Sizing Up Apple’s Potential iPad Mini Storage, Display And Wireless Connectivity Options

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Apple has yet to announce the event at which it’ll supposedly announce an iPad mini, but the rumors are reaching a fever pitch the way they generally do around a new product launch. Now, a new report from AppleInsider provides new info regarding possible iPad mini configurations, suggesting four different storage options and three different types of connectivity, for a total of 12 different models, or 24 if you count color options between black and white.

That’s a lot of different iPads, and more than were reported by German blog Schimanke in a report yesterday, which seemed to indicate only Wi-Fi and cellular versions. AppleInsider’s info suggests instead that there will be distinct 3G and LTE models, meaning the cellular category is divided into two, presumably at different cost points. That’s an assumption on AppleInsider’s part, though, and some other variance could account for the difference, including the presence of a Retina Display on top-end models. That kind of product differentiation would be unprecedented, and decidedly against Apple’s general strategy of keeping its hardware offerings as streamlined as possible.

Think about 12 different SKUs for an iPad mini, and what that would mean for cost distribution: Apple would likely start around the $299 mark ($249 at the outside), and then ramp up from there. At the top end, with three different specs for each storage level of 8GB, 16GB, 32GB and 64GB, that would make for a price range that could span up easily into even near the top end of regular-sized iPad territory. It’s a move that would put the iPad mini in price competition with both the iPod touch and the regular iPad, rather than occupying a distinct third spot.

Of course, if there’s one thing Apple isn’t afraid of, it’s cannibalizing its own product lines. All of its biggest successes have arguably stepped on the toes of its past triumphs, including the iPad (the Mac) and the iPhone (the iPhone). It also knows from surveying the market that there’s an appetite out there for a low-cost, small screen tablet device, and from experience with the iPad that tablets which are expensive but feature-rich still have a large potential market. Providing a variety of connectivity or display options would allow Apple to target a range of buyers on a variety of budgets, but in doing so it also risks watering down the appeal and impact of the product overall.

We’ve heard relatively little about the iPad mini’s display, and whether it’ll be Retina-ready or not. Two versions, one supporting Retina resolution and one not, would be a problem in terms of development, but it could account for the wide variety of SKUs found in this new report, as could different wireless communication standards. Still, I’d be surprised to see Apple offer such a potentially complex and differentiated line in a product category that it was reluctant to enter in the first place. I’m still of the opinion we’ll see a more standard cellular/Wi-Fi product division, along the lines of current iPads, but if Apple really wants to ensure it has a tablet offering to meet every user’s needs and budget, we could still see greater variety in an iPad mini.