Is Apple's iPad Mini Retina Display problem serious?

Are the muted colors on the iPad Mini Retina a deal breaker? One expert believes Apple dropped the ball on the Mini Retina's Display.

Are the iPad Mini Retina's 'muted' colors a big problem or just something that professionals may notice?
Are the iPad Mini Retina's 'muted' colors a big problem or just something that professionals may notice? Apple

Apple got a shellacking by Amazon's tablet in the latest display shoot-out by DisplayMate, but is this a sign of larger problems at Apple?

DisplayMate Technologies had little good to say about the iPad Mini with Retina Display in a research note on Monday.

Apple failed to deliver an adequate color range -- referred to as color gamut -- on one of its highest profile and most anticipated products, the Mini Retina, according to Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate.

"[It] is incredibly disappointing because it produces noticeably subdued image colors. In fact, it's almost identical to the gamuts on the much older iPad 2 and the original iPad mini," he wrote.

Soneira expanded on that statement in response to several e-mail queries from CNET.

Apple has invested heavily to deliver a 100% color gamut on their full size iPads (3,4,Air) and brags extensively about this issue of color accuracy and full color. Also, a full color gamut makes the displays look really good, as good as an HDTV and encourages people to buy downloaded content, which is a very important revenue source and why Amazon has full color gamut on their tablets.

The problem as Soneira sees it is that Apple is relying too heavily on IGZO and a-Si (amorphous silicon) technologies when it should be using Low Temperature Poly Silicon, or LTPS.

"All of this reliance on IGZO is really bad planning...Right now there is a readily available display technology that has much higher performance than IGZO. It's Low Temperature Poly Silicon LTPS," he said in his research note on Monday.

LTPS technology is used in the second-generation Nexus 7, Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, and many Samsung displays. The second-generation Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 both got very high scores from DisplayMate.

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Will consumers really notice?
Is this something most consumers will see? I can't answer that question, but I can say that I've been using the iPad Air (whose display was given high marks by DisplayMate) and the iPad Mini Retina side-by-side for the last four days, and until this was brought to my attention I didn't notice, frankly.

After this issue was highlighted by DisplayMate and others, I have noticed more muted colors on the Mini Retina in some photos I've taken (see photo at bottom).

Is it a deal breaker? No.

That said, I'm not a professional who relies on a 100 percent color gamut. So, you have to ask the question, is Apple marketing the iPad Mini Retina to professionals? I would have to say yes, so that could potentially be a problem. (The larger iPad Air, however, is a more likely choice for professionals.)

And I do agree with Soneira that Apple may have an over-reliance on IGZO and a-Si technologies, which appear to be some of the least expensive options for a Retina Display but not necessarily the best options.

The Mini Retina's "IGZO is still not ready for prime time," Soneira said.

That may also help explain Apple's low-key rollout of the newest Mini.

Apple may not be getting the kind of production volume at the quality it expected from IGZO displays. Let's hope that Apple is working with its partners to make improvements for future products.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

iPad Mini Retina (top) and iPad Air. Differences to me were subtle not stark.
iPad Mini Retina (top) and iPad Air. Differences to me were subtle not stark. Brooke Crothers
About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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