Clocking Down the Mini

Yesterday Jason Snell made an interesting tweet regarding Apple’s A7 SoC, presumably after reading the MacRumors article Retina iPad Mini Has 1.3 GHz A7 Processor With 5X the Performance of the Original Mini: “The iPad Air’s processor is running at 1.39GHz; the iPad mini’s is clocked down to 1.27GHz.” Amidst nearly every discussion surrounding the iPad Mini, especially building up to its release earlier today, much of that discourse has lauded synonymous computing power between both devices as enabling those wishing to buy an iPad to make their decision based purely on form factor rather than performance. Today, however, we find that despite possessing identical processors, the Air will outperform the Mini as many suspected it would leading up to last month’s event.

Although we may never know the real reason behind this decision, assuming it did not come about in order to extend battery life necessitated by the Mini’s significantly smaller form factor — my favorite culprit — or reduce problematic heat the device must dissipate over a much smaller area — another viable possibility — leads us to ask some interesting and thought-provoking questions. Given that both tablets shipped with A7s, why not enable them to run at analogous speeds? Equipped with identical screen resolutions and near-identical components the Mini imposes no lesser requirements upon its hardware than its larger sibling demands, so placing this seemingly arbitrary throttle on its processing speed makes little sense unless in service of some future goal. Specifically, I believe that future goal to be an iPad Pro.

Shortly after Apple’s iPad event last month I wrote and published an article explaining the logic behind an impending iPad Pro, unimaginatively titled The iPad Pro. Using the iPad Air’s name as the obvious jumping-off point, I pointed to it and the curious absence of an A7X SoC as indicative of Apple’s future plans in this space. Operating under the impression that more than physical dimensions and price Apple’s tablet offerings must also differentiate themselves on computing power, I reasoned that in order to launch a third tablet Apple needed a third processor in addition to its two traditional An and AnX chips, and that the A7X’s truancy preluded a lineup slated for next fall in which the iPad Mini shipped with a “new” A7X, the iPad Air with an A8, and the iPad Pro with an A8X. The Mini and Air shipping with identical chipsets and thus indistinguishable performance threw a major wrench into my thought process. Just over two weeks later though, the gaping hole in my theory did an about-face and became a supporting pillar: while clocking the Mini’s performance down .12GHz does not explain the lack of an A7X, it does lend credence to my notion that Apple feels it must differentiate the iPad line on more than price and form factor. And if Apple is willing to place an artificial restriction upon a device in pursuit of that goal, I have a hard time believing it would not take a step in the other direction by providing a device of intentionally superior computing power than any of its existing offerings. Specifically, I have a hard time believing Apple will not create and release an iPad Pro.