Apple, iPad, Reviews

iPad mini review: why Apple thinks you are an idiot

iPad mini 01

Behold the chamfered edge
I have quite a bit of Apple product fatigue. I’ve owned seven iPhones, three iPads and two mac minis in my time. They are quite pricey, and when the newest gadget comes out, the current one becomes pretty much worthless. When the iPad mini was announced, I felt that fatigue. I thought to myself – if I am going to complicate my life with yet another device, it better be good. And chances are, if it’s an Apple gadget, it will be good.

I tried to work out where an iPad mini would fit in my life. Besides the large screen (the TV), the small screen (the phone) and the medium-sized screens (iPad and notebook), where would this new in-between screen fit exactly? Is this some kind of Kindle competitor that I would read books on? Is this a more casual iPad, or just a smaller iPad for people who would prefer something smaller?

Nicely priced

The price is nice (from US$329) and it’s a gorgeously thin, light and compact device. In fact it made my iPad 3 64GB feel like a tractor, which is great for the iPad mini, but not so great for those already invested in an iPad. But that’s life, the world must move on and the pace of technological change is rapid. Another unexpected surprise was that typing felt easier and smoother on the mini screen than the larger screen of the iPad. Ironically, as a result of the size of most human hands, it is easier to type on the smaller screen, than the larger iPad. So for typing its better than both the iPhone (too small) and the iPad (too big).

Attractively designed, but the fugly screen lets it down
So far so good, and unfortunately for my pocket, the mini is something I’d prefer to have over my paper weight/iPad. But then I switched it on… and what did I see? Grainy, pixellated text and images that belong to an iPad and iPhone that we saw a generation ago. Surely there is no way that Apple would release its latest and sexiest piece of hype with old technology? Was I trapped in a solipsistic nightmare? Is it 1 April? Am I on Candid Camera? I called a colleague over to check if I was indeed right. And I was: No retina display. Huh?

A Retina-free existence

Bringing the iPad mini out without the clean, finely tuned retina display is a big mistake by Apple. For a company known for innovation and high standards, this is a big letdown on so many levels. As an iPad retina display owner, the display instantly irritated me. I, like many consumers, asked myself: is there really any point in buying a device that you know will be upgraded to retina display in the next year?

Lightning is the best thing since sliced wheat-free bread
But it goes beyond what consumers think. It also asks very serious questions about Apple itself. This is a company that strives for high quality and does not overlook details, so then why did they bring this out? I have never said this before – and I hate buying into the cult of Steve Jobs because there are so many other talented people at Apple that have made the company what it is today. But I really felt it this time: I cannot help but think that if Jobs was still in charge – he would have done something Maverick like stop the production line to ensure the mini was a device that met Apple’s standards, not bring this inferior transitional device out.

So there it is. The iPad mini looks good on the outside, and is an antique on the inside. By Apple’s standard’s it’s poor. Buy it now, and you will feel sorry in a year when the upgraded version comes out and makes your investment look silly. It will be interesting to see the shipment figures of the mini to see if consumers reject it.

And I have to ask: What exactly is going on with Apple? Have I missed a joke somewhere?

Thanks to Wantitall.co.za for supplying the iPad mini.


  • Rico_Featherbutt

    Works fine for me. In fact I love mine. I look at the alternatives and think “why would anybody buy this?” From your buying history, you obviously are new to this. And your article is quite late. People love the Mini. If I get a year out of it, I’ve spent $300 on something I can use even after a year. Not bad at all.

  • David

    The author wonders why Apple chose a lower-res screen for the iPad mini but does not consider a single reasonable possibility.

  • http://twitter.com/matthewbuckland matt

    @David. The reasons for the iPad mini are pretty obvious: 1) they needed to keep the device thin and light with max battery life, which Retina chews up; 2) the smaller screen meant the non-retina display looks fractionally less appalling than it does on an iPad 2 or less; 3) Possibly, and we don’t know this, the mini was manufactured further back than we think it was, meaning Apple had already invested in the old displays… it’s unlikely, but a possibility

    …so these are the reasons. But the reason I didn’t explore them in the article is that they are irrelevant. They are excuses. We expect better of Apple, to be on the cutting edge. That is why it has a stock price and a reputation like it does. Of course we could lower our expectations and judge Apple just like any other company… then an iPad Mini with an inferior display will be ok… but that would be silly, wouldn’t it?

  • http://twitter.com/andrewsmit Andrew Smit

    The iPhone went retina in it’s 4th generation, the iPad in it’s 3rd, you want the Mini to go retina in it’s 1st? Apple has a high stock price and large profits for a reason, they’re not stupid.

    When you use lines like “I cannot help but think that if Jobs was still in charge – he would have done something” you discredit yourself and this review. No one knows what Steve Jobs would have done, let alone you, it’s pointless making that statement.

