Before we dive into our specific topic - the next generation iPad mini, let's take a moment to reflect on what sort of design elements the next collection of mobile devices from Apple are likely to deliver on. Actually, we have one particular design cue in mind - a design feature centered on a very gently curved display screen. The reason for the gentle curve is that it is still unlikely - given today's existing chip manufacturing capabilities and the fact that, although we're starting to hear about flexible batteries (including one design that Apple has a patent for), we're still stuck with the old fashioned kind - that any smartphone can be made any thinner than the current designs.
But, it is possible to make the ends thinner while still packing in all of the necessary electronics, which would in turn lead to designs that could feature curved displays. How so? Well, Mashable has provided one such iPhone design concept that we ourselves are quite taken with. It is clearly crisp, sleek and quite cool in our humble opinion. Further, we can see it fitting in with the new iOS 7 design cues. Let's take a look:
It will be interesting to see how Apple incorporates a fingerprint scanner into the iPhone - whether curved or not. Will it be off to the side or incorporated into the home button? We're not sold on the fingerprint scanner ourselves, but we remain open-minded about it. But that is a story for another day. For now it’s the curved screen that intrigues us.
So, with the image above in mind, let's now transition back to the iPad mini. When the iPad mini was announced last year, we were only a bit surprised that Apple did not deliver it with a retina display, although we knew at the time that it would likely prove impossible for Apple to get its supply chain in line to do so at the time. We've fully anticipated the next gen mini to be delivered with a retina display, but we've hedged our bets in our discussions of what Apple will deliver this fall - ok, we admit it, we have been fully equivocal about it. But with good reason.
Even today the greatest issue on retina quality displays remains the supply chain. Given the ambivalence between Samsung and Apple and the fact that other display manufacturers (e.g. LG and Sharp) simply cannot match Samsung's scale and cannot deliver the quantities of display panels Apple needs in order to ensure an adequate supply in its own global sales chains.
The problem for Apple as a cutting edge company is that it is simply unacceptable for Apple to not deliver a retina quality iPad mini - particularly in the face of the flagship products from its competitors, such as Google's new Nexus 7. Apple obviously wields a great deal of supply chain muscle, so we find it very hard to believe that it can't muster up the needed retina panels in a non-curved configuration. This in turn has led us to wonder if perhaps the real issue is in delivering retina mini displays that can be delivered with a slight curve to them.
Quite honestly, if Apple were able to deliver a next gen mini that is similar in concept to the Mashable iPhone concept shown above, it would in fact represent a design leap - who wouldn't want one? Relative to our speculation here, we have to wonder if the new rumors that are now emerging - courtesy of a Wall Street Journal based on display supply chain rumors - that Apple's suppliers are in fact now gearing up to deliver a retina iPad mini in time for the anticipated early fall 2013 announcements is really about a curved display.
The Coolness of Curves
Interestingly, one real ongoing issue for Apple has been its need to rely on its fierce competitor Samsung for a large number of its displays and processors. LG and Sharp are simply not able to meet Apple's demand. Of further interest to us is that Samsung is the one company we believe is able to build curved displays on a large scale. It must be a torturous process for Apple to have to rely on Samsung and pass along to its semiconductor manufacturing side all sorts of secret device designs and specifications. It must be equally torturous for Samsung to maintain a true wall between its semiconductor manufacturing business and its device design and manufacturing side. It's practically unimaginable for us at this point.
We also find it quite interesting that the sudden possible breaking of the logjam on mini displays - assuming the Wall Street Journal report is accurate - comes at exactly the same time that Samsung itself has been telling the global financial community that it will be reliant on its semiconductor businesses to drive new revenue streams in light of device sales going through a slowdown. That would be perfect timing for Apple.
The Wall Street Journal report notes that the various component makers involved in manufacturing the mini have been told by Apple that the mini will be built using displays from all three key manufacturers - Samsung, LG and Sharp. We're not convinced that LG and Sharp couldn't have delivered the simple retina panels in numbers that Apple requires. But toss in the "curve" of curved screens and things change dramatically on delivering adequate supplies.
If Apple's state of the art mini design called for a curved retina that suppliers couldn't meet then Apple may have been looking at waiting to deliver. Simply providing a non-curved mini retina display may not have been enough for Apple and it may have been thinking that staying with the old displays was a better move until its supply chain could deliver. Samsung entering the picture would certainly change the dynamics underlying Apple's strategic plans.
In any case, even with the Wall Street Journal report in hand, it is all still speculation as to what Apple will deliver. One thing we can be safe in assuming is that the old iPad mini will become Apple's new low cost entry in the 7-8 inch tablet segment. Similarly, the iPhone 5 will take on a mid-price role and the inexpensive iPhone 5C (should it see the light of day) will cover the low end. All of these "non-flagship" devices will retain their non-curved displays.
The other thing we know for certain is that none of these have curved screens. What makes the curved iPhone design shown above doubly intriguing for us is that Apple will be able to deliver a very clear and powerful design differentiator between the non-curved devices that it deems "low end" and those it deems state of the art.
It is so Jony Ive to think this way that we buy our own speculation!
TechZone360 Senior Editor
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