Friday, April 9, 2021

iPad Mini - UMPC Dream Come True, Best True Mobile Computer

 Do you remember what the UMPC is?  It's the ultra-mobile PC from 2000s before the iPad was released by Apple.  The UMPC was a light weight PC that ran mostly Windows and had a battery life of 5 hours.  Real world use was obvious very disappointing as the class of PC did not live up to its aspirations.  

When it was first introduced, along with a few upbeat commercials that claim we have finally be delivered to the mobile promise land, I was very skeptical.  I owned both Windows laptops and Powerbooks from Apple through college and I know what power and battery life was like in real life.  Luckily at the time, the time I needed to tax my computers was when I was playing games.  Excel work and plotting graphs were easy enough for the computers to handle with data from lab work.   When I did have to do photo editing, I did it on the Powerbook if I had to but I had access to the PowerMacs of the time in the late 90s. Through the 2000s, processing power did increase but battery life was still dismal.

So, I never go the UMPC right out of the gate or did I need up getting one because Apple released the iPad  in the early part of 2010.  That was my UMPC.  It was simple in that it did not do all what I have come to expect a PC to do and what I was doing with a PC both for work and personally.  It had a browser, mail app, and a few apps that were really iPhone apps.  It was not until a few years later that the iPad really become a full blown computer.  

Then the iPad mini was released about  couple of years later.  The latest one, the iPad mini 5th generation was released in 2019.  I realized I have every version of the mini and stopped with the bigger regular iPad at iPad Pro 10.5". I don't know if I'll ever go back to a bigger size iPad.  I know that I have more of a chance of upgrading to a mini.  

The size is perfect at at 5.5" by 8" with about a 7.9" display that has an impressive ten hours real world battery life.  Yea, I'm not kidding here.  There were times when I'm just browsing, watching video, writing, and play games through the day and I had no anxiety issues about finding a plug to charge it.  My 5th generation also supports Apple Pencil - it was the main selling point for me to upgrade from the 4th gen to the current one.  Without it, even with the specs bump, I think I would have passed on it and happily stay with the 4th generation mini.

I don't have the cellular version which I sort of regret.  I've been leaving my iPhone at home more and more - I just leave the house with my cellular Apple Watch.  When I do bring the mini with me, I am without Internet connection.  I can do most things on it but there were times when I do want to answer an email or text (I get notifications through the watch).  I leave the iPhone at home because I do want to be disconnected so I'm a bit iffy on the cellular feature on the mini.  Perhaps, I'll get one with a cellular connection and turn it off unless it's an emergency.

As far as a UMPC goes, I do not think most Apple fans would compare the iPad to the UMPC.  But you have to wonder what Microsoft, Intel and their partners had done in the 5 years or so before the debut of the iPad had no influence on the iPad's own development.  For a device released on 2010, the level of power in the iPad as well as its true real world 10 hour battery life was an incredible feat.  It took Apple years before the MacBooks came close to the 10-hour battery of the iPad.  Today, we know that the M1 MacBooks have surpassed the the battery life of the iPads.

Furthermore, Apple framed the iPad as a media consuming device, not a computer like the Mac or PC in the early years.  Once development has matured over the years, only then did Apple begin to sell the iPad as possible PC replacements for productivity.  Given the smaller screen size of the mini, there were times when I find the 7.9" screen a bit limiting.  Obviously, I can easily do more on the 12.9" on the Pro.  

However, those times are few and far in between.  I've adapted my mini to serve as a companion to my MacBook for work - as a screen, document reader, productivity use with Numbers and Pages, and for the bulk of my personal projects.  

I can't wait to see what Apple has in store for the 6th generation mini.  There are rumors and they are just that.  I would not mind even longer battery life.  After all, the iPad family is about being mobile.  Let me list what I like to see on future iPad mini developments.

  • Again, battery life.  I would like to see Apple give the iPad family similar battery upgrades the MacBook got by using the M1 chip.  Perhaps, given the form factor of the mini, trying to get out 16-18 hours is not possible in the near future but how about 12-15 hours against the 10 hours today?
  • Low Power Mode.  Today's iPhone has excellent battery life.  Even on my iPhone 12 mini, I am getting decent battery life compared to my previous main driver, the iPhone SE and iPhone 11 Pro Max.  Sure, it's not to the level of the Max but the mini has managed to power me through the day of moderate use with the Low Power Mode on.  I like to see the Low Power Mode come to the iPad mini.  If it can squeeze out an extra hour or two, it would further increase it's usage as a true mobile platform.  After all, I don't need the iPhone or iPad running at full power.  Turning off a core or two in the CPU or update the screen less is just fine with me until I need it.  
  • Smart Keyboard support.  I like to see what Apple comes up with for the mini's own Smart keyboard folio.  It'll be cramp.  There are keyboard add-ons and covers for the mini.  I have avoided getting them because I use Apple's bluetooth keyboard with the mini when I have a lot of writing to do.  But it is a separate device and I rather have the keyboard built into the cover than carry a separate keyboard around.
  • Camera.  The iPad mini camera is so 2010. Maybe it is the same camera as the original iPad mini.  I definitely did not see any improved quality of photos taken on the 5th generation iPad mini over the 4th gen iPad mini.  I would be willing to pay a premium price for better camera.  the Pro has it and it's come Apple give the mini the same treatment.  There is rumor that we might get an iPad mini Por.  If that is true, I would expect it to get a better camera than the current mini.
Now, updated specs for a 6th generation iPad mini is a given.  I expect I'll be able to utilize that power with even more powerful apps.  Even now, I can do a lot of graphic work on the mini and not have it miss a beat.  

If you ask me what I would take with me when I leave for my hike this weekend or a walk though the Huntington Library, hands down - the iPad mini.  More than the bigger versions in the iPad family, the mini has an UMPC user's dream come true.  For a while there many fans including myself were worried that Apple was going to discontinue the mini and go bigger with the iPad.  The popularity of the 5th generation iPad mini likely surprised many at Apple.  And now, I think the mini is here to stay.

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