    Let’s not forget the mistakes that Apple made under Jobs: MobileMe, Scratched iPod Nano, iPod Hifi, Puck Mouse, the Cube, iTunes ROCKR (Motorola phone with iTunes).

  • http://twitter.com/matthewbuckland matt

    Thanks for your comment — I’m not sure there is a rule that says Apple needs to follow a path like it did with the iPad and iPhone, where screens are first low res, and then retina later. What I am saying is that Retina is now the bar, so I think it’s backwards to launch a device that is obviously below the bar and looks inferior. Further, I am saying that against Apple’s own high standards, this is a failure. Apple’s high stock price, as you quite correctly pointed out, is based on this quest for high quality and standards — and that is what I am judging the company on in this review.

    With regards to the Jobs statement. I probably didn’t qualify it as well as I should have: Job’s was a detail and control freak… I just can’t seeing this pass by him. And yes we don’t really know — and its clearly a theory. A theory is based on empirical evidence and an argument. It’s ok to theorise and it is not pointless even though we “don’t know what Jobs would have done”. That is in fact what strategy is all about — predicting outcomes. I think my argument is plausible, and I await your plausible counter-argument!

  • Preyen

    I know you expect a Retina display, but right now it makes more sense for Apple to test the waters with the iPad mini that can come into an attractive price point, than to bring in a Retina version and have it be thicker and less power efficient than it needs to be.

    The form factor of the iPad mini is the biggest selling point, and it’s where they have really innovated.

    I’m not sure if you’ve seen the inside of the iPad 3, but it’s mostly battery. They share the same CPU, but different GPUs. So the iPad mini it just as fast as the iPad 3, but doesn’t need such a powerful GPU because of the lower resolution it runs, and that lower resolution also needs a much smaller battery.

    I expect that the next generation iPad Mini will have Apple’s A6 processor in it – more power and it should bring it up to par. Also costs for this SOC should come down because production would’ve ramped up for the iPhone 5. I think it will be the same resolution as this generation, and the 3rd Generation a Retina Display.

    Also, use your iPad Mini. I’m not sure how long you’ve had yours, but Apple products have excelled because of the superior user experience they provide, and the iPad Mini is no exception.

    I’ve had mine for almost a month and a barely touch my 3rd generation iPad!

  • http://twitter.com/matthewbuckland matt

    …I think Apple of excelled at getting you to part with your hard earned cash and buy products that quickly become obsolete. As much as I like the iPad mini, gonna wait for the superior product to come out… not this “experiment”

  • http://twitter.com/andrewsmit Andrew Smit

    Challenge accepted. :) I do get a little annoyed when I see “Steve Jobs would never” but thanks for the clarification, makes a little more sense. Of course it’s ok to theorise, but we need to consider the facts first.

    That said, you’re right, there is no rule, but Apple watchers know that Apple follows rules that tend to repeat itself, and is key to their success. The iPad 2 (non-retina) launched 8 months after the iPhone 4 (retina).

    Why the iPad Mini with non-retina makes sense:

    - Cheap 7″ Tablets were started selling well, possibly eating into the iPad’s marketshare, Apple needed a “horse in this race” this is beyond doubt.

    - Apple’s margins are legendary, they’ve managed to remain price competitive in the tablet market and “ultra book” whilst maintaining these margins, but these margins are decreasing, Apple can’t afford to take a hit of their margins, and it’s not in their DNA to sell products for a loss or small profit.

    - Knowing that, Apple has to release a smaller tablet in 2012, and they need to sell it for a profit – enter the iPad Mini. To include a retina meant that it would increase the price making it a hard sell against those 7″ tablets from Google and Amazon and it would significantly heavier.

    So Apple needed something in 2012, it needed to be better than the competition in areas that mattered (weight) and it had to be significantly cheaper than existing iPads. Those 4 factors are why the 2012 iPad Mini doesn’t have a retina screen.

    My prediction is that we will see an upgrade of the internals of the iPad Mini next year, but no retina screen (unless Apple make some breakthrough in SoC and battery design) and when we do see the retina iPad Mini come out, the existing Mini drops in price and continues to sell well.

    I think Steve Jobs would have been proud of the iPad Mini. Mine arrives next week. :)

  • Preyen

    That’s also fine.

    What I’m saying is that, in its current state the iPad mini is not an experimental product for the end user. It’s a really polished device! There will always be the next generation that makes the previous generation obsolete.

    But at $329 the iPad mini pays for itself really quickly, so I know I won’t feel burnt when version 2 comes out.

    You’ve got to make technology work for you – my devices are all there to make me more productive. If they don’t, then I wasted money, but if they do then it was money well spent.

  • http://twitter.com/andrewsmit Andrew Smit

    The 2nd hand market for Apple products is great as well…

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