It would seem counter-intuitive to think that there is still a place for the iPad mini when we have iPhones that have a screen as big as 6.5 inches. Yet, the iPad mini retains a loyal fan base thanks to its compact form factor. Since the arrival of the iPad mini back in 2012, some industry commentators tried to position it as the entry-level iPad, the first step into the product family that eventually grew to include the iPad Pro. Apple’s positioning and pricing made it clear, however, that the only thing that was “less” about the mini was its size. This latest update stays true to the successful formula adding Retina display and the A12 Bionic chip with Neural Engine to the iPad mini basically giving it the same brain as the iPad Pro!
When the first iPad mini came out I tried it but then decided the larger size better fitted my workflow. The iPad for me has always been more than content consumption. This is especially true today with the 12.9” iPad Pro that I usually alternate with the Surface Pro as my primary computer when I travel, which is often. I had the opportunity to test the new iPad mini and it became obvious to me, very quickly, that the iPad mini is the perfect companion to my iPad Pro. Reading and taking notes in particular, really brought out the big advantage of the iPad mini form factor.
I can touch type on glass, which is my preferred way to take notes while in meetings because I do not like to have a barrier between myself and the other participants. The new Smart Keyboard design no longer allows for the wedge fold making typing on the glass more challenging. This meant that I started using Pencil more and given my appreciation for the Samsung Galaxy Note I went as far as writing about Why Apple should add Pencil Support for iPhone. The new iPad mini is probably as close as I am going to get to that dream for a while. The new Moleskine note-taking app called Flow that I had the opportunity to try, reminded me of writing on one of their notepads which were a crucial part of my travel equipment for so many years.
It is a shame that Apple did not add support for Pencil 2 for iPad mini. I do understand that the iPad mini cannot charge it and that Pencil pairs through the lightning port, but I am guessing that there would be a software workaround to the pairing and that you could have charged through your iPad Pro. This would have meant carrying only one Pencil rather than two.
Reading books is also great, going from reading on an iPad Pro 12.9” to an iPad Mini is like going from reading a large textbook to reading a paperback. You can do it for longer and more comfortably while maintaining the crisp screen quality.
I also had the opportunity to see the new Angry Birds AR in action, and I can see how the game will become as addictive as the original, if not more. The iPad mini gives you a larger field of view compared to an iPhone but retains high mobile making it very well suited for AR.
Of course, as a screen for video content, the iPad mini can also do the trick thanks to the updated Retina display. This makes it a timely upgrade for those consumers interested in the upcoming Apple video service. It will be interesting to see if Apple will run any special promotions bundling the new iPads both the iPad mini and the iPad Air with the video service. What is interesting to me, however, is that while Apple might be keen on providing more “screens” for consumers to enjoy the upcoming video streaming services, they are not sacrificing hardware value by lowering its price.
The iPad Portfolio
I read many comments that referred to the iPad line up as confusing, calling out the products for having a lot of overlap. The reality is that there are several ways to look at the new portfolio. You can look at all the iPads as one family. You can see the iPad Pro models as a continuation of the Mac line. You can also see the iPad (2018) as an education first device and the rest of the iPad portfolio as one. Finally, you could see the iPad mini as much of a standalone as the iPad Pro models. The bottom line is, whichever way you look at it, the products make perfect sense to address a potential market of users that go beyond the iPhone installed base. There are, in fact, many Android phone users have iPads making the addressable market for iPad particularly diverse.
The other important point to make, especially as people comment on the iPad mini pricing, is that there have always been cheaper tablets. Maybe there are less today than in the 2010-2012 period just because vendors could not sustain to be as aggressive while keeping up with the iPad’s feature sets. But, the price of an iPad, even more so than that of an iPhone, has a lot to do with the ecosystem of apps that are available. Apps that can turn the iPad hardware, that some in the Android camp could attempt to replicate, into a versatile computing platform that marries entertainment and productivity very well.
Apple kept the bezel-less design and Face ID exclusive to the iPad Pro family, but as those devices get new features, I do expect to see the bezel-less design trickle down into the portfolio. The lack of bezel on an iPad mini could potentially have it replace the 9.7” with the rest of the portfolio set on 10.5” and 12.9”. This would continue to please those users who love the smaller footprint while opening up the mini to a broader market.
The timing of these upgrades is no coincidence. Clearly, Apple is building a portfolio that has the broadest possible appeal in time for its video service launch. But to think that these devices have been created just for that is certainly a mistake. While the tablet market is dead the iPad market is alive and well and these new devices widen the opportunity while the rumored video and news services will certainly grow engagement even more.