Some initial thoughts on using an iPad mini

Nov 9, 2012 11:30 · 608 words · 3 minute read

Here’s some quick initial thoughts after the first 24 hours of using an iPad mini, mainly from the point of view of having to build apps for it in the future. This is stream-of-consciousness stuff; for considered erudite opinions, you’ll need to go read someone who spends more time writing blog posts than code.

It’s very substantially lighter, both physically and psychologically than the iPad 2 or 3. It’s got a very slightly smaller footprint than a Moleskine notebook, and it’s a lot thinner. This is a carry-everywhere device. And it will fit into a generously-sized jacket pocket.

It’s effortless to hold in one hand in a way that the fullsized iPad isn’t. To hold the fullsize iPad, I fold the cover in half, flip it over the back and use that to “hang” the iPad off my left hand. It works, but it’s not ideal because the weight. The mini solves that problem completely - it’s small and light enough to hold in one hand for an extended period of time.

Held in portrait, the bezels are very slim at the side, which means my thumbs hang over onto the screen slightly. This doesn’t seem to trigger rogue touches, but it does feel strange after using a fullsize iPad. I’d not want to place any tap targets at the extreme edges of the screen.

The mini’s screen isn’t Retina - but let’s not get too carried away about this. If we’d not seen a Retina iPad we’d be breathlessly praising the iPad mini as having the best screen ever developed on a mobile device. It’s still very, very good, even if it isn’t truly Retina. And it’s substantially better than the screens on the iPads 1 and 2. Full brightness is bright enough to navigate around a dark room as a torch.

The Lightning connector is tiny, but feels much less flimsy than the 30 pin connector.

Tap targets on iPad apps are small, and some are just on the margins of usability. You won’t have to redesign an existing interface to handle the mini, but if you’re building a new interface from scratch I would seriously think about the size of tap targets. As an example, the default height of the table cells in Tweetbot’s left-hand landscape menu are just about right for my fingers - but UINavigationBar buttons are too small to hit comfortably unless they’re isolated.

If you’re in the business of building iPad apps, you will NEED to test your apps on a physical mini. The combination of the smaller tap targets and the smaller screen means that your fullsize interface isn’t necessarily going to work.

The portrait keyboard is small, and I don’t think I’d want to type much on it. The landscape keyboard, on the other hand, actually feels like a more sensible size than that of the fullsized iPad. The keys are almost exactly fingertip sized, so there doesn’t feel as if there is any wasted space.

By comparison, the Nexus 7 feels cheap and plasticy. It’s also heavier; it’s twice as thick and the screen is MUCH smaller than the iPad. The Nexus screen is better from the point of resolution, but that’s offset by software that feels juddery in use whenever anything scrolls. I also remain to be convinced that 16:9 is an aspect ration useful for anything other than watching 16:9 video (which is approximately 0.01% of my tablet usecase.) Which is the better choice is entirely down to your budget and how embedded you are in the ecosystem - beyond that it becomes a pointless tribal “my football team is better than your football” team argument.