For me, it's all about the weight. Period. It used to be about the Retina Display. When you looked at it for the first your eyes could never again ignore the pixels in other displays. It's the same with the iPad mini. Once you pick one up and hold it everything else just feels unbearably heavy. It really is that striking of a difference.
I think that like most developers and users I was skeptical of the importance and value of a smaller iPad when it was rumored to be nearing release weeks and months ago. The general consensus has been that 3.x-inch smartphones work very well, and that 10-inch tablets are similarly well suited. Few were clamoring for a 7-inch device so it's been interesting seeing the reception to the iPad Mini now that it's out, especially on the heels of the very successful iPhone 5 that also challenged the size of smartphones by releasing what as seen as a very useful 4-inch smartphone. With the iPhone now in the larger size range, where does a smaller iPad fit in the lineup?
After a few days of using the iPad Mini it's clear to me that it fits right on top of my iPad (3) as my go-to device for general computing, which for me means reading, browsing, checking email, tweeting, messaging, etc. And it has everything to do with the weight. I take the iPad everywhere, so being lighter makes it more portable. But more importantly it's just easier to hold in your hand. What's probably most striking about the device is that you don't actually hold it, or at least I don't. It's light enough that I can just rest it in my hand and let friction keep it from slipping out. The larger iPad is heavy enough that you actually need to grip it, sometimes with two hands, or rest it on something or it will fall. The iPad Mini is easily held in one hand.
I was really interested to see if I would use the iPad Mini differently than the iPad. Yes it's smaller and lighter but what does that actually mean in real world use terms? The first thing I noticed is that I preferred to hold the Mini in portrait orientation. I've always been a Landscape iPad user, so that alone proved to me that the iPad Mini is different. The weight also makes a big difference in the way I use the device. In addition to holding it with one hand, I want to control it with one hand too. When I am using the iPad I have a tendency to "hold" it with my left hand and use my right hand to tap controls and perform gestures. With the iPad Mini that sort of interaction feels more like work. What I find myself doing is trying to do everything with my left thumb. That actually works well on some apps but not as well on others. I wouldn't be surprised to see interfaces leaning more towards this type of interaction in the future, with tabs and buttons on the side instead of on the bottom.
It's clear to me that the iPad Mini is going to be a big deal. It only took a day before I made the decision to recommend it to anyone I know who is buying their first iPad. It just makes too much sense to buy the Mini. It's more portable, it's more fun to use, it runs all of the existing apps, and it's cheaper. The only bummer is the lack of a Retina Display, but it's not something that I have missed as much as I would have expected. I peered closely at it and said "Yes, I can see pixels" and stopped worrying about it. I just enjoy the lighter weight and ease of use too much to care about the pixel density that much. Going back to an iPhone 3GS after using an iPhone 4 would have been impossible. Going back to a non-Retina Display iPad may be hard for some people, but for me it was easy because of just how much more enjoyable the iPad Mini is to use.
The iPad Mini is going to open up the iPad experience to so many more people than before. Price is important and a $329 device is very accessible, not just to consumers but to business and schools. One of the key markets for iPads is education. Apple announced that more than 80% of core curriculum on the iBooks store, which just adds to the value brought to the platform by the countless education apps available for the iPad. So now schools can buy three iPad Minis for the price of two iPads. That's a 50% reduction in the total cost to outfit an entire classroom with iPads. That same savings extends to the enterprise as well. Many companies are deploying iPads to their entire teams, or encouraging a Bring Your Own Device program. A less expensive device which provides the same or better user experience of the full size iPad is extremely persuasive in all of these environments.
There's been some talk lately about what the ideal iPad would look like. A few have speculated that the iPad Mini with a Retina Display would be the ideal iPad. It's hard to argue with that reasoning. As it stands now, I can safely say that I enjoy using the iPad Mini more than my Retina Display iPad (3). If the Mini had a Retina Display it would absolutely be no contest. But what if the iPad weighed the same as the Mini does now, or even a tad lighter? I think my ideal iPad would actually be the full size one but which is as thin and light as the Mini is today. I'm betting that the Mini will get a Retina Display in two years, so that may be around the time that the iPad achieves the current weight of the iPad Mini. I can't wait for when that happens to see if I am right in my assumption. For now though I love the iPad Mini and I can't wait to see how the market and Apple's customers take to it now that it's out.