iPad mini

iPad Air

A little over a week ago I wrote a speculative piece on Personal disruption. This post is a continuation of that thinking.

First, let me say that I’m known for getting a bug in my head, buying something, then getting a gut feeling its not working out, changing my mind, and returning it. This is true with hiking boots, packs, computers, cameras, clothing, and anything that I use daily and means something to me. Things that I’ve kept too long to return I sell on Amazon or give away. I don’t like to put up with things that don’t absolutely please me. My wife thinks I’m borderline (or not so borderline) OCD because I like some silverware better than some other silverware in our silverware drawer but the fact is, we have a bit of Dansk silverware mixed in with other stuff and it has a better feel to my hand, so I choose it.

The short of it is, I notice details and I’m picky.

Lest you think the Dansk name drop makes me a brand snob, my favorite butter knife is an old tarnished piece of plated silverware I got at a tag sale for ten cents twenty years ago; it’s less about brand, more about feel and usability but in fact, some brands (Dansk, Patagonia, Apple) combine great feel and usability with great design. Doesn’t mean they can’t flop and I don’t like everything Patagonia makes, but I do have the sense that they care about design and usability.

iPad mini
After using the $299 16GB iPad mini exclusively for a week (avoiding my iPad 3) I decided that the weight of earlier full-size iPads was affecting the way I used them: less weight=more use and the size of the mini (in addition to its light weight) was affecting how I carried it around and used it.

By the way, this has proved true with cameras for me too, my current camera of choice is a compact Ricoh GR and I use it for everything having unloaded my entire DSLR rig over a year ago. Too much weight, no matter how good the images, means less use.

I wasn’t sure I’d be comfortable reading everything I like to read on the iPad mini’s screen, some web sites are too small on that screen to be fully accessible, even when opened in Safari directly in landscape and when scanning sites that open up in windows on top of Tweetbot, Twitterific, Reeder, Mr. Reeder or Feedly, accessibility in iOS and on a small screen becomes near impossible.

There is an interesting relationship between size/weight and readability and as one gets older and one’s eyes get weaker, readability starts to trump size and weight. A retina screen can only go so far in making very small text readable or a very small button on screen pushable.

But, even though I wasn’t sure about the mini (because of a few instances of tough readability) I decided to go ahead and recycle my iPad 3 as there was no going back; it felt like a brick compared with the mini and my future was either a mini or a new Air.

I set up the recycling of the iPad 3 with Apple, reset it and put it aside with cable and charger.

I noted that even with the small, 16GB mini I could get all of my various apps, a bit of music, a few pictures and four ripped DVDs on it which is more than enough to fly across the country with. So, I was content to sit tight with the “old” mini, maybe skipping the new iPad Air and the upcoming retina iPad mini but certainly in no rush to buy anything right now.

I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro and no matter what kind of iPad I ended up with I like a hardware keyboard for this type of writing so any iPad I get doesn’t have to do this job, although any iPad could do this job.

It felt good to have made this kind of decision although my wife kept waiting for me to change my mind, sell the mini and regret recycling the iPad 3. I didn’t turn the iPad 3 back on, however, I did have second thoughts about the mini as I ran into readability issues and watched a part of a movie on it and noticed that I missed the bigger screen for movie watching.

iPad Air
There I sat for most of last week and while I didn’t lose any sleep over this decision, I knew I had to at least get my hands on an iPad Air to see what they were like.

Anne and I planned a shopping trip to Trader Joe’s and Costco in Danbury and since the Danbury Mall is close, we decided to stop into the small Apple store there and check out the iPad Air together.

By this time my iPad 3 was on its way back to Apple and I had about $200 left on an Apple gift card from recycling my iPhone 4S a while back. I decided even if I wanted the Air, I’d wait until the iPad 3 cleared so I could apply that gift card to a new purchase. In other words, I went into the store attempting to not buy anything, just to get a sense of what the iPad Air was all about.

Before we went I used Apple’s online tool to make sure the Danbury Apple store had what I might want in stock: 64GB “space gray” iPad Air. They did.

We walked into the store, some nice Apple sales people directed us to a table of iPad Airs and we each parked in front of one. I picked it up, looked at Anne and she looked at me and we knew Apple had hit a sweet spot with this version of the iPad. It was less a matter of weight relative to anything else, it was more a matter of the feel of it. I hadn’t even turned it on yet but I could tell immediately that this thing had the right feel.

