At this time last year, there were only two screen sizes housing Apple’s mobile operating system that we call iOS. There were four total resolutions, but only two physical screen sizes. These of course being the 3.5-inch iPhone and the 9.7-inch iPad. Developers, therefore, had to make their apps compatible with just four resolutions. This made iOS a very attractive platform, especially considering the App Store’s health.
Now there are four. We have the 3.5-inch iPhone/iPod touch of old, the 4-inch iPhone 5/iPod touch, the 7.9-inch iPad mini, and the 9.7-inch iPad. Seven resolutions still (at least partially) supported at the release of what we assume will be a Retina iPad mini. Why is this significant? It’s not that I’m against innovation. I, like most, know that it’s about time for Apple’s next big product. We don’t know what it’s going to be yet, and we don’t know how it will fare. We do know, however, that the iPhone was the first of its kind. I doubt Apple will introduce anything–seeing the iPhone’s success–that isn’t the first of its kind. That’s reassuring. But here’s what’s concerning:
Before the iPad mini was announced, I boldly shared my stance. I actually didn’t think we would see an iPad mini in the near future, and I backed my stance with quotes from Tim Cook and Steve Jobs exemplifying their overwhelming stance non-fragmentation across their platforms.
I will share with you, once again, something the late Steve Jobs once said regarding Apple’s stance on this issue. It’s from the Q4 2009 earnings call:
Our goal is to make the best devices in the world.. not to be the biggest. As you know Nokia is the biggest.. and we admire them for being able to ship the number of handsets that they do. But we don’t aspire to be like them. They’re good at being like them. We want to be like us, and we want to make the best…
I know that they boldly defended the product’s release by keeping the resolution of the device the same of the iPad 2. This, I think, was a big mistake. Not just for the obvious reasons like the fact that non-Retina screens are horrid in comparison to what we’re now used to, but also because the iPad mini’s release will end up meaning one of two things: Its life will be shorter than usual, or the non-Retina screen format’s life will be longer than usual.
Both of these situations are bad. In the former, Apple brings a product to the market that everyone loves, but will soon be unsupported by developers. This happened with the original iPad. Its second iteration was so dramatically better than the first, that developers (especially game studios) abandoned it–no questions asked. That’s not a good situation for the customer. But neither is the second situation I listed. If developers continue to support this (relatively) horrid screen and weaker-than-normal A5 processor, we’re just going to see a lengthened life of outdated technology and further fragmentation.
Apple needs to move away from non-Retina screens as soon as possible. Currently available on Apple’s website are the iPod touch (both Retina and non-Retina), the iPhone 4S (Retina), the iPhone 5 (Retina), the iPad 2 (non-Retina), the iPad mini (non-Retina) and the iPad 4 (Retina). The iPad 2 is on its way out, I have no doubt. But the iPad mini was only brought to market in October, leaving it under six months old! It will be the last of Apple’s non-Retina products, and being so, it requires app developers to support this resolution for even longer. Good news for iPad 2 owners, bad news for almost everyone else.
I guess these are growing pains. Apple made a smart move business-wise by introducing a “revolutionary” product that is clearly under-powered. They did the same with the original iPad. And the original iPod touch. And the original iPhone. There’s a reason I will always advise you not to buy Apple’s first generation anything.
I wish it didn’t have to happen. As an iPad mini owner, I know that I will be selling it come the time the iPad mini “2″ is announced. I was completely wrong regarding whether the iPad mini would be released, but I stand by my opinion that, even though it was a good business decision in some ways, the iPad mini goes against what I would hope to be an ideal Apple. Until the non-Retina screens are gone, iOS will remain relatively fragmented compared to its previous state.
Have we seen any obvious negative fallout due to this? I believe this is only part of what has become a slightly-less innovative Apple. One that now has a chance to really surprise us with their next product. Whether it’s coming this year or next, I of course recommend you don’t buy it. If patterns of the past tell us anything, it will be revolutionary. But it will be drastically better in its second iteration.
The iPad mini should have been Retina from the beginning. A non-Retina iPad mini probably met the right costs, didn’t overheat, will bring in the most profit, and will go down in history as a revolutionary product. But a Retina iPad mini would have followed (at least what the late Jobs said was) Apple’s underlying philosophy.