iPad Mini – Steve Jobs was Right

After spending over two years with my iPad 2, I decided it was time to switch to something new.  Apple’s choices are the iPad 4 Retina and the iPad Mini.  The iPad Retina display is gorgeous, but it’s heaver and thicker than my old iPad 2.  I just can’t justify upgrading to a heavier tablet, so I had been thinking about the iPad Mini.  Yesterday I took the plunge and bought one.  Tomorrow it’s going back to the Apple Store.  Here’s why.

First, the pros.  The iPad mini is very light and supports LTE.ipad mini

Now the cons.

  1. The mini is small.  You might think that would be a pro, but for me it’s a con.  I’ve been using iPads since the original 2010 model and everything looks shrunk on the iPad mini, and not in a good way. Somehow, I feel cheated, like my experience is diminished compared to the full iPad. Web pages are too hard to read. Flipboard seems puny. It’s not as immersive.
  2. How do you type on this thing?  Not easily.  In landscape mode, my old iPad 2 is marginally workable as a note-taking machine.  I feel like a fool trying to type on the Mini.
  3. Lousy smart cover.  The mini smart cover is much less stable when used as a support stand in either portrait or landscape mode than the full size iPad smart cover.  And the thing costs $39.  Seriously?  While I’m talking about covers – Apple, can you please refresh the color palette of your smart covers?  We’ve been seeing these same colors since 2010. It’s getting boring.
  4. It’s not retina.  Yes, I knew that before I bought it, but tons of people say it doesn’t matter.  Well it does matter.  The text of the Mail app on the iPad mini is exactly the same size as the text of the Mail app on my iPhone 5.  But the iPhone text is clear and the Mini text is not. Some say you get used to it.  But I doubt I’ll be happy about the non-retina display once a retina Mini is released later this year.
  5. Too expensive.  Total for a maxed out mini with smart cover, Apple Care and tax came to over $850.  What?!
  6. Where’s my unlimited data plan.  I have a grandfathered AT&T unlimited data plan from my 2010 iPad.  Two people at the Apple Store assured me it would transfer to the mini.  Well, it didn’t.  When I tried to transfer my existing data plan to the new mini, I was told that it wasn’t an option for me.  Even the secret trick that AT&T hides in the bowels of its Web site didn’t work. After a half hour on the phone last night with AT&T I was told to call back the next day for help with transferring my unlimited data plan,  because the business data support office was closed for the night.  AT&T seems to be doing everything they can to make it so hard to keep your unlimited data plan that you give up and buy a metered plan. Not cool.
  7. Ouch.  The iPad Mini doesn’t feel good in my hands.  The beveled edge surrounding the glass screen has a sharp feel to it.  It is not smooth like the iPad 2 and the Mini is a not a device I want to hold for long periods of time.  People say you can read for hours on this thing.  I wouldn’t want to.
  8. Tipsy.  When I hold the Mini, it feels top heavy like it want to fall backwards.  Maybe that’s the way I’m holding it because of the uncomfortable sharp beveled edge?
  9. Slow Wi-Fi.  Here are the results of this morning’s speed test, all from the same location. iPhone 5 clocked in at 24 Mb/s, iPad 2 clocked in at 12 MB/s, and iPad Mini at 4 Mb/s.  Maybe there’s a problem with the Wi-Fi on my particular Mini, but that’s just one more item to add to my list of problems.
  10. Speaker blockage. The speakers are at the very bottom. What happens when you are lying down and the iPad Mini is resting on your body? Speakers are blocked and muffled!
  11. iPad 2 speed.  The Mini has the same processor, same speed as my 2+ year old iPad 2.  And on Temple Run 2 the slow speed shows in jerky frames here and there.  Unlike my much faster iPhone 5. Why am I paying $850 (see point 5) for a new tablet that runs at 2011 speeds and has 2011 resolution (see point 4)?
  12. It’s portable but…  My iPhone 5 is much more portable.  And the Mini kind of resembles one of those embarrassing Phablets.

I wanted to like the Mini – that’s why I bought it. But I don’t like it and I don’t want to “get used to it” like a pair of stiff shoes that needs breaking in.

Looks like Steve Jobs was right when he said:

7-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with the iPad. ….7-Inch tablets are dead on arrival.

While one could increase the resolution to make up some of the difference, it is meaningless unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size. Apple has done expensive user testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff.

There are clear limits of how close you can place physical elements on a touch screen, before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.

So, back to the Apple Store to return the Mini.

For now I’ll keep the iPad 2. I’m hoping that the iPad 5 that will be released later this year will work better for me.  But now I’m concerned because some speculate that the new iPad will have the Mini’s form factor. Which would mean sharp uncomfortable edges.

Update 5/26/13:  Mini returned to Apple Store, very easy. Apple does returns in style.

About Tom Novak

Tom Novak is the Denit Trust Distinguished Scholar and Professor of Marketing at the George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

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