In defense of the mini tablet

In a recent episode of The Vergecast, the hosts were talking about the event that Apple held recently, and the new iPad that was unveiled. One of the hosts, I believe it was Casey Newton, commented that if you have an iPhone X you basically have an iPad Mini. As someone who loves my iPad Mini size and form factor, I couldn’t disagree more. I believe that the 7-8 inch tablet size is still a viable space, and one that requires something bigger than a phone, but smaller than a full 10″ tablet.

Let’s start though with breaking down the silly argument that Mr. Newton made, and we don’t have to go any further than screen size. The iPhone X has 8,568 square millimeters of area to it’s screen. I’m not getting into pixel density, but just the physical size of the viewport. When we contrast this to the iPad Mini we find that the Mini is at 19,560 sq. mm of space, which is 235% more physical area to interact with than on a the iPhone X. That’s not a comparison of two devices in the same product category at all. There’s simply no way that you can look at these two devices side-by-side and conclude that they are targeting the same type of interaction.

With that silly comparison out of the way, then what is the primary target of the iPad Mini, if not to be a bigger iPod Touch? Form factor is key for how humans interact with technology. Despite our desire to be a completely digital society, we still need tools to interact with the digital space. We’ve chosen tools such as keyboards and mice as the methods that we interact with traditional computers. We’ve added the dynamic of touch and ultra-portability with laptop/tablet hybrids. However, there is also the basics of ergonomics that can play a big role in how we interact with tech.

In the case of the iPad Mini (and to be fair, other small tablets in this space), the ability to hold the tablet with one hand is a defining factor in the ergonomics of how it’s designed. Much like we often hold a book, or a notepad, with one hand, the iPad Mini simulates this type of tactile experience. It’s easy to hold while sitting, or resting it against a leg or pillow while we interact with it. It creates space for a different type of interaction than other piece of technology in our lives.

My phone, as powerful as it it, is most often used as a way to communicate. That communications might be through a phone call, or text messaging, but more likely is through social media and email. It’s a small portable device that has a screen just big enough to get the job done for short bursts of communication. The screen works well for these interactions, but it’s not the best for things like movies or books. There just isn’t enough real estate to be comfortable.

On the other end of the spectrum, larger tablets are often capable of mimicking the capabilities of full laptops. Tablets with keyboards, and laptops, are powerful computing machines that allow us to create large pieces of work. We can write large works, or create amazing videos and music, on full size computing devices, much easier than small phones. Despite the power of phone apps, they still pale in comparison to the power of a full computing device.

In the middle we have the iPad Mini (and other tablets of this size) which fill a unique niche. The ergonomics of the device create a wonderful experience for consuming media. The form factor of the Mini means that it is comfortable to hold in many situations, and mimics the feel of physical media such as a comfortable book. Additionally, the slightly larger screen size means that media is easier to look at and often is easier on eyes than a smaller phone screen.

Therefore, I see the Mini size as the perfect media consumption device. Reading books, viewing videos, and even touch-based games, are all very natural on a device the size of the Mini. It’s comfortable to sit and hold the Mini with one hand, sitting on a couch, or lounging in bed. It just feels good in your hands.

One thing I (and many others) would love to see is support for the Apple Pencil on the iPad Mini. Just like a small sketchbook, the size of the Mini would be be ideal for small drawings, note taking, and other things that you would use a small notebook for. The addition of a pen style input would bring the Mini into another new realm that aligns well with its form factor.

I hope that the Mini continues to be supported. I know that there are many Android devices, such as the Amazon Kindle, that could meet much of my needs for this form factor. However, I still like the Apple iOS ecosystem, and would like to remain there. Perhaps Apple will also see this value and even offer some better priced iPad Mini’s, and really adopt the strengths of this great form factor device.