The iPad Air looks and feels like a big iPad mini. If you like the mini you owe it to yourself to experience the Air before buying a retina mini. It’s about the same height as other full size iPads and a bit narrower and quite a bit thinner. The edges and bezels feel great in hand, just like a mini (which feels great in hand).

Before I actually used the Air, I pulled out my mini (with a third party cover on it) and held it in one hand, the Air in the other. The weight difference was negligible. I gave the mini to Anne and she agreed. Yes, the size of the Air affects how it feels: holding it in a corner as you might a book will put more weight away from your hand relative to the smaller mini but compared with the older iPads this is much less of a problem.

Anne ran the Maps app, got into satellite mode and started panning around. She was amazed at how fast the Air processed information.

I ran Safari, went to this web site and read some text in both the body and the sidebar. Then I went to other sites I browse daily to see how readable the text would be for me. This is all with no changes in the OS, just as-is on the Apple display table.

I’ve noticed that the iPhone 5S is incredibly fast relative to the 4S I had before. The 4S was totally fine, a great phone and mine got a lot of use but when you know a tool will bog down in certain places you avoid going to those places. The iPhone 5S doesn’t bog down anywhere and neither does the iPad Air. They both share the same A7 processor and it’s a significant improvement in Apple’s new iOS devices.

I used as many of the demo apps as I could, opened a lot of web pages, turned the Air off completely and booted it up and within five (5!) minutes I knew I’d be walking out with one.

I looked at Anne and she agreed, it was a no-brainer, not even close.

Since Apple has retail stores in Connecticut there’s no reason to avoid buying something like this locally, there’s no way to avoid sales tax and they had the configuration I wanted in stock.

I waved an Apple sales person over, told him I wanted a 64GB space gray iPad Air with AppleCare and a black Smart Case (the full cover case). He got the boxes, scanned my gift card off of Passbook (we should have used the Apple retail app which I also have), ran my credit card for the balance and we were out of the store.

The entire store experience was about ten minutes, maybe twelve but not much more.

We got home, I got the Air set up and started a sync to load it up with my stuff and I went out to work on leaves (my least favorite chore, even with a backpack blower). When I got back inside and showered I put the Smart Cover on and made sure all of my stuff had synced over.

First, the Smart Cover is absolutely fantastic. If you have an iPhone 5S and have experienced Apple’s leather case for it (Anne and I love the iPhone case) then you’ll appreciate what Apple has done with this Smart Cover. It fits like a glove, protects the back, has a decent hinge, and the cover can act as a stand. It’s expensive relative to third party options but I have no regrets, it feels great and doesn’t add much to the size and weight of the iPad Air.

The iPad Air itself really is everything I experienced in the Apple store: it’s fast, it’s light, and it feels of a piece. The retina screen is incredible, seemingly better than my retina iPad 3. Not only do I have no regrets about having made this extremely fast and seemingly impulsive decision, I’ve already reset the mini and its on its way back to Apple through their recycling program.

The mini showed me that my older iPad was a brick and I wasn’t using it as much as I could because of this. But, the older mini still used the same older processor that the iPad 3 and 4 used and while its fast enough, it’s slow compared with an iPad Air or the newer retina mini coming out soon. So, while the mini is a great size for travel and I considered keeping it in addition to the Air, I have a most excellent iPhone 5S that can be used on trains and other places where any iPad would be too big or non-cellular iPads would be unconnected.

When Apple released the first iPad it was apparent that this tool was going to be disruptive but because it was a new way to work for many of us who are serious computer users we may have been considering it as an iPod-like appendage. As Apple has slimmed it down, added a retina screen, and upgraded its processor and speed, the disruption has continued apace. The iPad Air certainly tips the iPad into complete computer replacement for many people. This is significant.

I’ve now had the iPad Air for three days and have absolutely no regrets at all. I’m glad I bought a mini and set it up to see how it would affect my work patterns as it led me directly to the Air. I might have bought an Air otherwise considering it’s a natural upgrade from an iPad 3 but the mini was an itch I had to scratch and I’m glad I did.

Looking at spec sheets on weight and size and online unboxing videos doesn’t do it. If you’re an iPad user you really need to get your hands on the iPad Air. I’d go further: with Apple’s 14 day no-questions asked return policy, just buy one, sync your stuff onto it and try it out for real. My guess is you won’t be returning it.