The iPad mini Display: “Pixel Perfect” vs. “Pixel Poor”

Apple’s iPad mini was for many consumers the highlight of Apple’s product launch event on Tuesday. During its unveiling, Apple executive Phil Schiller dedicated several minutes comparing the new iDevice’s display to that of a rival tablet, the Google Nexus 7.

Mr. Schiller pointed out that both software and hardware choices in the design of the iPad mini allowed it to display significantly more web and app content than its competitor at any given time.

iPad Mini Nexus 7 Comparison Schiller

Some initially suggested that any display size comparison between the two devices is unfair. Apple designed the iPad mini with a 7.9-inch 4:3 aspect ratio display, which is noticeably larger than a true 7-inch 16:10 aspect ratio device, like the Nexus 7. “I’d be curious to hear what [Mr. Schiller] thinks of the difference between the iPhone 5’s 4-inch screen and, say, the 4.8-inch display on Samsung’s Galaxy S3. And what about the even larger Galaxy Note 2? Would those differences not be considered gigantic, too?” CNET’s Scott Webster wrote Tuesday.

Another factor that makes a direct comparison between an iPad mini and competing tablets in the roughly seven-inch screen size category unfair is the resolution difference, although this time Apple has an uncharacteristic disadvantage in this area.

For reasons of both cost and compatibility (apps designed for the first and second generation iPads will work at native resolution on the iPad mini’s display), Apple equipped the mini with a 1,024-by–768 resolution. This resolution will appear much sharper than an iPad 2 due to the tighter pixel density, but it still falls short of other tablets in the 7-inch product category.

The Nexus 7 that Mr. Schiller argued offers an inferior experience to the iPad mini has a 1,280-by–800 resolution on less overall screen area. The Kindle Fire HD shares the same screen size and resolution as the Nexus 7.

The Nook HD, released in September, goes further with a 1,440-by–900 7-inch display, which Barnes & Noble labels as the “lightest, highest resolution 7-inch tablet.”

These relative screen resolutions can be visually compared in a graphic released Wednesday by TechNewsDaily.

The iPad mini does offer a larger overall screen area when compared to tablets like the Nexus 7, but it cannot meet its competitors in the area of resolution. While Mr. Schiller’s demonstration was an accurate reflection of current software in the Android ecosystem, the greater resolution of the competing Android tablets gives developers on those platforms the opportunity to modify their software to produce sharper images and improve the user interface layout.

At the relatively small size of the iPad mini, however, many users may not care about the higher pixel density of other tablets. The allure of the Apple ecosystem may also overcome customer doubts about screen resolution, even if that ecosystem commands a $100 price premium.

Finally, as Apple competitors reminded the market after the iPad gained a Retina display earlier this year, resolution is not the only factor in judging a display’s quality. Color accuracy, something at which Apple has recently excelled, also plays a critical role.

Like many Apple products throughout the company’s history, the iPad mini does not boast the latest and greatest hardware components and, from a purely hardware point of view, the cost of the device is questionable. As has frequently occurred, however, the overall hardware, software, and services experience that users can obtain with the iPad mini will still draw many customers, even at its higher price point.

Apple’s competitors built the 7-inch tablet market but Apple has raised the stakes. It’s now up to the product category’s pioneers to respond and, either way, it’s a safe bet that users of all platforms will be better for the competition.