The iPad Mini won’t make life easier for developers

October 14, 2012

Once upon a time, the world of iPhone mobile app development was very simple. There was one screen size, 3.5 inches, and everybody knew the parameters.

Apple then added the iPad and at 9.7 inches but it was still fairly easy to develop apps for both devices.

With the introduction of the so-called iPad Mini expected to be announced on October 23, the once-simple land of iOS development will become something that it has never been—complicated.

Mobile screen sizes have been the bane of developers since Android device manufacturers started creating smartphones and tablets of all shapes and sizes and flooding the market with their offerings. Developers didn’t know where to start.

But they couldn’t ignore the problem of developing for all those Android screen sizes when consumers started buying them. Developers go where the eyeballs are and the eyeballs were and are on Android, regardless of the headache it can be to fit apps to so many different devices.

By contrast, the 3.5 inches of the iPhone and 9.7 inches of the iPad are simple standards to develop for. Design and artistic decisions are easier to make when you know precisely where your apps are going and the “stretching” and pixilation that happens with Android does not exist.

Apple threw a wrench into that simple ecosystem with the release of the iPhone 5.

At 4 inches corner to corner, all apps developed for its 3.5-inch predecessors will need to be updated. Apple handled the inevitable situation as well as it could and apps that are not optimized for the new screen size are bordered with black bars on the top and bottom of the screen.

While that’s not optimal it does avoid the problem of app stretching. In the broad view, the iPhone 5 is not that much of a problem for developers. There are only three screen sizes and the pixel densities of the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 5 are the same.

Developers do have to deal with the higher pixel density of the third-generation iPad’s Retina screen (which is so crisp that developers have to take into account the quality of their design and artwork to how it will look on that screen) but that is a very specific problem easily handled.

A new headache

But now, here comes Apple with its ‘tweener.

The iPad Mini is said to be 7.85 inches, which puts it directly in the middle of the standards of the iPhone and original iPad. Developers are going to have to make a choice on how to adapt to the device.

It is unlikely that developers will build with the iPad Mini as the target device so they’ll likely create an app for the iPhone and force it to adapt to the 7.85 screen or build for the iPad and shrink it.

It becomes a headache in the iOS development process that did not exist before.

Yet, when compared to Android, four different screen sizes are still relatively simple. So maybe developers will just shrug at the problem and count their blessings.

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