Keep the mini and Make it Pro
My first iPad was a first-gen mini — it was my high school foray into the world of paperless note-taking. Despite its small screen, I loved the size: it was unobtrusive when compared to the laptops others brought to school, and when paired with a stylus1, it felt like carrying a pocket notebook with infinite pages from class to class. It was the perfect portable to-do list, the most versatile portable gaming device for lunchtime, and, on top of all that, my pocket clapperboard for film production in Video III2. I used the hell out of that device up until I bought myself an iPad Pro to continue the paperless journey in college. Ever since, what I’ve missed the most is the way the mini just felt so easy to take anywhere without thinking twice.
So when the sixth-generation iPad mini was announced last year, I was instantly drawn to its potential. It was cute, it was pretty powerful, and I could think of about a hundred small use cases for it in my life. Dieter Bohn said it best in his review for the Verge (emphasis mine):
I dearly love the iPad Mini and have gone so far as to replace my iPad Pro with one. If anybody asked me if they should do the same I would be loathe to say yes.
Instead, I would respond with another question: do you know exactly why you want to have a smaller iPad instead of a big phone or a full-size iPad? Because the iPad Mini is not very good at the things those are good at, and it’s only really better than those things in a few specific ways. I just happen to care a lot about one of them.
And that’s the thing about the iPad mini: it doesn’t make a lot of logical sense as far as value goes in Apple’s current iPad lineup. Its tiny screen simply isn’t optimized for anything other than fitting in the mini’s enticing form factor; and while its specs are great, it is no more powerful than what you’d get in, say, an iPad Air for a similar price. But its appeal to Dieter and I captures the essence — and the weirdness - of the iPad mini. It’s a device of specificity.
In fact, when the new mini was announced, Apple really leaned into the weirdness. Tim Cook’s first words about the mini were basically, “this iPad is weird, and that’s why it’s great”:
There’s simply no other device like iPad mini. It gives users all the power of iPad in its most portable form, which makes it indispensable for a wide range of uses like when it’s secured to the leg of a pilot in flight, or pulled from a doctor’s lab coat to care for patients in the ER. iPad mini is in a class of its own. – Tim Cook, September 14, 2021 Apple Event
By highlighting pilots and doctors as iPad mini users, Cook centered the new mini’s introduction on two hyper-specific groups that know exactly why they’d want a smaller iPad instead of a big phone or full-size iPad; two groups that know exactly how the size of the mini fits into their workflow. But as Cook spoke, I felt confused about the product. “The mini is the lowest-end iPad, right?” I thought, “isn’t it the one that Apple makes to hit price point?” The questions rattled through my head as I grew even more confused when the price was revealed to be $4993. But my cognitive dissonance eventually gave way to a new understanding of Apple’s newfound clarity on just who the iPad mini is for: professionals. It’s a strong take, I know, and many have commented that the mini is really an “iPad Air mini,” which, technologically, I agree with. But, again, the iPad mini’s weirdness — its movement toward the iPad’s new design language combined with its small size and ability to run full iPadOS — results in a form that really can wriggle its way into those “pro” workflows quite well, including those of pilots and doctors.
As we head into Apple’s “Far out” iPhone event this week, it’s been widely reported that the iPhone mini is headed the way of the beloved Netflix show in its second season. Here’s what I’ll say for its exit interview: I wish Apple made an iPhone mini that was more like the iPad mini – and by that, I mean weird and specific. Sure, Apple almost literally defines mass-market electronics, and maybe for a company like that, there’s not a lot of room for weird; it’s just not profitable enough. They tried to make a run at it and it just didn’t work. But I think that reconsidering the mini’s role in the iPhone lineup would unlock new potential for the littlest iPhone there is.
iPad family photo (via Apple)
First, a comparison of the minis. If the iPad mini is really an iPad Air mini, then the iPhone mini is, truly, the iPhone mini. That is, the both of the minis exist as “little siblings” to their non-pro counterparts in their respective “family photos”. Ok, then: so far, so similar. But whereas the iPad mini changed roles in the product lineup from cheapest (and smallest) to smallest (and weirdest), the iPhone mini has felt shoehorned into the iPhone lineup as cheapest (and smallest) without much more purpose.
A Jobsian 2x2 Grid for Apple’s Mobile Product Lineup
|iPad Air & iPad mini
|iPad Pro 11” & iPad Pro 12.9”
|iPhone & iPhone mini
|iPhone Pro & iPhone Pro Max
I’ve already made the argument that the iPad mini is really more of a pro product, despite its place in the “consumer” box. There is something about a small device that helps it fit into the crevices of a workflow that larger devices just feel too heavyweight to carry out. Pros like weird things – they’re fiddly about the tools they use because they’re using them to fulfill a specific role in their life. They’re even willing to pay a premium to get a device that fulfills that role. And small screens are great for specificity.
So here’s my plea: sure, Apple, kill the mini for now. But for the sake of the pros out there, bring it back with a vengeance: give it a ProMotion display, give it the pro iPhone’s camera array, and for the love of god, give it a bigger battery. It’s ok if the mini’s a little weird: that should be why it exists in the first place.
Long live the Adonit Jot!↩︎
Where we were doing our best to make a feature-length film, one hour-long class period at a time, throughout a semester.↩︎
By the way, no — the mini hadn’t served the role of “most affordable iPad” for a long time: since 2017, when the “baseline” iPad came back with a $329 price tag, to be exact.↩︎