Everything we know about the iPad mini

We are now just 24 hours away from Apple’s October 23 media event, where the Cupertino company is expected to do something it hasn’t done since January 27, 2010: unveil a new iOS device. Sure, we’ve seen updated iPhones and iPods over the years. But the last time we saw an all-new mobile product from Apple, Steve Jobs was hoisting it on stage.

That should, however, change this week, when Apple introduces the long-rumored “iPad mini.” The scaled-down tablet has been the subject of speculation and gossip for more than two years now. And if insider reports and part leaks hold true, it looks like the mythical slate is finally going to materialize in San Jose’s California Theatre tomorrow.

If this all sounds like a big deal, that’s because it is. With the iPad mini’s pricing said to be somewhere around $300, and its screen size between 7 and 8-inches, Apple’s wading into an already well-established budget tablet pool that is currently dominated by the likes of Amazon, which just introduced a slew of new Kindle Fires, and Google.

Even with the tough competition, though, analysts and pundits alike are betting on Apple to sell millions of these bite-sized iPads — especially with the holidays around the corner. But does the Cupertino company’s new tablet have what it takes to live up to the high expectations? You tell us. Here’s everything we know right now about the iPad mini …

iPad mini mockup by CiccareseDesign, commissioned by MacRumors December 2011

Rumors of Apple planning to produce a smaller version of its popular tablet go back at least two years. Our earliest report on the topic dates all the way back to August 2010, when iLounge claimed that a seven-inch-screened version of the iPad was “substantially finished,” and would be ready to go to market in late 2010 or early 2011.

Since then, we’ve heard off and on speculation regarding the so-called “iPad mini,” but the gossip has been getting increasingly louder over the past 6 months. We’ve seen leaked parts, heard reports from insiders with well-placed Apple sources, and by now we think we have a pretty good idea of what to expect tomorrow. So come along, let’s recap.

What’s it going to be called?

Yes, believe it or not, what Apple is going to call its new tablet is a popular topic of discussion. The company has proven extremely unpredictable in regards to product-naming — calling its third-generation iPad “the new iPad,” but sticking with the predictable “iPhone 5” for its latest handset. Thus creating the debate.

It seems that the inter-webs have honed in on three potential names for the smaller tablet. The first one, “the iPad mini,” seems to be the most popular. It’s the one that tech sites, like us, have adopted, because it makes sense. Everyone knows what you’re talking about when you say iPad mini. It’s the smaller iPad.

But as John Gruber of Daring Fireball points out, the tablet’s display is said to only be about an inch or so smaller than the current iPad’s. Thus “mini” doesn’t seem like a proper way to describe it. Because of that, and the slate’s rumored dimensions, he likes “the iPad Air,” a play off of Apple’s popular MacBook line.

And finally, the third option is simply “iPad.” An image surfaced recently of what is believed to be the iPad mini’s rear casing. And on the back, underneath the Apple logo, it just said “iPad.” Apple could start using iPad to describe all of its tablets, and then just use 7.85-inch or 9.7-inch to discern between them.

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What’s it going to look like?

What the iPad mini (yes, we’re going to keep calling it that for now for consistency purposes) looks like is probably going to be its most important asset. Sure, specs are important too. But this is Apple and iOS we are talking about here, so you know it’s going to run smooth and perform well. But how it looks will really help set it apart from the competition.

Purported iPad mini dummy unit

While part leaks aren’t nearly as abundant as they were with the iPhone 5, there have been a few. And the tech world seems pretty convinced it knows what the iPad mini is going to look like. For starters, it’s going to have a 7.85-inch display, meaning that it’s not going to be much smaller than the 9.7-inch iPad. But it will be much more portable.

iPad mini concept by Martin Hajek based on reports

iMore’s well-connected Rene Richie says that the iPad mini will seem “impossibly thin and light,” with a similar type of less-of-it-but-more-of-it optical illusion that Apple achieved with the iPhone 5. And because of all of this, it will still be comfortable to hold despite a thinner bezel around the display. In fact, Richie says that there will be almost no side bezel.

Claimed black iPad mini back panel

Finally, as for the device’s rear shell, it’s expected to be made of aluminum. Of course, the iPad’s backing has always been that, but word has it that Apple may use its new anodizing methods on the iPad mini that we saw on the new iPhone and iPod touch. And there’s also talk of the mini coming in several colors, but we’re not convinced yet.

