The last iPad I bought, I returned to the store literally within three hours. It was Apple's (AAPL -1.00%) first-generation iPad Mini. Though it might have made a great entry product for consumers new to tablets or new to iOS, it lacked some major features that I have found to be absolutely crucial to a good tablet experience. Now I've bought an iPad again -- and this one I won't be taking back.
What the first iPad Mini lacked, the iPad Air solved
Apple's iPad Mini had bittersweet implications for Apple loyalists. Though its light and thin form-factor was an excellent representation of what customers have came to know and love in Apple's iOS devices, there were two crucial missing features that made the iPad Mini a poor solution for Apple's early adopters. One, it was missing Apple's gorgeous Retina display. Two, the processor was too dang slow.
It was these two missing features that convinced me to return the iPad Mini for a refund. After getting used to the Retina displays in Apple's iPhones and faster processors in Apple's iPhone 5, the iPad Mini just didn't cut it. It was too bad, because I really enjoyed the thinner and lighter form-factor.
Fortunately, Apple solved these issues in October when Apple announced its new iPad line-up. While Apple addressed both the lacking display and the slower processor with its new iPad Mini with a Retina display, the iPad Air also became a sensible alternative for consumers looking for a lighter and smaller tablet. The iPad Air took on the iPad Mini's form-factor, becoming 20% thinner, 28% lighter, and adopting 43% narrower right and left bezels. In total, Apple shaved 24% of its volume when compared with its bulkier fourth-generation predecessor. With such a dramatically different form-factor, the iPad Air now feels very similar to the iPad Mini. For instance, even though Apple was able to maintain the 9.7-inch display, the display plus the edges measures about an inch shorter from left to right.
Data seems to confirm that the iPad Air appeals to relatively more Apple loyalists than the iPad Mini did. 2012 data from PiperJaffray analyst Gene Munster implied that 58% of launch-day purchasers of the iPad Mini in the U.S. were made by customers who already owned an iPad. Comparatively, a survey this weekend by PiperJaffray's Gene Munster suggested 75% of U.S. iPad Air launch day purchases were made by customers who already owned an iPad.
Two solid options
The iPad Air's sleek form-factor combined with its blazing fast A7 processor more than solved the issues I had with the iPad Mini. So far, I'm more than happy with my purchase. As someone who enjoys reading books, newspapers, and magazines on his tablet, the iPad Air's lighter and smaller form-factor combined with its Retina display has made that easier than ever. I might finally be able to kiss the nostalgic feeling of a physical book goodbye.
Interestingly, however, Apple's iPad Mini has solved both of these issues as well – and to the same extent. The iPad Mini also boasts the new A7 processor and Apple's Retina display. Available later this month, the iPad Mini may serve as a tempting alternative to the iPad Air while still getting all the speed and pixels as its larger counterpart.
If my experience so far with the iPad Mini is any indication of what other consumers might think of the tablet, Apple's new iPad line-up definitely ups the ante in the tablet market. As Apple's second-largest business segment by revenue, such a major upgrade to Apple's iPad business could help Apple get its bottom line back into growth.