The iPad mini experience

I have been a proud iPad mini owner for exactly one week now, thanks to luck and a generous donation to the Designers + Geeks raffle. My experience with it has really surprised me – I thought it would be a cool toy, and I was really excited to win one, but I had no delusions that it was going to change the way I browse and interact online. It could be that it’s my new toy, but as I’ve been trying to both experience using a new device and analyze my own behavior simultaneously, I believe the way I want to browse the web has actually changed.

Context is important when it comes to experiences like this, so here are a couple of things to keep in mind about me:

I have never owned an iOS device before this one. When the first iPhone came out, the price was just too high for me to consider, and I didn’t have an interest in paying for a data plan. Life was complicated for me for a couple years afterward, and I was actively rejecting the idea of having a smartphone. Sprint was a client of mine in 2009 and I was heavily testing all of their devices as they were released, and the Android platform really appealed to me. I became a smartphone user with the HTC Hero, and then replaced it almost two years later with Samsung’s Nexus S, the device I’m still using today.

I am not an early adopter. At all. I held on to my HTC Hero for longer than was reasonable. I knew six months in that it was never going to receive an Android OS update. I was using Android 1.6 (Donut?) until September of 2011. If you’re unfamiliar with the Android release schedule, you can check it out here, but the important thing to note is that I used an outdated mobile device for at least 18 months. I am the type of person who wants to buy one thing, run it into the ground, and not reevaluate my strategy. I’m also much more likely to sit around and complain rather than actively go out and spend more money. I throw money at my problems when it comes to Muni versus Uber, but that’s pretty much where my willingness to spend ends.

I spend much more time in bed than you might think I do. Look, I don’t know. Maybe you spend all your time sitting at a desk. Maybe you’re smart enough to pay attention to your posture. Maybe you do your browsing from one location and you enjoy that experience. All I know is that I live in a 500 square foot apartment, I hate my desk chair, I have a very comfortable bed, and I’m really good at balancing a four year old laptop against my knees. Since I work from home, sitting at my desk very much feels like I’m working, and I don’t much care to read AV Club or check Facebook in the exact same way that I work.

I’ve suspected for awhile that a tablet might be ideal for me, but I’m surprised at exactly how true that has turned out to be. A couple of observations:

I have read more in the last week than I probably did in the previous six months.

I understand the irony in this, but you should know that I am a person who regularly balks at reading 4000 word articles. (I know. I know.) The reason for that, however, is that I learned long ago that I just can’t stare at a computer screen – laptop or desktop – long enough to read extensive articles. I spend so much time staring at a screen for my job that I’m already on constant Headache Watch. Focusing on type for twenty minutes is a bad idea for me. As a result, I turn away from articles that I would probably enjoy.

Instapaper

The day I got the iPad, I immediately subscribed to Marco Arment’s The Magazine. I devoured all of the back issues within a couple of days. I also purchased his Instapaper app and started sending articles to it. Instapaper is particularly valuable to me as a non-3G iPad user, since articles are stored locally on my device. I started using Flipboard again, which has just been running too slowly on my phone to be valuable, and I started to actively seek out longer content. It’s been a joy and a relief to focus more and bounce around less. I can only assume I’m going to turn into an eBook person sometime soon. (I also received the entire A Book Apart series from my boyfriend for Christmas, and have spent equal time reading both their print editions and their eBook versions on the iPad.)

The 7″ screen size is perfect for my tiny little hands.

Maybe your hands continued to grow as you entered puberty and adulthood, but mine topped out around age 11. Every person who has ever heard me mention my little hands immediately doesn’t believe me, and every one of them has lost to me in a tiny-hand-off afterward. They’re small. I worried that the iPad mini was going to be too small for me, that I would find myself wanting more screen real estate, but I can’t imagine that being the case. It falls into a delightful window for me where I can thumb-type if I rotate my hands correctly and just need to enter a search term or something else short, but if I rotate it horizontally my hands are actually small enough to type on it in real-keyboard-mode. I never feel particularly strained if I need to reach for something in my non-dominant corner – I’m right-handed and hold it at the bottom of the screen generally, but hitting things in the upper left to close or navigate backward doesn’t feel like a huge disconnect.

ally

I do think it’ll be interesting to see if the mini comes into its own as a device, or if it will always be “the small iPad”. There are some layout issues with iPad apps that were clearly designed for the larger size (looking at you, Words With Friends and Facebook). It’s also ridiculous that iPhone apps look as bad on the device as they do – the iPhone 5 has a resolution of 640×1136 and the mini comes in at 1024×768. There has to be a better way to do this.

