Tuesday is the next big Apple launch, and despite Apple’s usual proclivity for minimizing the number of products released at a single event, it looks like this will be a busy day.
The 7.85″ iPad is the most certain of these products. I agree with the general consensus that the no-brainer name for this device is the iPad Mini: it differentiates it from the full-sized iPad without resorting to numbers (e.g. ‘8-inch iPad’). Gruber has a penchant for iPad Air, but it seems off to me: the iPad is already thin and light. It seems awkward to emphasize this further in the smaller iPad, even if it will be thinner and lighter. The specs seem pretty well known: a non-retina 1024 x 768 screen, allowing compatibility with existing iPad apps. This places the Mini at the same pixel density as the iPhone 3GS, but since iPads are generally held further from the face than iPhones, it will effectively look sharper. Because of the smaller overall screen size, the sharpness will be between that of the iPad 2 and The New iPad (aka iPad 3). Given the pressure to have an inexpensive product to compete with the growing number of small tablets (e.g. Kindle Fire and Nexus 7), a retina screen (which, at this screen size, would require a higher dot pitch than the current reitna iPad) is unlikely to be financially feasible this year.
A refresh to the current full-sized iPad with a Lightning connector also seems likely: Apple needs to make a transition to this new connector, and the sooner they can do this, the better. I also expect we’ll see the iPad 2 killed off as the Mini becomes the new entry-level device.
A new retina 13″ MacBook Pro is also expected. No big surprises: essentially the same machine as the 15″ MacBook Pro, only smaller. I expect a 2560 x 1600 resolution (1280×800 effective pixels), no DVD drive, and SSD-only storage. The 13″ MBP has been a strange machine in the line-up since the 13″ MacBook Air became a mainstream device. Why buy a bulkier, heavier machine with a lower screen resolution (1280×800 vs the MBA’s 1440 x 900)? In the past, one reason was that the MBP offered a DVD drive while the MBA did not. This is becoming less of an issue now and the retina MBP further blurs the lines between these two machines. The weights will be closer, and the storage options will be the same. Why not just introduce a retina MBA and kill off the 13″ Pro? My sense is that the Air form factor just can’t handle the requirements of a retina screen (the power, the screen thickness, and the necessary GPU).
The rumored Mac Mini update is decidedly unexciting. The real question is whether or not there’s a substantial iMac update in store. I think it’s still too optimistic to think a retina iMac would be possible at this stage. I expect that any updated iMacs will essentially be spec-bumped models. No new enclosure, no significant hardware changes other than USB3.