The iPhone 5 Event Was Really About The iPad Mini [Updated]

As Apple succumbs to the era of leaked tech toys, its launch events are becoming more about the next product than the one they're debuting.

Right. Now what's next?

Yesterday Apple revealed its iPhone 5, a slender metal-backed machine that, last year, was tipped as Steve Jobs' final close-held design project. It's a tech tour de force, and represents an upgrade of almost every iPhone system. It'll likely sell by the millions. But we're pretty much already over it.

If we've become unimpressed by Apple events that showcase iterations of a phone that doesn't really need much iteration—at least on the outside—then maybe the events are becoming fodder for new rounds of leaks about the company's next device. Especially when, like yesterday's iPhone event, they confirm the previous leaks. The iPhone 5 conforms almost exactly to leaked hardware and software details that led up to its release. So we're more likely to latch on to reports of parts spotted from a forthcoming iPad.


In terms of design, we've seen parts that show the iPad will have the new Lightning dock connector—a no-brainer, given that this will be the system for "years to come." We've also seen a rear shell (site is in French) that's been carved out of aluminum to exacting levels of detail that tally well with the rear metal shell of the new iPhone 5 and the current iPad design.

Looking at the way Apple has upgraded the iPhone's specs, and also boosted the iPod Touch's internals, we can guess that an iPad mini may have commonality with some of the hardware in the iPod Touch—which is lower-spec than the iPhone. This way, the new device would be future-facing, but not outperform the current large-scale iPad, thus avoiding some cannibalization risks. It may also cost less to manufacture (due to production line efficiencies, for one). The iPod's CPU, dock, speakers, and wireless chips may make this jump.

The iPad mini's screen tech will probably not match the resolution of the current retina-res iPad 3, because compressing the screen down will require even more pixels-per-inch and thus drive up screen production costs (and drive down production yields). Instead it'll probably be the same resolution as the iPad 2, which makes great sense in terms of the hundreds of thousands of iPad apps already available for this screen's pixel count. But because this is effectively a new screen order for Apple, it may use the same in-screen touch-sensing tech that the new iPhone does—this could allow for a cheaper, thinner screen too.

But apart from the design and technological reasons, we can take something else from Apple's crop of new hardware and use it to infer why the iPad mini really may be en route (because, remember, it's still just a rumor—even though it may be showing up in web logs). What Apple's new iPhone and iPods demonstrated was a careful, considered, calm and rational upgrade of its products. They were all designed to appeal to the market and garner sales without taking technological "risks" or leaps into the dark, such as NFC—even the new iPod Nano is aimed at squeezing more revenue out of the MP3 (and portable camera) market, which in general is dying by the day.

Bottom line: The iPhone 5 event might end up being remembered as the iPad mini preview. And a small iPad costing between $200 and $300 looks more and more plausible.

UPDATE

A Taiwanese newspaper is now reporting that the iPad mini has gone into production, and that Pegatron—not Foxconn—has been chosen by Apple as the main supplier of the device. If this latter rumor proves true, it represents an interesting move by Apple to diversify its manufacturing base and rely less on single points of failure.

Meanwhile what may be a mockup of a full-assembled iPad mini has shown up online, mating an aluminum back plate with what looks like a glass front plate, and tallying with earlier rumors.

Hottest of all among this leaked data is the suggestion that newly-minted iPad minis are rolling off the line fast enough to be shipped in September, which could tally nicely with an early October launch date. That iPhone launch event, and subsequent truncated roll-out (faster than previous iPhones to more nations) sure was timed sweetly.

[Image: Cult Of Mac]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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10 Comments

  • Rick

    ipad mini?  Can't see it happening.  There is a huge group of people out there who have at least two if not three of the following: a mac (desktop or laptop), an iPad, and an iPad, and possibly even a nano for working out.  There is no place for a mini in that mix - it'd have to cannibalize.

  • Ray Tracy

    Well, you might be right. However I think, given the enormous number of pre-orders for it already, if the event was about the mini, it did a pretty good job of flogging the iP5. Personally, I think it was the echo of SJ's swan song, and a farewell to thee. I have no idea what Apple is planning, however I do know that the lack of refreshes on some compute products, most notably the Mac Pro, signals that there have been, and are going to be, some large changes in the company, and that Tim Cook will put his own stamp on things. I feel that the event was a sop to the old days, but it'll probably be the last time things are handled in this fashion. I believe TC will lead Apple away from the Cult Of Steve that it was and into a mature business that is responsive to consumers and resellers alike......oh crap, I almost got through the last part without laughing....

  • Jack Handy

    The iPad mini will not be between $200-$300.  The new 16GB iPod Touch is $299.  A new 16GB iPad 2 is $399.  A 16GB iPad mini has to come in at $349.

  • Aaron Neptune

    I'm sure that Apple will continue to make stable and useful products. Staggering their releases is nothing new. Unlike the earlier releases, we now have everyone and their horse weighing in on a product that we aren't designing ourselves. This enhanced communication capability has made us short-sighted. We get bored easy and forget a quicker. We ignore history and talk a lot more than we DO things. As you can see below...bored people not DOING anything. I include myself in this too. I'd rather be knee-jerk critical of other's inventions than actually try making something myself. I think the iPhone should have had a 3d camera. And for that reason I now hate them.

  • GUEST

    My cousin's uncle's brother's sister's mom's neighbors friend knows somebody that got a flyer that says the ipad mini is DEFINITELY coming.  You heard it here first.

  • Drevil6466

    The iPad mini is coming. I work for an electronics retailer and just got a company wide email telling us we are to receive iPhone 5 and iPad mini cases very soon

  • Ricky Robinson

    @drevil6466 Where's the proof? In that case...we just received an email that we are going to receive martian sized tuxedo's because Curiosity rover has discovered aliens on Mars.