After months of rumor-building anticipation, Apple has introduced the iPad mini, a smaller version of the world's most popular tablet. Now that we know what it is, what's so great about it? I was in San Jose at Apple's event for the unveiling, and I've come up with five things that stand out to me about the iPad mini after using one in person.
1. Handheld size. I use my third-generation iPad throughout the day for all sorts of things, and I rarely feel as if I'm propping up a giant monstrous slab. But for reading, where you're holding a device for a long time in the same position, the full-sized iPad does get heavy. You don't want it to smack you in the face if you nod off while reading in bed. With its 8-inch by 5.3-inch dimensions and, more importantly, a weight of just 306 grams, the iPad mini comes close to the size of Amazon's popular Kindle e-readers.
2. It's still an iPad. The Kindles, aside from the Kindle Fire models, are dedicated ebook readers, which also access the Web and run a few basic apps, but as decidedly secondary considerations. I'm not denigrating them—they're dedicated devices, and that focus on doing one thing well has proved to be very popular. But the iPad mini does everything a full-size iPad does, which opens the experience to the hundreds of thousands of apps available for iOS.
3. The price. "Well duh, of course price is important," you're probably saying. But starting at $329, the iPad mini is at a much more affordable threshold for a lot of people who may want an iPad but don't want to pay $500 or more. And this price also grabs the attention of folks who are looking at the Kindle Fire or Android tablets. I am surprised that Apple didn't go after a lower price point—I think $249 would have been the sweet spot—but Apple also builds its devices with the intent to profit from them, instead of selling them at a loss.
4. Battery life. This one comes as a mixed bag. On one hand, it's great that the iPad mini can match the same battery life as the other iPads, given that there's much less physical room to stash a battery in that small, thin enclosure. (As it is, most of the innards are composed of battery material.) But 10 hours isn't much compared to the extremely long battery life of the Kindles. Still, unless you're going off the grid, it's likely you can easily recharge as needed, so I don't see this as a practical disadvantage.
5. It's a great companion for photographers. I'm biased on this point, being the author of The iPad for Photographers, but the size alone means you're carrying less weight in less space. Being able to import photos from a camera—either using the new Lightning-to-SD adapter cable or wirelessly using an Eye-Fi card—lets you view your photos on a brilliant display that's better than what your camera's LCD offers. The mini doesn't offer a Retina display, but the screen is still very good. And—dare I say it?—the iPad mini might just make a fine camera by itself. It has a 5 megapixel rear-facing camera, which isn't great but isn't terrible, and holding an iPad mini up to take a photo looks less awkward than holding up a full-size iPad to grab a shot.
Author and photographer Jeff Carlson (@jeffcarlson on Twitter) is a columnist for the Seattle Times, a senior editor for the weekly electronic newsletter TidBITS (www.tidbits.com), and writes for publications such as Macworld and Photoshop Elements Techniques. He is the author of The iPad Pocket Guide, The iPad for Photographers, and Photoshop Elements 11: Visual QuickStart Guide, among many others. He believes there's never enough coffee, and does his best to test that theory.