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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.