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Let’s talk about the iPad mini

iOS 6 is coming out tomorrow, the iPhone 5 will be in people’s hot little hands in just a few days (and would have been by now, except FedEx held delivery to match Apple’s ship date) and now the rumor mill is turning to the next big thing from Apple. Or the next little thing.

After Apple’s iPhone 5/iPod touch announcement, a lot of people assumed that there would be no iPad mini after all. It was widely assumed to compete with Google’s Nexus 7 in price as well as size, and the iPod touch has the $199-299 price range covered. Why would Apple release a smaller iPad 2, as the iPad mini was rumored to be, with the same chipset as the iPad 2 and the same 1024×768 screen as the iPad 2, only shrunk down to 7.85 inches, when it already had iOS devices in that price range for people who didn’t want the iPhone?

Because Apple isn’t going for the low end. The iPad mini isn’t scaled down iPad 2. It’s a scaled down _iPad 3__.

I know, I know, there is no “iPad 3.” You know what I mean. Apple is creating a new product category with the iPad mini. It’s not just a smaller iPad. Anyone who has used both the iPad and the Nexus 7 can tell you that these are both tablets, but they’re very different classes of device. My friend James Kendrick at ZDnet has even suggested that they might not call it an iPad at all. He thinks they could recycle an older Apple product name and call it the iBook. It would fit.

And because they’re creating a new class of Apple product, they’re not going to skimp. The iPhone 3GS has been discontinued, so there’s no reason to keep buying that 163 ppi glass. By positioning the iPad mini as a premium device, Apple can save money by not continuing to buy supplies they don’t really need.

I expect the iPad mini to sport an A6 CPU, same as the iPhone 5. It will ship with iOS 6 preinstalled — obvious, you say, but Android phones keep getting _announced_ with Ice Cream Sandwich instead of Jelly Bean — and it will have at least 1GB of RAM. Not that Apple will tell you how much is in there.

But they will tell you about the screen. It will be 7.85 inches, and it will be the same resolution as the iPad 3: 2048×1536.

That seems outrageous, I know. The iPad 3 screen already looks ridiculously sharp, and scaling it down to about half the size will make it even sharper. How sharp? 2048×1536 on a 7.85 inch 4:3 aspect ratio screen comes to 326 ppi.

Does that number look familiar?

It should, because that’s _exactly_ the same ppi as the glass used _all_ of the remaining production iPhones. Glass Apple has already cornered the market on. Glass they already buy in bulk, at absurdly low prices.

Tim Cook, you must remember, isn’t the product visionary Steve Jobs was. Cook’s magic is supply line management. I know that doesn’t sound sexy, but what it _means_ is that Cook makes the deals that ensure Apple pays as little as it possibly can for raw materials, translating to massive profit margins on the other end. These deals are a big part of why Apple is the world’s most valuable company.

And the iPad mini will be very, very profitable for Apple. By using the same parts as the iPhone 5, and just cutting the glass to a different size, Tim Cook gets to maintain the economies of scale he loves so much. And by making it a premium product, he can price it to _replace_ the iPad 2 at $399 for the 16GB model, scaling up by $100 to double the storage and/or $129 to add LTE just as the iPad 3 does. Basically, an iPad mini will be just $100 cheaper than the iPad 3 at the same capacity and wireless capabilities.

Will Apple sell they iPad mini at _double_ the price of the baseline Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire 7 HD? They’ll sell _millions_ of them. Because while the Nexus 7 and Fire screens look good, they’re going to look like weasel vomit side by side with the iPad mini. No Android maker will be able to come close to that screen density at that price.

And thus Apple remains an “aspirational” brand, like BMW. People pay a premium for the very best. Because they’re worth it.