iPad Mini: From a Designer’s Point of View

It’s thinner, lighter, almost half the size of the recently announced 4th generation iPad, and it’s designed to fill the gap of what Steve Jobs thought as a ‘receptive‘ position of a 7-inch tablet market. The new iPad Mini, as believed to be one of the many dubbed names put up by the Apple analysts’ rumor mill (alongside the names “iPad Air” or “the Smaller iPad”), boasts a 7.9-inch 1024-by-768-pixel display — and having the same screen resolution of the 1st and 2nd generation iPads, packed into what is a mere smaller, hand-held form factor, the new iPad mini has the right to be called, the iPad mini.

So what’s the significance of the mini? Think of it as the iPad you’d take on your commute to work. Or the iPad you’d be handed at a museum. Or the iPad you’d take with you to school. Or even the iPad you’d bring with you to bed. It’s the iPad designed, with its hand-held form factor, to bring with you everywhere, to pull out quickly, and tuck in to your messenger bag. It’s the 11-inch MacBook Air of the iPad. Portable, yet powerful.

The Display: What it means for us

Wait, what does that mean? Will this iPad mini also feature a Retina Display, just like that of the brand-new 13-inch MacBook Pro’s next-generation iteration? Well, no. However, just like the small talk that’s going on with the new 13-inch’s lack of high-end graphics (the recent update of the MacBook features Integrated Graphics — believed to be not so great for powering multi-displays) the iPad mini doesn’t come with the 326-ppi resolution as a selling point. Not a great thing, in my opinion, but quality as always, depends on long-term use. So does that mean it’s still great? Yeah, it sure does. Especially for us designers and developers.

Read this: the iPad mini comes at a resolution of 1024px by 768px. Sounds familiar? That’s the original screen resolution the first-generation iPad shipped with, and it’s probably the starting point for designs of many of us app developers and designers. This scaled down resolution, (1.23x reduced, to be approximate) makes designing for the iPad a breeze, (considering you start at “1x”) and it takes out the hard work for us designers and developers. In other words, it’s a lot easier to make adjustments for the iPad Mini’s screen than for the iPhone 5.

In terms of changes, this doesn’t feel at all great. Since the mini keeps the same aspect ratio of the bigger iPad’s display, the product design for this doesn’t fit well with Apple’s last-month changes of their other handhelds. The iPhone 5, iPod touch, and even the all-new iPod Nano adopts the new 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio Apple is pushing, and we’re seeing no changes at all for the mini‘s new display. Maybe next year?

The Hardware

However, the new iPad mini does reflect back on some of the other recent updates Apple pushed last month. The iPad mini’s hardware design echoes back the new iPod Touch‘s full unibody-esque aluminium design. Judging by the images released by Apple, the mini also has the signature mirror-tapered edges that make the display and the back of the iPad mini’s conjunction seamless. It’s this precision-based design and obsession that makes customers like us love their products. And then again, the mini‘s hardware still looks like a blown-up iPod touch.

Also, just like the touch , the iPad mini comes with a 5-megapixel iSight camera — pretty decent for snap-and-take family photos, though still a little awkward to hold doing photography by yourself. (Even more so with the bigger iPad.) Internally, the mini, and unlike the touch itself, comes with a cellular option so you can upload and share your photos on-the-go with iOS 6‘s new Shared Photostreams. Also, as advanced as this product may seem in terms of Apple’s release, it lacks the new A6x chip as featured in the 4th generation iPad. Which has sort of become a trend. Apple tends to make the ‘lower-end’ model slightly… lower (same story with the iPod Touch and iPhone).

Now, what if Apple released the iPad mini, multi-colored? Sure, the smart-covers are there. But would it fare to adults and kids alike — even more? What about a strap? Having the mini‘s new smaller, lighter design, would it make sense to sell this with one? In terms of consistency with Apple’s hardware design, why not make it go all the way? However in context, and for us in our industry, I doubt we’ll even need these features. Though next year might have these, maybe.

In terms of general hardware design, it’s basically a re-engineered iPad, scaled down and built from the ground up. It’s a smaller second-gen iPad with less of the bezels on the side, a tapered, slimmer aluminium unibody and the all-new Lightning connector. Yet it’s so well designed.

The Prospect

Even though I haven’t had the hands-on experience with the iPad mini yet, I still believe it’s got the potential to sell for the mass-market. For us designers and developers, however, we’re here to wonder who’s to stop us from getting the mini ourselves — despite its minor shortcomings like its lack of a Retina Display, the lower-class yet-still-decent A5 chip and no push-button straps (Yes) — and what we as an industry can do to design beautiful products and apps for it. It’s like a blank canvas Apple’s handed to us to design even more beautiful things. After all, the mini ‘s still just every inch of an iPad. Just smaller and concentrated.

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