The iPad Mini: Every Inch an iPad…or Not?

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Apple iPad Mini

Developers and the iPad Mini

The iPad mini is already a step behind. In a marketplace already cluttered with many tablet, phablet, and e-reader devices, Apples entry seems less revolutionary and more reactionary. While the me-too approach of creating a shiny product with last year’s hardware is nothing new, it spells a problem for Apple’s core users – and iOS developers.

On the surface, the iPad mini seems like a smart proposition. It fills a gap in the iOS ecosystem, between the larger sized iPad and the more lithe iPhone 5. It exerts pressure on other tablet makers, and reduces the dominance of Android as the major operating system in the tablet market. And with Google entering the hardware fray with its Nexus branded tablet devices, it was necessary for Apple to respond with a similar product.

Taking a quick glance at the iPad mini and it will look a strong competitor. Like most other Apple products the mini is aesthetically pleasing blend of sleek, aluminum, and razor-thin. Look under the hood of the mini and you’ll find a competent, but lackluster interior.

So what exactly is wrong with the mini?

It’s All About the Apps

The success that Apple has had in the mobile device industry has as much to do with its massive app store as it has to do with its impeccable devices. As Apple releases more mobile devices, developing for these various products have become more difficult. While the latest iPad is designed to run apps that have already been optimized for the iPad, it confuses the direction of developers.

Developers have always tried to support as many devices as possible with their applications. However, as hardware continues to improve, they move to capitalize and optimize on the more powerful hardware; apps become more memory and processor intensive. The latest iPad represents a step backward in the hardware direction, sporting an older processor, reduced RAM module, and a non-retina IPS panel.

For developers, this represents a conundrum overall; should they support a newer device that sports old hardware? The iPad mini’s release is too big of an event to ignore, but it seems counterintuitive to develop and optimize apps for old hardware.

The Problem with Mini

The Screen Issue

The display panel used in the new iPad mini is a non-Retina IPS display. This represents a step backward from many newer devices; most mobile phones and tablets implement IPS displays that are close to or match Apple’s retina benchmark. For developers, this means that they must focus time on creating two versions of every tablet optimized app; a Retina display optimized app and non-Retina display optimized app.

Apps optimized for use on the regular sized iPad also encounter problems when scaled down. The app UI and buttons become reduced in the scaling process, making it more difficult for the user to see and use. Certain apps that contain many elements or are content heavy may have difficulty resizing for viewing on the minis smaller screen.

New York City-based CitizenNY — an interactive, unique, magazine created for the iPads — says that the new form factor may pose an issue for developers. “With the new form factor and screen resolution, there may be issues with scaling,” said Nick Huppert, co-founder and editor-in-chief of CitizenNY. “We are a design company; we don’t develop apps. However, I can see developers encountering problems when altering code to account for the lower resolution and screen size.”

iOS apps that are not optimized for tablet use at all, function very poorly on the iPad mini. The upscaling of the non-tablet based apps causes certain parts of the UI to be distorted, or creates blank spaces on the screen that are not aesthetically pleasing.

The Size/Form Factor Issue

The size and form factor of the iPad mini affects how it is used. The change in how the user interacts with the product may necessitate that certain apps alter or change their UI to match.

The orientation of the apps comes into issue as well. The size of the iPad mini lies between the iPad and the iPhone; iPhone users typically run apps in a portrait orientation while iPad users typically run apps in the landscape orientation. App developers must reconsider whether their mobile application will run better in a portrait or landscape orientation on the mini.

Tablet centric browser start-up, Zuse, believes that consumers will use the iPad mini mostly in the portrait orientation. Joel Milton, co-founder of Zuse, stated that, “For us, the main issue with the iPad mini is that more users are likely to use the iPad mini in portrait orientation. This means that we will have to consider restructuring our app for portrait use.”

The smaller form factor of the iPad mini is also allegedly causing issues with server-side and client-side browser detection. Many users have reported that the iPad mini has been detected the same as the iPad 2. With being able to accurately identify the iPad mini as a iPad mini, websites cannot render its content correctly for the mini; fonts and layouts may not be resized correctly to fit the resolution and actual size of the iPad mini’s screen.

The Mini as a Legacy

Despite these issues, the popularity of the iPad mini has not been overlooked. Developers and users alike are abuzz about Apple’s new product. And this is not likely to be the last iPad mini to be released; it’s success has guaranteed a new generation of iPad mini with more powerful components.

Hopefully as Apple works to put together the new mini, it will endeavor to remember the importance of its developer population in addition to its dedicated users.