When I got my first-gen iPad, I stopped using it regularly within a few weeks. It was just too heavy, too big, too thick to really consider using as a replacement for a laptop, or to bring with me places. It’s too heavy to hold for a sustained period of time. In many ways, the iPad mini is what I really wanted the iPad itself to be, and how I want to use it. Smaller, thinner, and lighter than a laptop. Easy to carry everywhere. More immersive than an iPhone. It’s much better suited for the couch, bed, hammock, bus, or car. It’s the size of a book but the weight of a pad of paper.

Today, most iPhone apps are meant to be used in portrait (if not exclusively, then at least primarily). The OS goes out of its way to enforce this; the home screen is in portrait, and locking the orientation restricts you to portrait (even in cases like video and the camera where it makes no sense). On iPad, you can orient the device any way you like, including for the homescreen and orientation lock, but I’d wager that most people use it primarily in landscape. The narrower edge design of the iPad mini seems to encourage more portrait use, which means there may be an awkward early adopter period of apps that aren’t as useful on the mini because they are optimized for landscape over portrait. One possible benefit of the smaller size and the portrait emphasis is that maybe, just maybe, scaled-up iPhone apps won’t look as comically bad on the mini (and don’t scoff, as there are hundreds of thousands of apps that aren’t optimized for iPad). Who knows.

Last week I said I wasn’t going to buy one until I tried it out and felt the size. Oops. I guess we’ll see how it feels when I get mine on Friday.

The iPad mini is basically a small iPad 2. It has an upgraded camera, improved wireless, and a 15% higher density screen. But the screen is only as good as the original iPhone, and it’s running the same 19-month-old A5 processor (which is no slouch, but is hardly state-of-the-art). This is the same chip used in the latest iPod touch, but has more pixels to drive. I wouldn’t be surprised if, even with the non-Retina display, this device feels a little sluggish compared to an iPhone 5, or even a 4S.

The mini certainly fills a need; the current iPad is too large to be truly portable, but is smaller than every notebook you can buy. The iPad has definitely been the dominant player in the 10-inch tablet market, but the 7-inch tablet market has been growing. The leading competition in the 7-inch tablet space is the Nexus 7 (which is a very capable tablet), which will probably end up in a respectable #2 place by the end of 2012 in the area of several million units. It makes sense that Apple would want to try to hold on to the top seat.

The $329 base price point, however, is a strange and awkward place to start the lineup. Not only is this $130 more expensive than the Nexus 7, it misses the psychological barrier of getting under $300. This propagates through the upgraded models as well, and causing a weird staggering effect. In fact, adding in the iPad 2’s and the iPad 4’s price points, we get this pricing chart of 13 prices spread out over 14 models:

Price Model Storage Cell Data
$329 iPad mini 16 GB None
$399 iPad 2 16 GB None
$429 iPad mini 32 GB None
$459 iPad mini 16 GB 4G
$499 iPad 4 16 GB None
$529 iPad mini 64 GB None
$529 iPad 2 16 GB 3G
$559 iPad mini 32 GB 4G
$599 iPad 4 16 GB 4G
$629 iPad 4 16 GB 4G
$659 iPad mini 64 GB 4G
$699 iPad 4 64 GB None
$729 iPad 4 32 GB 4G
$829 iPad 4 64 GB 4G

While there are some overarching rules (e.g. if you want more space, or you want 4G data, you’re paying more), there’s no consistency when you move up or down by one price point. If you were thinking of spending an extra $30, you suddenly have a lot more variables to consider. Perhaps Apple did this to maybe get a few extra dollars out of the customer, but my hunch is that it’ll have the opposite effect. Say you walk into the Apple Store to buy a base model iPad 4 at $499. If you wanted to spend a little more, you could get a slower iPad with 3G, or a smaller iPad with a lot of space you don’t know if you need. On the other hand you could get the iPad mini with the exact same storage, a smaller screen, and 4G data, all while walking out of the store with $40 in your pocket. It’s not a hard conclusion to draw.

In the end, Apple will sell a zillion of them, and they’ll work fine. In a year, Apple will announce the next iPad mini, which will probably include a Retina display, a more modern chipset, and probably a price drop to $299 as well. It just feels like they’re holding some of that stuff back from this version, and it doesn’t seem like price is the motivating factor.

Personally I’m waiting to get one until I actually hold it and try to fit it into my large-but-not-iPad-large jacket pocket. The true test of a device like the iPad mini is its portability. The Nexus 7 fits my jacket, but barely. Hopefully the iPad mini fits as well.