Schiller Presents iPad Mini
Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, introduces the first 7.9-inch iPad mini in front of a packed house at the California Theatre in San Jose in October 2012. Reuters

Will Apple's next iPad mini feature a Retina display? After 9to5Mac claimed the second-generation iPad Mini would not feature a Retina Display, The Wall Street Journal issued a contradictory report on Wednesday asserting the iPad Mini 2 would in fact include Apple’s famous Retina Display, which is a display so dense that the human eye cannot discern individual pixels at any distance.

Let’s sort out some of the confusion. The report from 9to5Mac cited code within the latest beta build of iOS 7, iOS 7 beta 4, which included a hidden file with a full list of all devices supported by iOS 7, including three new iPad mini models: “iPad 2,8,” “iPad 2,9,” and “iPad 2,10.” The code names for the devices are J75, J76 and J77, respectively, which points to one WiFi-only model and two cellular models like the current iPad mini.

Hidden within these iPad mini codes were references to a “s5l8950x” processor, which is the code for the same A6 system-on-a-chip (SoC) featured in the iPhone 5. But while combing through the iOS 7 code even further, 9to5Mac was able to conclude that these iPad mini models would lack a Retina Display, since Apple’s Retina Display devices like iPhone 5 and iPad 4 all included hooks to images at a “@2x” mode, which is how developers cite app artwork built specifically for Retina display-powered devices.

This 9to5Mac report about a Retina-less iPad mini 2 lined up with two previous reports in July from Taiwan’s Economic Daily News and China’s DigiTimes, which said a Retina Display shortage had forced Apple to push back the release date of the iPad mini 2 with Retina Display to “early 2014.” The reports said Apple would release a separate iPad mini this fall with a thinner and lighter form factor, but with the same 1024 x 768 non-Retina display. But The Wall Street Journal claims this isn’t so, and Apple will in fact release its next iPad mini with a Retina display by the end of this year.

“Apple is working with suppliers in Asia on its next iPad mini with a high-resolution ‘retina’ display, unlike the current iPad mini that comes with a lower-resolution screen,” people familiar with Apple’s product pipeline told the Journal. “The size of the new tablet will likely be the same as the current 7.9-inch model, which was released in November last year. Apple has also been contemplating multiple color back covers for the new tablet, they said.”

Apple is reportedly sourcing the Retina display components for the iPad mini 2 from Samsung, as well as Sharp and LG Display. For the first iPad mini, Apple tapped LG Display and Taiwan’s AU Optronics to build the tablet’s display, but even though Sharp was added to the mix, Apple still reportedly felt the need to add Samsung to its list of companies manufacturing Retina displays for the iPad mini 2 to guarantee an “adequate supply of screens.” For last year’s iPad mini release, Apple reportedly had trouble meeting demand because of supply issues with the tablet’s display.

If Apple is tapping its main rival Samsung to help build a Retina display for the iPad mini 2, Apple must really want a Retina display. The first-generation iPad mini sold well, but critics bemoaned the lack of a Retina display; now that competitors to the iPad mini are upping their display game, including the Retina-esque Nexus 7 and refreshed Kindle Fire HD, Apple knows its new iPad mini cannot fall behind competition. Depending on what others planned to release this year, Apple probably had the non-Retina display iPad mini 2 ready to release in case rivals disappointed with their own tablet entrants, but Apple is probably afraid of the consumer backlashed attached to releasing an expensive product with inferior features, and wants enough manpower to release the iPad mini 2 with a Retina display.

Apple will need to answer many questions within its supply chain in order to release the iPad mini 2 with Retina display to time. In April, reliable KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo adjusted his timetable for the iPad mini with Retina display, saying “technical challenges” with Retina displays could delay its release date. In May, NPD DisplaySearch analysts claimed Apple would release a non-Retina iPad mini in late 2013 with the Retina update coming in early 2014, but revised the report hours later to say both models would release with Retina displays. In June, the company returned to its original prediction of a thinner iPad mini in 2013 and a Retina iPad mini release in 2014. Even if this back-and-forth between iPad mini 2 rumors mimics the actual internal battle at Apple over the final specs for the iPad mini 2, consumers can be sure that Apple will try its best to distance itself from any tablet competitors ready to release this year, regardless of display density.

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