I have this weird thing where I’ll keep a tab open for days, weeks, even months, if there’s something even potentially interesting that I can’t deal with right now, but want to do something with eventually. Before you ask, yes, I have heard of bookmarks, but ask any nerd and they’ll tell you they do a similar thing with their browser tabs. It’s not uncommon to have umpteen tabs open at any one time — and of all the stuff I have backed up, I’d be pretty devastated if I lost all my tabs. I could potentially get them back, but that involves trawling through days, maybe even weeks of internet history. When you visit as many websites as I do, it’s hard to tell what you had open as a tab and what you were merely browsing out of curiosity.
But I digress. I’ve had two tabs open for close to a year now, and as much as I’ve wanted to write something substantial about the iPad mini, there just isn’t anything worth writing about. Not because the iPad mini is boring or anything, but because I just haven’t been inspired to write anything worth publishing. Because when it comes down to it, the iPad just isn’t as interesting as the HP TouchPad was, back in the day. WebOS was just so bad and so good at the same time, you know?
I’ve owned an iPad mini since it was first released around this time last year. It wasn’t my first tablet, but it is my first iPad. I honestly don’t have anything else to say about it that hasn’t been said elsewhere, but with the new iPad Air coming out riding on the coat tails of the iPad mini, I thought I’d take a moment to write about how I’ve been using it.
I think the most telling thing about the iPad is that it hasn’t replaced my computer. That’s telling because I see a lot of older, mature folk replace their clunky Dells with futuristic, touch-enabled iPads, even if they don’t run the same programs as their old computer used to. Why? I’m not sure, exactly, but at a guess, it has something to do with how intuitive Apple has made iOS (and then turned everything upside down with iOS 7, but that’s for another time).
But as much as I enjoy using the iPad, it hasn’t replaced my computer. If all I’m doing is light web browsing and catching up on my Instapaper backlog, then sure, I’ll pick up the iPad over the MacBook Pro any day; the iPad is lighter, has a much longer battery life, and lets me concentrate on one thing at a time, for the most part. It’s kind of like the Kindle, in that regard. For everything else, there’s the Mac: for switching between any of my umpteen open tabs, writing content into browser text boxes, and doing any other kind of serious work.
I tried writing one of the MacTalk daily news posts on my iPad mini one time, and while it was OK, the software keyboard really hindered the process by needing to switch between the various keyboards to access special characters. I could have worked around the issue by using a hardware keyboard or using an app that offered an extra row of characters, but that would have required a little extra preparation on my part, something I wasn’t able to do at the time.
I was in Melbourne earlier this year for PAX Australia, and just before I left, I debated whether to take my MacBook Pro, both the MacBook Pro and iPad mini, or just the iPad mini. I knew I’d be doing “work” at PAX, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to lug around a fully-fledged computer that I might or might not use. In the end, I decided to bring just the iPad mini, and I’m pretty glad I did. It was the perfect size and weight, and even when I was back in the hotel at nights, I didn’t really miss my MacBook Pro – and I certainly didn’t miss the extra size and weight. I travelled pretty light during the expo itself, with only a Crumpler Five Million Dollar Home to my name and every tech gadget I could fit in there — 3DS XL, iPad mini, Sony RX 100 II, and a few other bits and pieces.
It was pretty telling that of the four people on our “gaming on the Mac” panel, none of us had Macs with us. Instead, all of us had opted for the iPad mini — three with Product(RED) Smart Cover, me without. (I was rocking a SmartSuit for iPad mini from The Joy Factory, as recommended by The Wirecutter).
I can pretty safely say for web browsing and keeping up with Twitter/Facebook, there is no better tablet than the iPad mini. Even more so now that the updated model has a much faster processor and a display with a much higher pixel density, even those features are completely superfluous for simple web browsing and looking at nice pictures of cats on the internet.
This whole time I’ve said the iPad mini hasn’t replaced my computer, and in truth, it hasn’t. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t. With the addition of a separate keyboard (I use the Apple wireless keyboard, although I would strongly consider the backlit Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard), the iPad mini becomes a productivity monster. It’s amazing the difference a separate keyboard makes: now you’re typing out emails with the same ferocity that you do on your Mac, now you’re copying and pasting stuff all over the web, and now you can use symbols without having to switch between three different on-screen keyboards. If you want to get work done with your iPad mini, or need to do any kind of serious text input, then an external keyboard is the only way to go; I can highly recommend the Incase Origami Workstation, if you have the Apple Wireless keyboard. I’m generally not a fan of cases that have the keyboard built-in, because they add unnecessary bulk to every time you’re not using the iPad with the keyboard, which, depending on your use, might be none of the time, or it might be the majority of the time.
I hear your questions. “If you’re using an iPad with a keyboard, wouldn’t you be better off with something like a MacBook Air?”, you ask. And I answer: yeah, maybe you would. The decision between a MacBook Air and an iPad (mini or otherwise) is something people ask me about all the time, and yeah, that 11-inch MacBook Air is pretty tempting. I guess it comes down to whether you need an actual computer or not — there’s heaps the iPad can’t do when it comes to managing files. Getting files onto it is awkward at best. But were the iPad excels is the touch-optimised interface and third party app experience; there’s a plethora of great apps out there for it. So if the decision is between a MacBook Air and an iPad of any kind, ask yourself: are you looking to replace a computer with it? If so, get the MacBook Air. It’s the best Mac Apple currently offers for the majority of customers. But if you already own a computer and just want something to use on the couch, out and about, maybe even when you’re travelling (the iPad is super-popular for those looking to go overseas, for some reason), then get an iPad. The size and weight will make it worth it, trust me.
Truth be told, I don’t use my own iPad mini often enough. But I know why: when I’m at home, I’m on my MacBook Pro, hooked up to my external monitor, mechanical keyboard, and wireless mouse. And when I’m out and about, I’m on my iPhone — the iPad’s smaller, more portable, widescreen iPod with touch controls, revolutionary mobile phone, and breakthrough internet communicator, cousin. There’s just no room for an iPad mini in between all that, despite how thin and how light the iPad mini is.
I’ve often considered selling my iPad mini and getting a MacBook Air. My MacBook Pro rarely leaves my desk these days, and I’d love a portable Mac. But then I realise what a pain having two Macs would be, and look fondly upon my iPad mini once again.