate somewhat by slimming down the bezel around the iPad’s display.
A mockup from 9to5Mac suggests a pencil-thin frame along the taller sides of the screen, but the actual bezel size may be a bit thicker, as supposed spy shots from BoloPad.com have suggested. Those images, along with purported case images from tt.mop.com, show an aluminum rear panel that’s not as tapered as the full-size iPad.
What About the Insides?
Hand it to Apple, at least, for keeping the iPad Mini’s specs under wrap. I haven’t seen any solid rumors on the processor Apple would use, but my guess would be the same A5 chip found in the iPad 2. In terms of processing power, it’d be about the same as the A5X chip in the new iPad, but without the extra graphics oomph needed for a Retina display. There’s some speculation that the smaller iPad would have 512 MB of RAM, just like the iPad 2, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see 1 GB instead for future-proofing. The rumor mill hasn’t said much about internal storage, so we’ll have to see if Apple drops below the 16 GB minimum found in larger iPads.
Cameras? Those aforementioned photos from BoloPad.com show holes for them on the front and back. As for connectors, a supposed leaked component photo from UkranianPhone.com shows a nano SIM tray, so we may see a 4G LTE version of the mini iPad. A Lightning dock connector, like the one in the iPhone 5, seems like a safe bet as well.
If it’s an iPad, it’ll run iOS 6. It’ll have the App Store, movies and music from iTunes, and iBooks. This would be the least surprising element of the iPad Mini, but also its strongest selling point compared to other tablets, whose tablet app selections are smaller.
Speculation about the price of a smaller iPad has been all over the place, but keep in mind that $200 tablets like the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 are sold at little to no profit in hopes of making money on content sales. Apple hasn’t shown much interest in that business model, so a $200 iPad seems unlikely. My guess is a price of $300 for a basic model, which makes for a $100 step down from the full-sized iPad 2. That leaves some breathing room for cheaper competition, but allows Apple to grab some of the market while maintaining a healthy profit. (An iPad Mini bill of materials estimate by Sameer Singh guesses at a $189.32 cost with manufacturing included).
FORTUNE‘s Philip Elmer-Dewitt, citing “a major Apple investor,” says Apple may send out press conference invites on October 10, make the announcement on October 17 and launch the product on November 2. I wouldn’t count on that until there’s word from a more reliable source (or Apple itself). Still, if mini iPads are in production now, they’ll surely be ready to roll this holiday season.