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TIMO ZIMMERMANN

balancing software engineering & infosec

The iPad Mini as a daily companion

posted on March 5, 2022, 4:44 p.m. in life, hardware, ios, ipados

Somewhen end of last year when my usual device upgrade cycle was due, I thought about how I use my devices and what I expect from them. Every now and then it makes sense to be conscious about your purchases instead of "just upgrading".

I noticed that I am not entirely happy with my iPhone 12 Pro Max. It kind of fulfilled requirements, but only "good enough", not "good!". It is comfortable to write some emails on it or chat, the display is large enough to read a bit and it is still small enough to be okay-ish to carry around. Yet typing long emails was still a bit of a pain. I did not enjoy reading on it enough to read a book, only some blog posts. And let us be honest - it is a large device to carry in your pocket.

I primarily use my mobile devices to get work done while away from my office and some social media and reading while at home. I do not watch videos on them, I rarely start a game and I surely do not create content for social media beside a tweet here and there. I write emails, lots of emails. Chat via various apps, sometimes join a video call and do light - work related - reading during downtime.

It dawned on me that the perfect device for all of this should be... the iPad Mini. Especially with the latest revision. It is compact enough to fit into my pocket - a fact my wife really despises. I can hold it with one hand, the keyboard is decently large and reading on it is a joy. So I started an experiment: Going mostly iPad Mini only during the day, no phone.

I can not receive any phone calls on the iPad without porting my number to a VoIP provider. But since I wear an Apple Watch most of the day as a fitness tracker, this was not an issue regardless. I received exactly 8 calls on it in 2021. The watch is good enough for that if I happen to be out of office. And while I could carry the iPad Mini in most trouser pockets, it did not fit in all of them, especially fancier pants would be a struggle - if I ever have to dress like an adult and leave the house again, that is.

On top of these minor inconveniences, iPad OS is shockingly incompetent for a daily driver. Apple Health? Nope. Pairing an Apple Watch? Good luck. CarPlay? Good one. Weather? Look out of the window! I have my own theory why Apple forces the segmentation, but I do not like it. So, an iPhone was still needed as well.

There are exactly two states I am in when I leave the house. Regular or private time. Regular time means I am kind of okay being disrupted with whatever I do or do some light work if there is downtime. During this time the iPad Mini and Apple Watch are a perfect combination. Private time means I am out with my wife or friends. I do not want to be disrupted. I do not want to work. I do not wear my Apple Watch, but a "real watch". My phone is in DnD mode. If anything would be "on fire" and if I would absolutely be required to be available a handful of people are on the "ignore DND" list. This was needed exactly once in 2021. I enjoy being disconnected for some time. An iPhone is the only device in the mobile lineup allowing me to do this. And as the only requirement was emergency availability I went with an iPhone Mini. Small, light and powerful enough in case of an emergency.

The iPhone Mini is okay. With swipe typing you can get an email or message out in a reasonable comfortable way if you have to. The display is okay to read something. Overall the device is okay. The strengths are clearly portability and size.

Three months later I can say for sure: None of this is good enough to justify the tradeoffs.

The best and most trivial, real life example: When walking the dog I do not carry the iPad Mini with me. Just not comfortable enough to carry around. So I reach for my phone. A colleague sends me a quick message because they are blocked doing something. Guess whos typing way more than they ever wanted to on an iPhone Mini. I can either decide to let them wait an hour for an answer, or hate the fact that one finger typing takes ages but swift typing struggles with technical terms.

Driving somewhere? Phone needs to be in the car. While I do not use CarPlay very often, as I consider the BMW nav system way better, no hands free speaking with the Apple watch. (At least music would be doable via Bluetooth.)

Accessing activity data? Let me get my phone. Logging food? Phone. There were simply too many scenarios where I had to reach for my phone during the day - more than I had anticipated too.

In consequence I will go back to an iPhone Pro Max. Especially as Apple seems unwilling to finally ship an Apple iFold - a revolutionary, unique, first seen during an Apple keynote foldable phone. (And I am not talking about the zFlip, I do not care for candy bar folds.) I want a foldable tablet. But as long as this is not on the table, the Pro Max is the most fitting device for me... despite it being only "good enough" in most things I care about.

That being said, if you always carry a bag with you and do not care about any of the things I consider necessary, you might be doing just fine going iPad Mini only. If you want the smallest and lightest phone possible, the iPhone Mini is a joy to use, and I am fairly certain you will love it.

I will keep the Minis though. I prefer having an iPad around for reading. The iPhone Mini is still the perfect device to have with me during private time. Also handy to have around for testing when working on an app. I am okay having two competing devices of the same class, even if it seems a little redundant. They are a one time investment for years and a one time write-off, I consider it one of the few business expenses I got.

I am glad I tried going iPad Mini only. Same as the time I was working only with a 13" iPad Pro while out of office. In theory you might know how something will turn out. Sometimes you learn new things and are pleasantly surprised or greatly disappointed. As long as I can afford it experimenting with new devices, concepts and paradigms will always be worth the time and effort to me, especially since we finally left a decade of boring "here, have a thinner laptop" behind us.