It's all about small tablets these days. That segment of the tablet market is going wild right now as consumers flock toward affordable mobile devices that fulfill their casual computing needs.
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) stepped in last year in a big way, with the iPad Mini at the $329 price point. The smaller version's biggest weakness is easily the lackluster display. At 1024 x 768, the display already lagged rival devices from Amazon.com and Google, both of which used 1280 x 800 panels in their smaller 7-inch tablets from 2012. Apple can fend off rivals on other competitive strengths, like a wider tablet-optimized app ecosystem or sturdier build quality -- but only for so long.
Several reports have surfaced this month that Apple may be forced to delay the Retina iPad Mini. Earlier this week, DIGITIMES said that a redesigned fifth-generation full-sized iPad was still on track for a launch this fall, but that Apple's running into some hurdles with a smaller Retina display. Apple has been challenged with manufacturing yields at suppliers on a high-resolution 7.9-inch panel, threatening the device's schedule.
A fresh report from China's Economic Daily News believes that Apple has indeed delayed the Retina iPad Mini's launch until early 2014 because of the troubles it's having.
Apple can't afford to wait that long.
Rivals are expected to beef up their displays even further with their 2013 models, up to approximately 1920 x 1200, in which case even Apple's strong iOS ecosystem may not be enough to defend against rivals. A Retina display is expected to use the same approach of doubling pixel dimensions, which would put it at 2048 x 1536. Apple is also unlikely to just ship a different display inside as a temporary solution, since there are negative consequences to its platform in the form of hardware fragmentation and app compatibility.
Additionally, delaying the device until 2014 would mean that Apple's most promising new product would mostly sit on the sidelines during the all-important holiday shopping season. The relatively low resolution on an aging device wouldn't stand up very well next to sharp new tablets from Amazon and Google.
Fool contributor Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.