(I’m calling out Ally’s app simply because it’s one of two iPhone apps I haven’t immediately rejected and I needed screenshots from something. I have no complaints about their app on my phone, and I understand that the iPad is still newish and native iPad apps aren’t standard yet, but every single one looks exactly this bad. There is little excuse for that.)

Facebook

The Facebook app (contacts blurred for friends’ privacy) is particularly frustrating. I have zero interest in seeing my contact list as a permanent feature. I’d be happy to slide it to the other side and just constantly have the FB dashboard taking up real estate instead of my contacts, but sliding the dashboard out hides the right side of my content. Facebook. Why.

It’s fast. Really fast.

As I mentioned before, I’ve never been an iOS user. I test things on iOS, sure, but I’ve never owned one, so maybe this is just an iOS thing. No idea. Regardless, it’s a quick little device. The experience feels completely seamless. There’s something about it that feels much faster than my (admittedly out of date) mobile phone, and it feels significantly faster than my laptop or desktop. It’s connected to the same wi-fi as all of my other devices, but it is by far the most responsive thing I own. Maybe it’s something about that little screen, maybe it’s something in the architecture of how content loads, but regardless, having the information I want the second I’ve asked for it feels really rewarding, even if I’m ultimately talking about a difference of a couple of seconds.

I sincerely prefer the experience of tablet browsing to laptop browsing.

The laptop I use when I’m casually browsing is an older 15″ MacBook Pro. It runs a little hot, but that’s probably due to its age and my regular insistence on keeping too many tabs open at once. But it’s heavy, and most of its heft is coming from the part that I don’t care about – the keyboard, which I employ only occasionally, and all of the hardware that takes up a lot of space. The iPad screen is considerably smaller than the screen I’m used to, but it turns out I have little interest in all that space. Take now, for instance. I’m writing in my WordPress window, which is about 600 pixels wide and maybe 350 pixels tall. I’ve got seven tabs open, but most of them are just pages I looked up to link in the above paragraphs and forgot to close. One of them is my gmail tab that’s always open. I can see some Finder windows in the background. I have a lot of formatting and tagging options on my right and a smaller space dedicated to the other WordPress dashboard items on my left.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t need any of that. I need the keyboard that I’m typing on (there’s a reason I grabbed the laptop for the first time today instead of trying to compose on the iPad), but I don’t need all of the extra information I can see. I’m focused on a smaller-than-the-iPad window, and there’s a world where I could just swipe or tap to all of that other stuff. There are desktop apps that accomplish this for you, removing everything but the most necessary information so that you can focus, but they’ve always seemed like they’re engineering a solution to a problem that could be worked around in another way. I’m glad they exist and seem to work for a lot of people, but they just make me feel anxious and like I’m missing something.

I’m engaging slower but taking in more, and my digital social life is changing.

I’ve been a Google chat user for about seven years now. It’ll sound silly if you’ve never experienced it, but I’ve made some of my closest friendships that way – Twitter friends became Google chat friends and we learned things about one another by typing at one another all day. Since the iPad entered my life, I’ve stopped using it. I assume there are multiple chat apps that are probably really great that I could keep myself signed into, but I haven’t bothered to look for them. I’ve been much more content to sit around reading and browsing and saving.

That said, I’ve been more engaged with Twitter and Facebook than I’m used to. I’ve turned off all of those notifications on my phone because I don’t have much interest in my phone constantly buzzing at me, but for some reason they don’t disrupt me on the iPad at all. It’s not that they’re any more or less intrusive, it just doesn’t bug me to see one flip down from the top of my screen and tap on it when I finish the paragraph I’m reading. Last night I sat in front of the television and watched the Golden Globes while constantly refreshing Twitter, a thing I realize exists but I’ve never once experienced for myself in the five and a half years I’ve been using the service. I’m starting to get the appeal of livetweeting, even if I don’t participate in it myself.

I don’t feel as compelled to immediately interact with things.

I have a really, really selective memory. I’ll remember that restaurant we went to that one time and I know who was there and I can recite the funny part of the conversation verbatim, but if I check my email and don’t immediately respond to you, you probably aren’t getting a response from me at all. (I also can’t remember movie plots. Any of them. Ever.) It appears to me at the iPad just does what it does so well that I’m not in a hurry to jump off of my current task, even if I’ve been notified that there’s something that needs my attention. I’m still trying to figure out exactly why this is, but it’s a really calming turn of events that I’m enjoying.

And I suppose that’s what it all comes down to – it’s just really, really nice to use. It’s an enjoyable experience. It feels like it’s adding value to my life – reading more, thinking more, jumping around less. I’m looking forward to revisiting this list in about six months and seeing if it’s as integral to my home browsing then as it was when it was a new toy, as well as what other habits I find myself developing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>