Retina-calibre displays are superb. Apple defines “Retina” as a display which is so high resolution that at a specific distance defined by the screen’s size, the human eye cannot distinguish individual pixels. Without a doubt, this is a huge improvement in screen technology that truly makes text and images come to life when they’re shown on these devices.
Personally, I love my third-generation iPad for its incredible display. I doubt that I would want to go back to a tablet that isn’t Retina-class. That said, Apple’s decision to ship the iPad mini without a Retina display was wise from a business point of view. It is good enough for now, and that’s the entire point.
The very best iPad you could buy in February of this year did not have a Retina display. The iPad 2′s 9.7in screen at 1024 x 768 is 132 PPI. The current 4th-generation iPad screen at 2048 x 1536 is 264 PPI. The iPad mini’s 7.9in screen at 1024 x 768 is 163 PPI. This screen that so many people are calling “ugly” is actually higher quality than the top-of-the-line iPad’s display from earlier this year. Apple is still selling the non-Retina iPad 2 right alongside the current 4th-generation iPad and iPad mini. Apple wouldn’t be selling it if the model wasn’t still incredibly profitable.
It’s clear that Retina displays are headed for all of Apple’s products, but this transitional period still needs non-Retina screens around. For example, Apple’s £899 27in Thunderbolt display is only about 109 PPI. It is bigger and positioned farther away than an iPad or iPhone, but it’s still not a Retina-class screen. Nobody would be surprised if Apple announced a Retina Thunderbolt display in 2013 or 2014, but the current model is good enough for now.
Non-Retina MacBook Pros are still being kept around because they are still important for Apple’s bottom line during this Retina transition. The same goes for the iPad mini. Nobody will be shocked if Apple releases a Retina-calibre iPad mini next year or the year after, but the current model is something that will obviously sell well right now despite the screen. It is good enough.
It’s very easy to get caught up in pixel counting and incessant comparisons to Microsoft’s Surface, Google’s Nexus 7, and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD. As nerds, we are often incredibly spec-focused. There is merit to that, but it can get in our way if we’re myopic about a certain spec. That said, you can get a good idea about how the iPad mini’s screen stacks up to the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD in this article by Dr. Raymond M. Soneira. The screen isn’t perfect, but it actually comes out looking better than I had anticipated.
A single spec, even one as important as the clarity of the screen, isn’t enough to make or break a product, provided that it falls under the category of “good enough.” Build quality, ecosystem, compatibility, and software quality are all just parts of what makes a product compelling or not in the eyes of a consumer. The iPad’s dominance in the tablet market is a huge benefit for the iPad mini because it can take advantage of the best ecosystem available. When a consumer is looking at buying a new tablet, they aren’t just looking at a single spec. You have to think about the bigger picture.
The lack of a Retina-class display might be a non-starter for you. I know it is for me, but that doesn’t make the iPad mini a bad device or a misstep for Apple. The screen is good enough for now, and provided Apple keeps rapidly improving its tablet line, the lack of a Retina screen will be a tiny footnote in the history of the iPad.