It's pretty well known at this point that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) doesn't endow the "mini" variants of its iPads with the latest-and-greatest technology or designs. For example, while the iPad Air got thinner, faster, and just better this year, Apple only made minor improvements to this year's iPad mini.
Yes, it's true: the iPad mini 3 is basically just an iPad mini 2 with Touch ID and a gold color option. However, it's not hard to understand why Apple doesn't seem to care about this particular product category.
Lower margins and lackluster iPad mini 2 sales likely drove this decision
Now, it's not surprising that Apple would want to hang back on giving the iPad mini the latest technologies: Apple has stated on previous earnings calls that the iPad mini carries lower-than-corporate gross margins. Further, according to Localytics (via MacRumors), iPad mini 2 share of total iPad device share was just 5% -- lower than even the original iPad at the time of publication.
It's clear that the iPad mini 2 failed to sell in high enough volumes for Apple to justify more aggressively developing the line, and that's probably why customers saw such a lackluster iPad mini 3 this year. That said, a recent report from Mac Fan (via MacRumors) suggests that the next generation iPad mini, referred to in the report as the iPad mini 4, could be the iPad mini that customers have been looking for.
What will this new iPad mini 4 feature?
According to the report, the new iPad mini 4 will feature the A8X processor found inside of today's iPad Air 2. AnandTech reports that the A8X has a 128-bit memory bus, this means that the platform will require two memory chips in order to maximize its full memory bandwidth potential. This would strongly suggest that Apple will move to 2GB of memory in the iPad mini 4, as it did with the iPad Air 2 this year.
In addition to the specification upgrade, the report claims that the iPad mini 4 will feature an industrial design that, to borrow MacRumors' words, "more closely resembles Apple's latest iPad Air." In other words, it should get thinner and lighter. For a small tablet, that's always a good thing.
Some unanswered questions
While the above information, if correct, would be a good thing, there are some critical details still missing. For example, one chief complaint about the iPad mini 2 and its ever-so-slightly upgraded iPad mini 3 sibling is that the display isn't very good. DisplayMate's Dr. Raymond Soneira was blunt in summarizing his analysis of the iPad mini 3's display:
So in addition to washed out, under saturated and distorted colors (red tomatoes, fire trucks, and Coke cans look a bit orange rather than deep red, for example) it continues with a moderately high screen Reflectance of 6.5 percent, almost triple that of its favored littermate, which further washes out its image colors in ambient light.
Will Apple finally provide a higher quality display on the iPad mini 4? I would certainly hope so.
Another point to ponder is: When will Apple release the iPad mini 4? If Apple follows its traditional release cycle, the iPad mini 4 will hit the market around October of next year. However, given that the iPad mini 3 probably isn't going to do all that well either, I wouldn't be surprised if Apple were to replace it much sooner -- just as it did with the iPad 3, which was replaced just months after its introduction by the iPad 4.
Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.