Where The iPad Mini Fits On My Digital Tool Belt

Happy iPad mini day. Since my review a few days ago, by far the number one question I’ve been asked about the device is: how does it fit into my life? Do I really need another iPad — let alone a smaller, less powerful one with a non-retina screen? Will I use it alongside the regular iPad? What about alongside a MacBook? Instead of those devices?

This question keeps coming up, of course, because everyone is trying to understand how the iPad mini might fit into their lives — or if it will at all. Granted, I’ve only been using one for a little over a week, but I think I already have a pretty good sense of where it will fit into my life.

Caveat emptor: I’m not a typical user. That’s probably obvious. But because I’ve had nearly every Apple device made over the past five years, I’ve had the opportunity to try all sorts of different combinations of products for my daily routine. And I think I have a pretty good sense of what I would use if I could only pick, say, one or two of those devices.

First and foremost, the iPad mini is a winner. No question in my mind that it’s one of the best devices Apple has ever made. No, it doesn’t have a retina display — but the more I talk to people about this and show it off, the less of an issue this seems to actually be for most people. And yes, we all know that retina display will eventually come. Maybe a year from now, maybe two years from now — it’s impossible to know. But if you’re at all on the fence about the iPad mini and you can afford it, I highly recommend making the jump. It’s fantastic.

If you already have an iPad and question why you would want the iPad mini as well, the situation is clearly more complicated. For me, personally, I want both. I’m already using them for different purposes.

For the past several months, ever since I bought Logitech’s great slim keyboard for the iPad, I’ve been using the iPad (3) for much of my computing work and play. Yes, that includes writing and emailing. With a physical keyboard, I actually find myself working faster on the iPad than I do on a regular computer because I’m less distracted thanks to the one-app-at-a-time aspect.

On the last few trips I’ve taken, I only brought my iPad and it was great. The exception was a week in Europe last month where I brought a MacBook basically just so I could charge other devices through the USB ports without having to worry about getting several power converters.

I’m very, very close to being able to go completely PC-free (meaning Mac/MacBook, not a Windows PC — I’ve been free of that for years). I’m not there yet, but I suspect I will be soon. And yes, again, I recognize that I’m an outlier. If you program, need Excel, etc, you’ll want a PC still. For now.

My point is that ultimately, I see myself carrying around a large, powerful iPad for work and the iPad mini for play. That’s not to say you can’t work on the iPad mini or play on the regular iPad, but the form factors are different enough in my mind that this is how I’m already using them.

If you don’t want a two-iPad lifestyle, that’s totally understandable. I suspect that the iPad ecosystem is going to play out similar to what we saw with the iPod. That is, the original, larger one is the iconic device that lives on for power users, but it’s the mini version that takes the product line to new heights. I suspect it will become the best-selling iPad relatively quickly. Maybe even this quarter.

In other words, if you’re debating between a large iPad and the mini version, you’re probably going to buy the mini version. And for most users, I think that will be the right choice. Yes, this is sort of ironic given Apple’s previous comments about smaller tablets. But they nailed it with the 7.9-inch screen. Not only is the size great, the fact that it can use *all* of the over 275,000 iPad apps unmodified is key. Whether or not they lucked into this situation doesn’t matter, it is the situation, and it’s going to allow the iPad mini to flourish immediately.

Until I’m ready for my iPad/iPad mini computing life, I believe I’m going to carry around a retina MacBook Pro and the iPad mini on a daily basis. I’m currently testing the new 13-inch retina MacBook Pro, and I think it’s the right combination of power and portability to be my daily machine. Previously, I had been using the 15-inch retina MacBook Pro as my desktop machine and a 13-inch MacBook Air as my portable (until I started using the iPad + keyboard as my main portable).

I still believe the MacBook Air is pretty close to a perfect laptop, but its lack of retina display gives this new Pro a great value proposition (more on that in a future review).

Others I’ve spoken to in the past have argued that carrying around an 11-inch Air and the regular iPad was overkill since they’re nearly identical in size. A few of those people now plan to carry around a combination of the 11-inch Air and the iPad mini. I think that’s a pretty good set up as well given the extremely low total combined weight (almost exactly three pounds — which is less than the 13-inch retina MacBook Pro alone!).

Because of its size, the iPad mini seems like it will be much more complementary than the regular iPad is to pretty much any size MacBook. I suspect we’re going to see a lot of people walking around with some combination of these two devices in the coming year.

If you also have an iPhone, you may view such a set up as overkill since you’ll already have an iOS device and an OS X device. But I view the iPhone as completely different from the iPad mini. The mini still isn’t small enough to have it with you at all times like the iPhone. Plus, one is optimized for iPhone apps and one is optimized for iPad apps. You may not believe that’s a big difference, but it is.

The same is true with the iPod touch, by the way. Though I do wonder if the iPad mini eats into some of those sales because it’s such a good device for children and gaming, in particular. We’ll see.

One interesting device combination I still haven’t figured out yet is the iPad mini/Kindle question. I recently bought a new Paperwhite Kindle (the one that has a built-in light and is touch-enabled), it’s a fantastic reading device. But so is the iPad mini given the form-factor. There’s the backlit screen vs. e-ink equation. But over time, that seems to be less of a deal to all but the most voracious readers. The Kindle is much cheaper, but it also does far less.

I simply can’t see myself taking both with me when I travel. The iPad mini is going to win out. The Paperwhite Kindle will sit on my bedside table for now, but I suspect the iPad mini will still get more use there, too. That leaves the rare times when I find myself reading outside. The Kindle wins there, no question.

A retina iPad mini will only make this battle tighter as well.

Another interesting part of the iPad mini equation is whether Android (and Windows Phone, BlackBerry, etc) users will buy it as well. This was clearly happening with the regular iPad — a lot of Android smartphone owners bought an iPad as their iOS device. Perhaps the existence of the Nexus 7 and now Nexus 10 changes this, or maybe the iPad mini is even more attractive to these users.

One area where I’m not sure the iPad mini will shine is for people only looking to buy either a computer or a tablet. The regular iPad has done remarkably well here — that is, as a computer replacement for some users. The iPad mini will probably be a harder sell as a full-on computer replacement. Again, that’s not because it’s not powerful enough, but the form factor will probably be an inhibiting factor. But maybe I’m wrong — it will be one of the more fascinating trends to watch.

It’s pretty clear that the iPad mini has a lot of potential market fits. There may be some hesitation at first simply because it is a new device. But once people recognize that this really is an iPad in every sense of the word, and that it’s the smallest, lightest, and cheapest iPad, sales will skyrocket.

A lot of those sales will be to people who own Macs and iPhones. Plenty will be to people who already own the regular iPad. And some will be to people like me who own all of the above. But plenty will be to Android users, too. And Windows users. And, of course, kids, as their only device.

I personally like the MacBook Pro/iPad mini combination in my bag right now. But you really can’t go wrong with any X/iPad mini combination. Pretty soon, I suspect the iPad mini to be my second most-used device behind only the iPhone.