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Specs and features

Everything we’ve heard so far suggests that the iPad mini will house a non-Retina 7.85-inch display. It’s said to have a resolution of 1024×768 and a ppi (pixels per inch) of 163 — the same as the iPhone 3GS, and actually better than the iPad 2 (132 ppi). There have also been some rumblings that Apple could use its new in-cell display tech.

There hasn’t been much talk regarding the tablet’s innards thus far, outside of a few reports that it’ll have similar components as the iPad 2. An A5 processor, or some variant of it, sounds like a safe bet in the name of keeping costs down. But RAM and other specs are anyone’s guess. Given its estimated price and size however, we aren’t expecting breakneck speeds.

And as far as we know, the iPad mini is going to have both a FaceTime and an iSight camera. Every single mockup, purported part leak and case we’ve seen for the device shows front and back shooters, so we’re rolling with it. For the back, a 5MP camera makes sense. Apple’s been using them since 2010, so they should have manufacturing down pat.

Will the iPad mini have cellular connectivity? Yes. Most likely, Apple will offer Wi-Fi only models and then charge an additional $100 or so for Wi-Fi + cellular models like it does with the current iPad. Expect them to use the new LTE chips from the iPhone 5 in the + cellular models, because they work around the world, and require little space and battery power.

Speaking of batteries, we’ve seen a few photos now of what are believed to be iPad mini battery packs. If they prove legitimate, then the iPad mini will have a 3.72 volt battery, offering 16.7 Whr of energy on 4490 mAh of charge. We’re not sure what this amounts to in terms of battery life, but we imagine we’ll see at least 10 hours.

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Pricing and availability

It’s really hard to guess what Apple is going to charge for these things, because they’ve never made anything like it before. For example, we would have bet money that the iPhone 5 was going to start at $199, because that’s what the 4S cost, and the 4, and so on. But we don’t have anything to compare the iPad mini to, so we have to look to the rumor mill for answers.

Early speculation suggested that the smaller tablet would start somewhere in between $200 and $250. And that made sense, considering that both Amazon and Google offer tablets for just under $200. But a recent report from the often-accurate 9to5Mac says that the iPad mini will start between the entry-level 5th gen iPod touch and the iPad 2, at $329 (in the US).

If it wasn’t for 9to5Mac’s track record, it’d be really hard to buy that Apple is looking to enter the sub-8-inch tablet market for the first time with a device that costs $130 more than the competition. Apple’s iPhone, for instance, falls right in line with other high-end smartphones at $199, and the $499 iPad is actually cheaper than most comparable tablets.

But unlike pricing, most folks seem to agree on the iPad mini’s availability date. We’ve seen several reports now that all point to November 2nd as the day that the tablet will hit retail shelves. And given that the 2nd is the second Friday after Apple’s October 23rd event, it seems likely. Interestingly enough, though, we still haven’t heard anything regarding pre-orders.

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In conclusion

Apple currently dominates the tablet space, with recent reports showing that it has nearly 70% of the global market. But with increasing competition from Amazon, Google, and now Microsoft, that may not last for long. So thinking that the best defense is a good offense, Apple has decided to act, by releasing a smaller, cheaper tablet to help further its paramountcy.

That tablet is what we know right now as the iPad mini. It has a 7.85-inch display, surrounded by thinner bezels, and is extremely thin and lightweight. It has both a FaceTime and an iSight camera, at least an A5 processor to handle games and other graphic-intensive apps, and will come in two flavors: Wi-Fi only, and a Wi-Fi + cellular option with a global LTE chip.

There’s still, however, a ton of unanswered questions regarding the iPad mini. We don’t know half the stuff we knew in the days leading up to the iPhone 5 announcement. And that’s a good thing. Because that means that Apple has the potential to really surprise and wow us with this new tablet. The question is will it? We’ll find out over the next few days.

The media event is scheduled to kick off tomorrow morning at 10am Pacific Standard Time, and to our knowledge, there won’t be a live stream. But as always, you can count on iDB for complete coverage of the shindig. Until then, we’d love to know what you’re thinking about Apple’s new, smaller tablet. Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below.