iPad Mini
The iPad Mini starts at $329 for Wi-Fi only and $459 for Wi-Fi and LTE. Courtesy/Apple.com

Initial reports believed the iPad Mini 2, Apple’s sequel to the 7.9-inch iPad said to arrive in the coming months, would feature a Retina display when it was released but didn’t say what exactly that would entail. But according to a new report from investment news service BrightWire, alleged sources from within Apple’s foreign supply chain say the iPad Mini 2 will feature a 7.9-inch Retina Display with an identical resolution to the full-size iPad 4 with Retina display.

The resolution on the alleged iPad Mini 2 is said to measure 2048 x 1536 pixels, which would be roughly four times the resolution of the first-generation iPad Mini, but by packing this many pixels into a smaller device, Apple actually boosts the density of the iPad Mini with Retina display to 324 pixels per inch (ppi). As a frame of reference, the iPad 3 and 4 both have display densities of 264 ppi, while the iPhone 5 has a similar density of 326 ppi.

This rumor sounds like a very realistic piece of news: Considering how Apple transplanted the screen resolution of the iPad 2 to the original iPad Mini, it’s likely that a Retina-capable iPad Mini would follow that same process, repeating the Retina display resolution within the iPad Mini’s 7.9-inch confines and giving a slight boost to the density in the process.

Rumors of an iPad Mini with Retina display have been swirling ever since Apple released its first-generation iPad Mini. Back in early November, just six days after the iPad Mini hit store shelves, Chinese news site DoNews said Apple had tapped Taiwan-based AU Optronics to begin development on a Retina display for its 7.9-inch iPad Mini. The report said the new 7.9-inch displays would have the same 2048 x 1536 resolution as the iPad 3 and 4.

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 multitouch 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 the 21-inch and 27-inch iMacs, 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 which 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 subject to environment changes, no calibration mechanism is required, and it is capable of supporting multiple-point touch control."

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, or 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 ppi," reported the SinoCast Daily Business Beat via MENAFN. "It is said that ultra-high resolution cannot 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."

However, while many reports have stated the iPad Mini 2 would feature an enhanced display resolution, several have noted that the screens themselves will be made from a different material. According to several sources, including SinoCast, DigiTimes and a host of Apple analysts, Apple apparently wants Sharp’s IGZO display technology in its next-gen iOS devices, including the iPad Mini 2.

Last 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 is that Apple sought the displays to be made by Sharp: A note from Apple analyst Horace Dediu dated Nov. 7 said Apple spent $2.3 billion for "product tooling, manufacturing process equipment and infrastructure." Dediu believed this massive pile 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."

Apple's first-generation iPad Mini, launched Nov. 2, features a non-Retina display resolution of 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. The tablet runs on iOS 6 and is compatible with the new Lightning dock connector, and specific models also support the high-speed LTE network. Apple starts selling the Wi-Fi-only model at $329, while the cellular-capable models start selling at $459.