It was supposed to have been the iPad that Apple had forgotten. The iPad mini was launched with much fanfare in 2012 to take on what was seen as the emerging 7-inch Android tablet market (hey, even Google was making Android tablets for a while, remember?). By all accounts, it did reasonably well, but ultimately seemed to have paid the price of being the “lesser” iPad, thanks to its relatively smaller display. Interestingly, it faded out even as 7-inch Android tablets did, somewhere around 2015, as phones started getting REALLY big (that is another story for another day).
So it started, it had seemingly come to an end. And well, now it is back.
And back and how! The new iPad mini revealed by Apple is more powerful than the iPad Pro of 2017, driven as it is by the A12 Bionic processor that is also used in the new iPhones (the XR, XS and the XS Max), and also features a True Tone Retina display. In spec terms, it is right up there with the larger iPad Air that Apple launched alongside it. And it comes with Apple Pencil (generation 1) support as well. Of course, phones, if anything, have gotten bigger since the first departure of the iPad mini – the iPhone XS Max now comes with a 6.5 inch display. So why should Apple bother bringing back the smallest iPad of them all?
The answer has, I suspect, got a lot to do with that highly underrated iPad accessory, the Apple Pencil. Yes, the other iPads also support the Apple Pencil, and they come with bigger displays. However, it is precisely because they come with bigger displays that using Apple’s stylus with them requires a stable surface (no pun intended, Microsoft). You can write or scribble with an Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro, an iPad Air or an iPad, but doing so while standing will take quite a lot of doing as the tablet itself is so big. The iPad mini on the other hand is actually much smaller and can be held in one hand while you scribble on it with the Pencil using the other. It is very much the difference between writing in a full-sized diary and a notepad – the latter is designed for being used on the move, the former requires stability.
And just like a notepad can be used for quick scribbles and sketches rather than detailed ones, so too can the iPad mini, or at least, I assume it can (the device has not yet been released in India and I have not received it for review at the time of writing). I used the earlier edition of the small iPad with a third-party stylus and while the experience was nowhere near as smooth as the Apple Pencil on other iPads, it did make the iPad mini the perfect “pull out and use quickly” device. As of now, there is actually only one other device that can fulfill a similar role. Yes, the Samsung Galaxy Note. When it was launched, few (including this author) gave the Galaxy Note any chance of success. It was simply too big, many said. And people did not need a stylus in a world that was rapidly going all touchscreen. The Note, as we all know, pretty much proved all those pundits thoroughly wrong, and continues to be a strong performer, in spite of the disaster that was the Note 7 two years ago. The defining feature of the Note series – and one that I think is seldom used optimally – is its S Pen stylus. It is more complex and powerful than the Apple Pencil, but thanks to its relatively small size and thinner build, gets restricted to a random doodling and scribbling role. It is a role that I think the iPad mini is well designed to fill and that too with a bigger display, bigger stylus and well, a much lower price tag.
Which is why I suspect that the real reason for the return of the iPad mini is not to take on any Android tablet brigade (it hardly exists now, alas) or be the “most affordable iPad” (that title belongs to the iPad base model, which also supports the Apple Pencil), but to simply make its presence felt in the zone occupied by the Galaxy Note. Of course, the Galaxy Note is a very different beast and most notably, is a phone first. The S Pen is also a much more versatile tool and most importantly comes bundled with the Note. iPad mini users on the other hand, will have to purchase the Apple Pencil separately, adding another Rs 7,500 or roundabouts to the bill. And yet, I am reasonably sure that many who do get the iPad mini will actually grab the Apple stylus, simply because it adds a new dimension to the older mini, which fought on just being smaller and more affordable. The new iPad mini is powerful and only relatively affordable when compared to the Air and Pro range. I really think its trump card is actually what does not come with it. The Apple Pencil.
It makes it Note-able.