Apple working on an "iPad mini"

Apple expected to launch a 7-8 inch iPad in the next 6 months

Apple is working on a smaller iPad to compete with Amazon's Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7, according to reports in both Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. Bloomberg, which cites "two people with knowledge of the plans", adds that the tablet won't have a retina display of the type seen on all current-generation iPads and iPhones. The WSJ, citing "people familiar with the situation", adds that it is expected this year.

The tablet is likely to sell for a price competitive to that of the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7, which would mean around £150 in the UK. Although those two tablets are heavily subsidised to hit that price point, Apple remains primarily a hardware company, so would likely only sell such a device if they could make a relatively healthy profit on first sale.

This fact, combined with the expectation that the new device will have a lower resolution screen, has led many to speculate that Apple will be using the same manufacturing process it currently uses to make the screens for the iPhone 3GS, the cheapest phone it currently sells. That process has three years of refinement behind it, and using the screens for a second device would lead to greater economies of scale, increasing the company's margins further.

In addition, the size of a screen with the same resolution as an iPad (1024x768) and the pixel density of an iPhone 3GS (160dpi) would be around 7.75 inches. This would result in a device significantly smaller than the current iPads, but which developers – Apple's perennial advantage over its competitors – could support without having to do any extra work.

This means that Apple could bring out a tablet with a full collection of native apps from day one – something which the Nexus 7 will lack, as well as any access to music, magazines or TV shows in the UK.

And they will retain the economies of scale which they currently have with the iPad 2, as many of the components in that are likely to be cannibalized for the new tablet.

The one question that remains is when. MG Siegler has doubts about the "this year" timeframe, arguing that it would clash with, and overshadow, the expected launch of a new iPhone this autumn, while Marco Arment points out that, to fulfil demand for this Christmas, Apple would realistically have to have begun production, which almost always involves leaks of size and shape – yet we have had none.

It seems likely, then, that we will see a 7.7", 1024x768 "iPad mini" arriving around January, the same time as all three previous iPads have been announced. Google will have a six-month head start in the UK, and will need every day of it.

The iPad mini. Maybe.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

GETTY
Show Hide image

How the Night Tube could give London’s mice that Friday feeling

London Underground’s smaller inhabitants might be affected by the off-squeak service – and learn when the weekend’s coming up.

What will the mice who live in the Tube network make of the new all-night service? Half a million of them are thought to have made the London Underground their home – and will be in for a surprise when the Victoria and Central lines keep running this weekend.

The Londonist is concerned the mice “are unlikely to get any sleep” with the new Night Tube, and may move to the District line instead. Yet a number of scientists point out to the New Statesman that mice are nocturnal creatures, most likely to sleep while the lights are on and the trains are running.

So will they get on board with the change – or make a run for different platforms on other lines?

The bad news:

“When the Tube’s away, the mice will play,” is how the rhyme (almost) goes. 

Many have come to know  and even love  the mischiefs of the mice who stream off the tracks and out of the tunnels as the stations close at night, in search of discarded morsels of Maccy D. And until now, they’ve had a good few hours to conduct such galavanting in peace. But the new system means they will have to re-structure their sleep and foraging cycles, or “circadian rhythms”. 

“The presence of night trains should upset several of these entrainment factors (or zeitgebers = time givers) leading to disturbances in their behaviours,” explains Professor Patrick Nolan, from MRC Harwell, an international centre for mouse genetics. 

“When you fly across the Atlantic, for example, it takes a few days to adapt, you feel a bit groggy, don't perform as well as you usually do, don't eat well, etc. You soon adapt to the change. But if there are constant disruptions like this, the effect may be more severe and long-lasting. And this is how the schedule changes in the Underground might affect the resident mice.” 

So it's the constant switching between the week and weekend schedules that could leave the mice  and Tube drivers  most cheesed off. Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) and photophobia (sensitivity to light) are two possible effects of the resulting anxiety, and their mating patterns and liver functions are also likely to be disturbed.

The good news:

Yet it is unlikely mice will be leaving the Night Tubes for good. 

The more time we humans have to drop our dinners, the larger the menu becomes for the mice (researchers tell me that strawberry milk and Wheetos are particularly favoured fare).

“Mice are active most of the time – so more trains at night hours will not make such a difference to them,” say the RSPCA’s wildlife officers. “In fact, it may help as it may provide more foraging opportunities.”

They’ve also faced worse before. The London Transport Museum reminds us that, during the Second World War, cats were employed to counter vermin on the network (spot the cat in the 1940s TfL workers' canteen below).


Credit: London Transport Museum

For Dr Samuel Solomon at UCL, there is plenty to suggest the mice will successfully adapt. His study of mouse reflexes shows how they respond to various visual stimuli – and can start running within one-tenth of a second. “There might be cues they pick up – if people clean the station differently on Fridays, for instance.”

The tracks’ electric current may no longer be entirely switched off (if it ever was), but their whiskers’ sensitivity to vibrations could help them juggle their escapades to fit around the Night Tube’s less frequent service.

What Dr Soloman can’t yet predict is whether the mice will start to anticipate that Friday feeling: “It will be interesting to see whether they can learn that Friday is Friday”.

All in all, the Tube mice seem well set for the Night Tube’s new challenge. Who knows, they may soon gain the confidence of their 24/7 brothers in New York – and start ordering take-out...

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.