Apple's first-generation iPad Mini, while popular, left much to be desired, particularly in the display department. Apple knows the next logical step for the iPad Mini is to boost its resolution, and according to Chinese news site DoNews, Apple has reportedly tapped Taiwan-based AU Optronics to begin development on a Retina Display for its 7.9-inch iPad Mini.
AU Optronics specializes in in-cell panel technology, which is the new process Apple has started using for all its desktop and mobile computer displays. In contrast to the on-cell display processes Apple used in prior iPhones, in-cell displays effectively remove a layer between the multi-touch screen and LCD display, making the screen thinner, stronger, more resistant to scratching and significantly less reflective of light sources-- all heavily-desired features in any smartphone or tablet display. Apple's latest iPhone and Mac models, including the iPhone 5 and 21-inch and 27-inch iMac, feature such display processes.
"Compared to in-cell technology, the conventional technologies have an additional sensing glass, which not only increases the overall thickness of the LCD, but also adds an extra lamination process step, translating to increased cost and relatively lower yield and reduced transmittance," AUO says on its website. "Compared to the traditional resistive touch control, in-cell voltage sensing not only has the above advantages, but also is superior in that its sensitivity is less subjective to environment changes, no calibration mechanism required, and capability of supporting multiple-point touch control."
According to the report, AU Optronics will soon begin mass producing 7.9-inch displays with the same 2048 x 1536 resolution of the third- and fourth-generation iPad with Retina Display.
Currently, Apple sells its first-generation iPad Mini with a 1024 x 768 display, which is the same pixel resolution as its 9.7-inch iPad 2 but with a slightly higher pixel density of 163 ppi. By doubling the display resolution in its iPad Mini 2, Apple will effectively achieve a much more pleasing density of 324 ppi. The iPad 3 and 4 have display densities of 264 ppi, and the iPhone 5 has 326 ppi.
AUO's plans to develop a Retina Display for the next iPad Mini were also detailed in a separate report from the Middle East North Africa Financial Network (MENAFN) on Nov. 7.
"With the disclosure of the specifications for the next-generation iPad Mini by Apple Inc., AU Optronics Corp. has been developing a retina panel with resolution as high as 497 pip," reported the SinoCast Daily Business Beat via MENAFN. "It is said that ultrahigh resolution can not be developed without the technology of indium gallium zinc oxigo (IGZO), and the technology of Gate IC on array (GOA) is also indispensable since the next-generation iPad Mini will have an ultra-narrow frame. The technology of GOA helps save the room of IC on the rim and narrow the frame of the screen to the largest extent."
The most interesting part to note from SinoCasts's report is Apple's acknowledgement that it wants IZGO displays for its iPad Mini 2. Back in July, Gotta Be Mobile believed the first-generation iPad mini would feature an IZGO display made by Sharp Inc., which can be fitted for extremely thin hardware devices and can reportedly handle pixel densities above 330 ppi. IZGO displays are also said to feature better brightness than most LCD screens on the market, but the important part of the statement that Apple sought the displays to be made by Sharp: A new note from Apple analyst Horace Dediu, dated Nov. 7, discovered that Apple spent $2.3 billion for "product tooling, manufacturing process equipment an infrastructure." Dediu believes this massive amount of money was used to bail out Sharp, which was reportedly in dire financial straits earlier in the year.
"Sharp is a key supplier of screens to Apple but is also in financial distress," Dediu wrote in his analysis. "Sharp has also been the object of an intended investment by Foxconn [Hon Hai]. That deal fell through as Sharp’s finances deteriorated. My guess is that these attempts to shore up Sharp are directed by Apple to ensure both continuity of supply and a balanced supplier base (offsetting Samsung, another supplier.) If Sharp were to enter into some form of bankruptcy, the key plant(s) used in producing screens for Apple might be 'up for grabs' by creditors and they might be taken off-line, jeopardizing Apple’s production capacity, irrespective of contractual obligations."
Either way, it's smart of Apple to invest in solid display technology, also knowing to spread the wealth among several companies to avoid potential problems meeting immediate demand, as well as down the line. Apple's decision to invest substantially in display technologies makes a great deal of sense, given how the company has numerous times pointed to display shortages and manufacturing issues for issues in meeting intense customer demand worldwide for its mobile family of products, which only seems to grow bigger and more popular each year.
For now, Apple will focus on advertising its first-generation iPad Mini, as well as its other new iOS and Mac products, as it prepares for the big holiday push later this month. Though its stock may not be reflective of its popularity, Apple's been off to a hot start, having reported selling more than 3 million iPad units during last weekend's launch of the iPad Mini and fourth-generation iPad.
The iPad Mini is powered by Apple’s dual-core A5 chip, which was “fast” in 2011 but sluggish now compared to the A5X chip, A6 chip and all-new A6X chip introduced over the past year. The iPad Mini doesn’t need a lot of power to function -- the iPad 2 manages just fine with the A5 chip -- but the specs of the iPad 2 simply don’t compare to where technology is currently.
The iPad Mini, launched Nov. 2, features the same non-Retina resolution as the iPad 2 (1024 x 768), weighs just 0.68 pounds -- as light as a notepad -- and measures just 7.2 mm thick -- roughly the thinness of a pencil.
Besides the difference in size, the iPad Mini can everything a full-sized iPad can do. It still runs on iOS 6, Apple's latest mobile operating system, and is compatible with the new Lightning dock connector. However, even though Apple sells "cellular" models of the iPad Mini, this new smaller tablet does not support the high-speed LTE network.
For the Wi-Fi-only iPad Mini, Apple sells 16GB models for $329, 32GB for $429 and 64GB for $529. For iPad Minis that work on both Wi-Fi and cellular frequencies, Apple sells those models separately at $459 for 16GB, $559 for 32GB and $659 for 64GB.