Plenty of people think an iPad mini is a great idea. By bringing it to market now Apple would be able to leverage the halo effect of its existing market-leading device to compete with a slew of peer tablets from Google, Amazon, Samsung, and Microsoft--probably winning another battle in the Great Tech War of 2012. As yet we know nothing concrete about the device, but information in the form of rumors from inside sources and snippets of data are arriving.
The chap behind Instapaper, Marco Arment, reported that he's found evidence of new iPad types showing up in the device log for his web services: iPad2,5 and iPad2,6. These are unseen codes for iPad models, with the nearest model number being iPad2,4 for 2012's slightly updated iPad 2 model, now on sale for $399.
Though this data could be planted by mischevious hackers who'd jailbroken their iPads to adjust the ID codes, Arment believes them to be genuine. His guesswork suggests they're for an iPad mini with Wi-Fi and one with GSM data...and he expects that there's also an iPad2,7 edition for CDMA data that simply hasn't visited his website yet.
The code is yet another convincing snippet of evidence that Apple really does have a new iPad on the way.
Arment's data has arrived with perfect timing, as speculation is now swirling about what internal tech the small iPad will have. A label such as iPad2,x is a very convincing argument that the iPad mini will contain iPad 2 guts, reworked for the smaller format and likely cheaper price of the device.
We've always assumed the iPad mini would have iPad 2 internals--it makes excellent sense, as Apple's had the best part of two years of production experience making this device. It will have honed the production line systems to reduce price of manufacture, and bump up device yields which will also reduce the manufacturing costs.
The iPad 2 for 2012 also contained a die-shrunk version of the A5 chip--consuming less power and running slightly more efficiently than the iPad 2's original larger A5 chip. Using this chip, along with a screen bearing the existing iPad 2 resolution at a smaller size, makes great sense, as there's less room for a big battery inside a 7-inch iPad. And there are hundreds of thousands of Apps in existence that are already configured to run on an iPad 2's screen, so they should port perfectly to the new device.
Bloomberg is reporting that Apple has selected AU Optronics and LG Display to create the screens for the new iPad, with evidence coming from four people familiar with the plans (which we guess is a little more convincing than evidence from just one source). TPK Holding and Yeh Cheng Technology (a Foxconn subsidiary) will supply the "lamination coating" Bloomberg also suggests, which we assume means the LCD/touch-sensor/glass protector compound that makes up the "screen" of an iPad.
It'll be a 7.85-inch display, which is about 80% of the size of a full-size iPad...although other leaked data suggests the device will have a significantly smaller bezel than the current tablet, keeping its overall size down.
By keeping the display non-retina, it's arguable Apple is thus keeping its component cost down. Adding in the reduced materials needed for a smaller device, plus Apple's expertise with the iPad 2 and its much-heralded supply chain expertise, it does seem likely the iPad mini will come at a significant lower price than the current iPad 2's $399. Will it be as low as $249? That would hit Amazon and Google where it hurts.
[Image: Flickr user methodshop]