Apple Event Preview: iPad Minis And Retina MacBook Pros And iMacs And Mac Minis, Oh My!

Apple has an event planned for Tuesday, set for 10 AM Pacific in San Jose. It’s got something to do with the iPad mini, to be sure, but there’s tons of other stuff also rumored to be making an appearance. In fact, it’s beginning to look almost like an Apple fan’s hardware wish fulfillment fantasy, so let’s take stock of what’s supposedly coming and how likely we are to see it.

iPad mini

Here’s the skinny on the new, potentially skinnier iPad. The one consistent detail we’ve seen is that it’ll have a 7.85-inch screen, which, given its specificity, seems very likely to be true. There have also been plenty of images of supposed prototypes, mock-ups and dummy devices used by case manufacturers and others. Given all this info, we’re probably not going to be too surprised by the looks of what gets unveiled on stage next week – though what different color combinations (black or white, as with the iPhone and full-sized iPads) look like in production version could add some spice to the mix.

As for specs, the info is a little hazier. We’re probably going to get a tablet with a non-Retina diaplay, according to many sources, including a best-guess evaluation from frequently correct Apple blogger John Gruber. That won’t be necessarily all that disappointing; a 1024×768 display in a 7.85-inch screen adds up to a pixel density of 163ppi, better than the iPad 2’s 132ppi, though still a far cry from the new iPad’s 264ppi. But as Gruber notes, lightness and thinness should be Apple’s key selling points with an iPad mini, and Retina screen resolution is something that could run counter to both those goals.

We’ll likely see the A5 processor in the iPad mini, instead of the A6, according to early reports, with 512MB of RAM, though 1GB is also possible. There should be at least both Wi-Fi and cellular variants, though there’s some reason to believe we could also see a both a 3G and an LTE version sold separately. Internal storage capacities will likely start at 16GB and range up to 64GB, but there’s at least some suggestion we may even see 8GB versions at the low end, too.

Is the iPad mini real? At this point, it’s very nearly guaranteed. But variables like what capabilities it’ll have in terms of hardware specifics remain somewhat up in the air, which means Apple could still pull out some big surprises tomorrow around device specifics like pricing. It also might be called the iPad Air or something similar rather than the iPad mini, which would be a nice way of frustrating bloggers who’ve been putting “mini” in headlines for months now.

Refreshed iPad

Over the weekend a photo leaked that appears to show an iPad with a Lightning port instead of the 30-pin dock connector. That’s in line with what we’ve been hearing about a minor iPad refresh that essentially just brings the current iPad in line with Lightning, though it also could experience some other minor upgrades to its internal components, including processor and battery. There are good reasons to believe this is true, and strong reasons against it, too.

First, Apple updating mobile hardware mid-cycle is almost unheard of. The exception is when it added a CDMA version of the iPhone 4, but that was a special case designed to take advantage of the end of an exclusivity agreement with carrier AT&T. Rumors of an iPad HD previously popped up indicating a mid-cycle refresh for the iPad back in July, 2011, too, but that never came to pass – Apple waited a full year to introduce the new iPad with Retina display, sticking to its upgrade cycle. This year, it did introduce new customization options for the Retina MacBook Pro just a few weeks after its introduction, but that only barely qualifies for a mid-cycle spec update.

On the other hand, there’s a very good reason to get a Lightning-equipped iPad out there ahead of time: the full-sized iPad will be the only new device Apple is selling without the new connection standard if it launches the iPad mini with Lightning as expected. Making sure that all new, late model hardware that rolls off the line has Lightning will increase the time it’ll take for that to become the dominant standard, helping Apple wind down its dock connector production more quickly and benefiting supply chain costs in the long run.

One other report says that Apple will revise the iPad with improved support for global LTE, along the lines of the iPhone 5. Apple could reap significant benefits from making those changes to iPad, and since it’s not all that close to the device’s original release date, it also doesn’t run as much of a risk of angering customers, and really, so long as they keep these changes minimal and still push a real iPad update sometime early next year, I don’t think any buyers would be inconsolable at the outcome.

Retina MacBook Pro

Apple debuted the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro at WWDC this year in June, and almost immediately countless friends and acquaintances chimed in saying they’d love the same thing in a 13-inch form factor. Such a device is reportedly on the way, according to a number of sources, including a recent leak of images of the notebook’s internals and casing. Earlier, there were rumors that the 13-inch rMBP and updated iMacs would arrive in September/October, according to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, so seeing them now would hardly surprise.

Also, Apple typically introduces refreshed Macs around this time, with the likely intent of adding fuel to the consumer fire that is holiday shopping season. The 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro primed the engine and appealed to pros, but a 13-inch version will be much more palatable to the average shopper, especially after the rave reviews enjoyed by its larger sibling during the past half year.

Redesigned iMac and Mac mini

The iMac hasn’t been updated in over a year, which is unusual for Apple’s all-in-one. In fact, it’s been almost double the average time between updates since it’s gotten any love. The Mac mini is also looking pretty overdue for a change. Some rumors suggest we could see something as dramatic as a much slimmer case design for the iMac, which could indeed be possible since the iMac hasn’t undergone significant phsyical changes to its external case since 2007. Both machines are likely to get USB 3.0, however, as well as improved processors and generally boosted internal specifications.

We will not see a Retina display on the refreshed iMac, so don’t get your hopes up. It’s just unlikely that costs have gotten to where that’s a feasible thing, and benefits in terms of actual user needs are questionable.

iTunes 11 (or simply “New iTunes”)

Apple’s big redesign for iTunes was previewed on stage at the iPhone 5 event, but it hasn’t yet arrived, despite a promised release window of “October.” Now, it seems like Apple was intentionally waiting for this event to officially release it to the public. Apple’s got a stage, they’ve got some (seemingly feature complete) new software, the whole thing just makes sense. Plus, Apple likes to have at least something “available right now” to announce alongside upcoming products, which is what the iPad mini will presumably be.

That’s what’s likely on tap for tomorrow’s event, but tune back here at TechCrunch to find out how it all shakes out in the end.