A Day With "The Real" iPad: Why The Mini Will Be Big

Apple’s iPad business has been a huge success since launching 2.5 years ago, selling more than 100 million tablets and generating about $60 billion in revenue. Now, with the new iPad mini in the picture — it launched last Friday in 34 countries, and “practically” sold out over the weekend — Apple’s iPad sales are likely set to accelerate.

My take after spending a bunch of the weekend with the iPad mini: This is the real iPad. With the exception of screen sharpness, everything about it is better than the bigger, “classic” iPad — and screen sharpness won’t be a deal breaker for the vast majority of people.

I expect Apple to continue to sell the big, old iPad indefinitely: In some situations, it is superior, and it’s likely to get lighter and thinner sooner than later. (I’d even love to see Apple experiment with a really big iPad someday. That might be fun.) But once most people can buy an iPad mini — Apple will likely have supply issues well into next year, artificially limiting sales — I expect the iPad mini to become Apple’s best-selling tablet. (And its second-best selling device, period, after the iPhone.)

  • The best thing about the iPad mini is its weight — it’s almost effortless to use, and that’s a big difference. The full-size iPad is more luxurious with its bigger screen, but its weight and density always made it a little tricky to use. I read on my iPad most nights to fall asleep, and even just holding it steady and upright requires actual effort. (The cracking blow of an iPad 3 falling onto my face and nose, after I’d drifted to sleep, is one I’d never like to experience again.) I feel more confident holding the iPad mini, which means I’m more likely to use it in more places — the whole point of an iPad.
  • The non-retina display is a bummer after spending half a year with a retina iPad. But it’s worth the tradeoff. I’ll definitely be replacing this with a retina iPad mini when they’re available, probably in a year or two. This is primarily a reading device for me, and there’s nothing like reading on a retina display. (Ok, a well-printed book, I guess.) But an arm’s length away, the iPad mini screen is good enough not to drive me crazy. Small text is hard to read, but zooming around is easy enough. Again, the dramatic increase in portability is worth it.
  • I’m giving up now on keeping this thing remotely scratch-free and perfect. This is officially my “beater” iPad. That means I’m going case-free, baby. I’m going to use it on the subway, I’m going to carry it unguarded in my pocket, and if I have to whack someone with it, so be it. I’ll probably keep it in a sleeve (or use the smart cover I bought) when I throw it into a backpack. But the plan is to make this thing my workhorse carry-around iPad, and if that means getting a little scuffed up, that’s okay. The replacement price, if necessary, isn’t too much to swallow anymore. (That’s one of the reasons I went with the cheapest, 16 GB/wi-fi base model.)
  • I have never wanted an Instagram iPad app more badly than I do now. Pretty much every other iPad app looks great, and I’ve started fresh with a skeleton crew of apps — Twitter, iBooks, Instapaper, a few others, and that’s it so far. But the iPhone (non-retina) version of Instagram looks horrible on this thing. Let’s do this.
  • The big question, which I won’t know the answer to for a few weeks or months, is how the iPad mini will fit into my gadget routine. Where will I use my iPhone instead of my iPad mini if I have both? Where will I bring my retina iPad? (There’s still nothing like watching HD video on a retina screen. Planet. Earth.) Will I ever bring both iPads? (One has LTE, the other needs to tether.) What about my 2-year-old-but-still-unbelievably-quick MacBook Air? If I were to design my ideal technology kits for a week-long business trip, a Saturday around town, or a normal day of work, they’d all probably be different. Is the iPad mini too much like a phone? Is the big iPad too much like a laptop? Which do people want to buy more? That’s what we’ll eventually find out.

Anyway, the iPad mini, after a day’s use, is the closest thing I’ve found to the gadget I started wishing for in late 2008, which I’d called the “iPod touch HD.”

What is it? A tablet computer with a 7- or 8-inch multi-touch screen — about four times the iPod touch screen area — with Apple’s OS X built in. This includes wi-fi access to iTunes for music and movies, optional 3G service (or wi-fi/Bluetooth tethering to an iPhone for Internet access), and access to the App Store. [...]

What will we use it for? Everything we use the iPhone for, except phone calls. And many things we use our computer for, except everywhere. This includes: Listening to music, watching videos, surfing the Web, reading e-books and Instapaper articles, playing games, writing blog posts, etc. We won’t use it for Photoshop or anything we need a real file system for. But that’s okay — that’s why we have a computer at work and at home.

Perhaps the most impressive part: Back then, I thought it’d be lucky to be able to buy one of these things for “for $600, or $700 with more memory. Halfway between the MacBook and the iPhone, right where it belongs.” The iPad mini starts at $329 — half the price I’d imagined. (And its so-so competitors are even cheaper.) That’s pretty nuts.

(For another hands-on look at the iPad Mini, see Fredric Paul's iPad Mini Review: Few Surprises, Lots Of Questions.)

This post originally appeard on SplatF with Dan Frommer.