Why the iPad Mini 6 is Apple’s most exciting new product in years

As I mentioned yesterday in my usual post-game follow-up, Apple had a few significant misses with its product rollouts at its “California Dreaming” event. One of those misses is that the iPad Mini 6, which has 5G data capabilities, cannot make phone calls.

Despite this, the iPad Mini 6 is not only the most exciting product Apple has launched this year, but it is one of the most exciting new products that Apple has released in years, period. It belongs in a class of other groundbreaking Apple products, such as the current-generation M1 iPad Pro and the Apple Silicon M1 chip itself that powers its new Macbook and Mac Mini line.

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Why is it the most exciting new product in years? Because it is powerful enough to be the one and only Apple device that a large group of customers will ever need. And the biggest chunk of that customer base? The demographic group referred to as Generation Z, “Zoomers,” or “digital natives.” These people were born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s, so up to about 26 years of age.

As a Gen-Xer, who is turning 52 this month, if I had to be stuck with only one Apple device, the iPad Mini 6 with 5G is the device I would pick — my “desert island device.”

That’s assuming I didn’t need an Apple Watch (which I do), and I was work-issued another device (such as my Macbook), and I had no access to a television with another streaming device attached to it.

You’d have to be willing to carry it in cargo pants, in a jacket with big pockets, or a decent-sized pocketbook, backpack, or messenger bag (for my iPhone 12 Pro Max, I do), but I expect that’s still a very large demographic.

If I were the type to live in a small, one-bedroom, studio apartment or a college dormitory, or my mobile data plan was my primary internet access method, supplemented with public Wi-Fi (such as a college student) the iPad Mini 6 with 5G, which costs $649 for the 64GB and $799 for the 256GB model, pretty much would do everything I would ever need.

Let’s look at all the things it can do

  • It runs the entire portfolio of Apps from the App Store. That’s all the social media stuff like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (the iPhone version, because Facebook has yet to release a native iPad version, which is idiotic). That’s every game and productivity app you can imagine, including Apple’s content creation apps for iPad. It also runs the entire portfolio of Apple services, such as Music and everything offered in Apple One.
  • It has a fully functioning web browser with Safari and runs Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and a few other web browsers.
  • It can run all the major streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu, Disney, Amazon, and Apple’s own TV Plus service. The 2266 x 1488 Full HD+ screen has an 8.3″ diagonal view, with a 500 nit brightness level with low reflectivity, making it ideal for personal content viewing.
  • It has dual 12MP cameras, one forward-facing for video conferencing (with Center Stage) and high-res selfies, and one f/1.8 in the rear with True Tone flash and HDR, which is more than “good enough” for casual photography use. It has a 4K video capture capability as well.
  • It has Apple Pencil compatibility, allowing for note-taking, drawing, annotation, and other handwriting functions.
  • It has a large 5078mAh battery that supports all-day usage scenarios.

There would be a bunch of limitations if you had to use this as your “only” device. Still, I don’t see why Apple shouldn’t look at resolving them in a future product update. Some of these are strictly software issues, while some are hardware-related.

Software limitations

  • Although you should be able to text with iMessage and get a virtual phone number from your 5G mobile provider, you won’t be able to make phone calls because… no iPad can make phone calls; it’s an iPadOS limitation. But there are several 3rd-party VOIP to phone services you can use, including Google Voice and Skype, which will allow you to make outgoing phone calls. There is no technical reason why Apple should not resolve this and give the 5G iPad the full Phone app stack, especially as mobile networks are moving to standalone 5G cloud-native.
  • Facetime with other Apple device users works, but using your Apple ID, not your phone number.
  • There is no native WhatsApp client for iPad, but there are several 3rd-party solutions.
  • While Apple Fitness+ will run without an Apple Watch attached, you cannot enroll in Fitness+ without it. And you cannot configure or provision an Apple Watch without an iPhone.
  • Although the 5G cellular models include GPS, the iPad Mini, as with all iPads, does not support CarPlay. This is a bit of a bummer if you intend to use your iPad as a navigation system for your automobile. Still, given that the screen itself is 8.3″, you should be able to get a car mount for your device, so you can just run the apps directly off the display and use USB or Bluetooth audio. This requires a USB-C charger in your car (either via 12V or native car connector) or a compatible USB PD external battery.

Hardware limitations

  • You cannot charge an iPad with MagSafe, only USB-C. This is not that awful a limitation, considering that USB PD charging is faster than even 15W MagSafe.
  • The rear camera is a single lens, so it’s not intended for “Pro” photography and cannot do wide-field-of-view shots like the iPhone 13. It’s the same as the iPad Air’s camera — which is perfectly fine for general-purpose use. This begs the question, why not offer an iPad Mini Pro with a similar dual-camera arrangement to the iPad Pro or iPhone 13?
  • Although you can use Apple Pay and purchase products online with an iPad, there are no NFC capabilities in an iPad Mini 6 or an iPad, so you cannot use Apple Pay inside a retail location and use an NFC payment terminal (as you would an iPhone or Apple Watch) with it. So it means pulling out your physical credit card; you like it when people see your titanium Apple Card, right?

While these limitations are annoying, I bet that a huge group of users could easily deal with them. If I were a Gen Z, I’d strongly consider an iPad Mini 6 5G instead of an iPhone, especially if I was on a limited budget.

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