Apple may be unable to cope with Retina iPad mini demand, says Cook

four iPad mini retina display

In addition to the iPad’s outstanding (yet perfectly plausible) 94 percent share in education (bonus: other amazing stats), Apple’s boss Tim Cook cautioned Wall Street analysts and investors on an earnings call that not everyone may get their hands on an iPad mini with Retina display when it starts shipping in late-November.

It gets worse: he wasn’t confident in Apple’s ability to make enough Retina iPad minis to satisfy Christmas quarter demand either…

The CEO was reluctant to assure investors that Apple can build as much Retina iPad minis as he’s anticipated selling them heading into the fourth quarter.

Here’s the quote:

It’s unclear whether we will have enough for the quarter or not. We know how many we will have, but you really don’t know the demand until you start shipping.

Cook knows Apple’s supply chain and has all the data on per-model iPad sales.

He also wasn’t sure “that everyone who wants an iPad Air will be able to find one,” though he was probably making a pre-emptive comment: some online Apple stores are now advertising in-store pickups, indicating executives are feeling good about Apple’s ability to meet iPad Air demand.

The iPad Air, he said, is “the best iPad we’ve ever done” and thinks “it’s going to be an iPad Christmas” this year. As for the possible Retina iPad mini constraints, this was to be expected.

It’s a matter of Apple’s ongoing supply/demand imbalance issue, methinks.

Remember, for the past few months Apple’s vast network of suppliers was plagued with persisting yield issues associated with large-scale manufacture of high-resolution 7.9-inch panels. You could argue other vendors have been able to produce hires screens for mini tablets, but that’d be disregarding Apple’s volume needs: unlike the other guys, Apple’s needs go well beyond a few million high-resolution tablet panels per quarter.

2013 iPad mini 2 (Retina, three up, profile, front, back)

During Q3 2013, Apple sold nearly 15 million iPads and likely built a few million more.

Heading into the Christmas quarter, they’re going to need at least twice as much. Annualized, that’s 100+ million iPad panels per year so yeah, yield issues become a major pain in the you-know-what.

In addition to the 7.9-inch 2,048-by-1,536 pixel Retina screen (same as full size model), the second-generation iPad mini features Apple’s new 64-bit A7 chip (which got a Qualcomm marketing exec demoted) along with the M7 motion coprocessor, two times faster Wi-Fi, expanded LTE support and the same 10-hour battery life.

2013 iPad mini 2 (Retina, Four up, hand)

The Retina iPad mini is available in Space Grey and White and starts out at $399 for the entry-level Wi-Fi version with sixteen gigabytes of storage. The 32/64/128GB models are priced at $499/$599/$699. As per usual, cellular variants will set you back an extra $130.

Those willing to commit their soul to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile can pick up the device subsidized and some telcos like T-Mobile will sell you entry-level iPads with no downpayment.

Apple is also keeping the original iPad mini around, though only the entry-level 16GB model, now discounted to $299, a $30 saving over its original $329 asking price.