For those of us who follow these sorts of things, it didn’t come as a huge surprise that Apple outfitted the 2013 iPad mini with a retina display. Other tablets of similar stature have boasted retina like displays for about a year now and the mini would have faced heavy criticism had it not adopted the higher resolution display this year.
No, the biggest surprise about this year’s iPad mini is that Apple built it with the A7 processor, Apple’s newest high end chip that had been reserved for its other top of the line 2013 products: the iPhone 5s and the iPad Air.
Last year, when Apple introduced the mini, it included a processor that was then two years old. The logic at the time seemed to suggest that Apple viewed the mini as entry level device, the one you purchased if you couldn’t afford the greater horse power and larger screen of its bigger brother.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about this thinking here. At the time, I argued that Apple was forcing high end users to make a tough choice between a large iPad that was too heavy for one handed use, and an exceptionally lissom iPad that was too underpowered for higher end apps.
Instead, I suggested that the iPad mini could, if outfitted with Apple’s best processor, be the high end iPad because of its smaller size, not despite it. Take for instance Porche or Jaguar, cars that escalate in price as they get smaller. Small and agile are what makes these cars high end. So my hope at the time was for Apple to give power users the best of both worlds - a small, nimble iPad with cutting edge performance.
But despite my hope, I didn’t actually think Apple would, or even could, deliver such a compromise free iPad mini. I was skeptical mainly because writers like John Gruber, who have solid track records and better instincts for analyzing Apple trends, were fairly certain the company would continue to use older processors in the mini line.
And yet, Apple did do the one thing that many people predicted they wouldn’t, and stuck an A7 chip inside this year’s iPad mini. So as much I like to go around commenting on what Apple would or would never do, it’s nice to know that even a company that follows predictable patterns can still surprise us.