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Here comes an iPad Mini with a Retina display—aka the best tablet ever

AP/Julie Ianeloo
Tablets are about to come of age.
By Christopher Mims
CupertinoPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Apple has just revealed the processor that will enable the company to produce the world’s first ultra-high resolution tablet in the range of seven to eight inches, otherwise known as a Retina display iPad Mini. But it’s in a funny place, observes Marco Arment, developer of news-saving app Instapaper: The Apple TV.

The specifics are a bit arcane, but here’s Arment’s logic: The processor in the third-generation iPad, the A5X, is the least-powerful processor Apple ever made that could support the enormous number of pixels in a Retina display of the size of an iPad’s screen. (Retina is Apple’s trade name for its high-resolution displays.) But the A5X was too big, too hot, and too power-hungry to ever end up in another portable device, least of all an iPad Mini. That’s why Apple created the next-generation CPU, the A6X, for the current, fourth-generation iPad.

But it appears that the new Apple TV not only resurrects the A5X processor, but uses an enhanced version of it, in which the features of the chip have been carved from silicon at a smaller size than the original A5X. (To engineers and geeks, this is known as the chip’s “process.”) All other things being equal, microchips with smaller features use less power and run cooler. Hence, the enhanced A5X CPU in the new Apple TV is the perfect (lowest power, lowest cost) microprocessor for a Retina iPad Mini.

To be clear, Apple has not announced a Retina iPad Mini. (We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on the details of Arment’s speculation, and will update when we hear from it.)

Here’s the larger significance of this development: It’s very likely that a high-resolution iPad Mini would be the most perfect tablet ever. Many reviewers have commented that tablets that are around seven inches diagonally are the perfect size for the things we actually do with tablets. The one drawback of the iPad Mini, which along with Google’s Nexus 7 is the best of breed, is that its screen isn’t the ultra-high resolution kind that users have come to expect since the iPhone 4. Retina screens aren’t just nice to have—they’re also easier to read on and more pleasant in general, because they are right at the limit of precision of our eyes.

A Retina display iPad Mini, in other words, is likely to be the first of a sort of tablet that we will all be using for as long as tablets are still a part of our lives.

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