Not the iPad Mini. The iPad.

November 12th, 2012

I pre-ordered an iPad Mini and received it November 2nd, the day it was released. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of it; the small size and weight was exciting, but I love my third-generation iPad, and especially its incredibly beautiful display. I use it every morning to read the New York Times, read RSS feeds in Reeder, and in the evening, to read Instapaper and books in Apple’s iBooks application. I also often write first drafts of articles and papers on my iPad, so I take full advantage of both the retina screen and screen size.

My assumption before it arrived was that I would appreciate the iPad Mini’s small size and weight, but that I would miss the third-generation iPad’s screen, and would continue using the full-size iPad. I was wrong.

After more than a week, I haven’t picked up the regular iPad except for doing a little bit of testing for Basil. Every time I’ve wanted to use an iPad, I’ve picked up the iPad Mini. The reason is because for everything that I use the iPad for, it’s a much better device. I can hold it while reading something or browsing the web, rather than rest it on my leg. This sounds insignificant, but in use, it’s a dramatic change. Whereas the full-size iPad is something that you bring with you and set up to use, whether that’s on a desk or on your lap, the iPad Mini is a device you can use while sitting or standing, because you can comfortably hold it in your hands.

At the end of class last Monday night, I had begun reading an article on the iPad Mini as the professor was wrapping up. Normally, if I wanted to continue reading it as I walked across campus after class, I would have put away the full-sized iPad and pulled up the article on my iPhone. The full-sized iPad was always too big and cumbersome for me to use while walking around; it wasn’t that much better than walking around and using a notebook computer, so I only used the full-sized iPad while stationary. But as I left class, something different happened: I was tempted to grab the iPad Mini and continue reading where I left off as I walked out of the classroom. And I did.

So I walked across campus and read the article on the iPad Mini, and it was perfectly natural. It wasn’t forced. The iPad Mini is small and light enough so that it feels fairly similar to holding a paperback book. This is a fairly powerful computer that is comfortable to walk around with and use.

That’s a big deal. The full-sized iPad is like an easier to use (and, in many ways, much more useful) notebook computer because of its size and weight: it’s something you sit down and use. The iPad Mini, though, is almost as functional as the full-sized one, but can be used in more contexts.

It’s not just important because it will mean more people will be using it and will use it in different places. It’s also important because the iPad Mini feels personal in a way the full-sized iPad doesn’t. Because it’s so convenient to bring with me, it feels much more like an iPhone: it’s a computer that I can have with me and use in many places, but it’s more capable than an iPhone. I have a feeling we are going to see people bringing the iPad Mini with them much more often than we did the full-sized iPad.

The implications for some purposes are obvious. It’s a perfect fit for doctors, salespeople, contractors, et cetera. But I think we may need to re-think the purpose for some existing iPad applications and their design. For Basil, one thing that’s immediately obvious is the the iPad Mini is the perfect device for bringing with you to the grocery store and using as a shopping list. That’s something I never did with the iPad because it’s too big and heavy to be used while shopping, but the iPad Mini absolutely isn’t. As such, I need to think about Basil as an application people will use while walking around and focused on other tasks, rather than while they are sitting on the couch or have their iPad propped up in the kitchen.

The iPad Mini’s smaller size is, of course, a trade off. It absolutely isn’t as useful for certain tasks like sketching, painting, writing on screen, or even browsing the web (to a lesser extent)—tasks that benefit from a more expansive screen. But what is equally obvious to me after using it is not only do the benefits outweigh the costs for most people’s primary tasks, like browsing the web or reading email, but that it opens up entirely new contexts for where the iPad can be used, and thus opens up new uses.

It’s a very powerful computer that’s little bigger than a paperback book. This isn’t just a smaller iPad. Going forward, it is the iPad.