Why Do I Want An iPad Mini So Badly?

I can't stop thinking about the iPad Mini. I really, really want to, but I can't. Every time I use my iPhone for something, I wish the screen was twice the size. I think the smartphone might be doomed. A one-hand tablet and a smart watch would be so much better.

Learning To Be Mobile

The smartphone, specifically the 3.5-inch touchscreen phone, was the form factor that changed everything. But now that we're used to touch and voice interfaces and mobile software, we're getting more demanding. We want easy access to the Web and our apps all the time, wherever we are.

Apple was right to halt work on the iPad to finish the iPhone first. We needed to start small to learn to use touch software and hardware. It worked; the rate of smartphone adoption was astronomical, and the rate of tablet adoption has been even faster. We get it now. The mobile applications we use most — messaging, reading, navigation, gaming — can be even better on a larger screen.

The 10-inch tablet was necessary to show that some people don't need a mouse-and-keyboard interface for anything. But tablets of that size are not really mobile devices. They're too heavy to be used one-handed, too big for reading in portrait view, ridiculous for photography, and so on. Full size tablets taught us to use tablet apps, but they were still an incremental step.

Too Many Rectangles

The era we're in now is mobile's awkward adolescence. The Android world is still focusing on 5-inch-ish things that are either huge phones or tiny tablets. They aren't good at being either of those things, but they make one important point: Lots of people don't really want a smartphone and a tablet. They'd rather just have one thing.

But then there's the mini tablet. There's the seven-inch world of Kindle Fires and Nexus 7s, and there's the eight-inch iPad Mini. The early adopters want this to feel right. As Dan Frommer is fond of saying, the iPad Mini feels like the "real iPad." It's big enough for the capabilities of tablet software, but it's small enough for true mobile use. But there's still something missing.

I still need a phone. I still need a thing that deals with voice calls and alerts us to urgent messages. I can't carry an 8-inch tablet in a pocket and whip it out whenever it vibrates. In fact, I don't want the tablet to bother me with all that communication stuff, since I'm using it for concentrating on something. So I still carry a powerful smartphone with a beautiful screen, and that makes buying a small tablet seem frivolous.

Watch This Space

And this morning, as I read a book on my phone on the subway and wished the screen was bigger, I suddenly realized why people are so excited about smart watches like the Pebble. A watch could be a "phone," couldn't it? It could be the device for short communications and reminders that I need to know about right away. And for things that require screen real estate and concentration, I could use a mobile-sized tablet. Then I wouldn't need a phone at all.

It's the phone that's the awkward size. That's the thing I drop all the time. If I had a smart watch and a tablet, I wouldn't need anything in my pocket at all. I know it sounds awkward to do a voice call on a watch, but A) voice calls are inherently awful, and B) it might not be so bad. Imagine if you could snap the device off of the wristband and hold the back of it up to your ear. A good enough microphone could make that work.

Apple is rumored to be building a smart watch (article in Chinese). This rumor says it's a Bluetooth device that connects to the iPhone. It could connect to the iPad just as easily. But it would even make a great standalone device, I say. Voice, text, calendar/reminders, weather, and you're good to go.

The one question is the camera. Do we want to hold up seven- or eight-inch tablets to take photos? Or do we want a sensor on the back of the watch, right next to the earpiece? Photography seems like the one case where a pocket-sized (smartphone sized) computer is the perfect tool for the job. But otherwise, get rid of it. Give me the big screen for thinking and doing, and a tiny one for talking.