After five days of using the iPad Mini, it became obvious: sometimes an iPad is not just an iPad. Confused? 

***

If you are a regular reader, then you are familiar with my workflow. I switched my entire workflow to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I own a Mac Mini (attached to an XDR Display) because I use Photoshop to edit my photos. Adobe Photoshop is subpar on the iPad.

Unlike many who find faults in the iPad and its OS, I am quite satisfied with my own device. Big screen, big battery, great camera, great speakers, nice external keyboard, ability to use a Pencil as an input device, and most importantly, built-in LTE connectivity. 

The Mega iPad does everything I need to do — from Zoom calls to writing documents, answering emails, reading articles, watching videos on various streaming services, and indulging in Twitter.

The availability of alternative browsers such as Brave and Firefox allows me to use most of the services I previously used on the MacBook. The newest version of the iPadOS has some solid improvements that have made me appreciate my iPad Pro even more. 

And you can see that most of my iPad use during the day (and sometimes in the evening) is akin to a traditional computer — keyboard-based inputs, and very rarely using alternatives such as Pencil. In the evening, I remove the keyboard, put on the softcover, and watch some YouTube, baseball, cricket, or an occasional TV series on Amazon Prime or Apple TV+. I do my reading in the morning — with the iPad sitting on the kitchen table and coffee steaming. You get it — I don’t really need another iPad or any other device in any other configuration — that is up until the new version of the big iPad Pro comes to market. 

***

That is why I was quite confused when Apple sent me a review unit of the brand new iPad Mini

Unlike those who review gadgets for a living, I prefer to write about things long after using them. I can’t really offer a decent opinion unless those devices are part of my daily workflow. And if these devices (or services) can’t become part of my daily workflow, that reflects poorly on them as ongoing utility is a key criterion in assessing the true worth of a product. So, consider this post as my short-term impressions of the iPad Mini. For the past few days, I have been using it as my primary iPad. 

It has an 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display, comes in four finishes, and is powered by Apple’s latest mobile chip, the A15 Bionic. It has a new USB-C port (thank god) and has 5G, and supports Apple Pencil (2nd generation). It has two new cameras, but the front-facing 12 Megapixel ultrawide camera is the most useful one — its larger field of view enables Center Stage for better video calls. In short, it has all you need from what is a good modern tablet.  It is a good accompaniment for those of us who carry smaller phones, such as the iPhone Mini. 

The size (7.69 x 5.3 inches) and the weight (297 grams) make it diminutive compared to my mega Pad, which weighs 685 grams. It is effortless to hold it in hand without getting a wrist cramp. It is small enough to be held inside my palm — although I don’t have huge hands. Even holding it at the edge puts no strain on the wrist. Ergonomically it has what the 12.9-inch iPad Pro lacks — the ability to be a “near view” device. 

Let me explain: the screen size and utility should be proportional to the screen’s distance from the eyes. If you are too close to the big screen, you can’t experience the benefits of the size. 

In my case, to enjoy the biggest iPad, I need to keep it at a certain distance from my eyes. I find it comfortable to use when it is 3 to 5 feet from my eyes. When working on an article or responding to emails, I can pull it forward to three feet. When watching the Yankees get their tushy spanked, I push the device back by a foot or more. It makes eyes adjust and appreciate the bigger screen. It is good to put some distance between the device and my face for Zoom calls or FaceTime chats. 

The iPad Mini, on the other hand, is meant to be enjoyed closer to your eyes. Especially when it comes to reading — and I do a lot of that. I use the Apple News app and Feedbin app (for reading RSS and aggregating various newsletters I subscribe to) in addition to apps from The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, the Financial Times, and The Economist. My daily reading diet also includes Kindle, which is for eBooks. 

The iPad Mini screen is about 18 to 24 inches from the eyes. By keeping the brightness below 50 percent, my eyes don’t get tired despite a long reading session. It is quite pleasant to read on the iPad Mini, thanks to its upgraded screen. I can lounge in my Eames chair, a cup of coffee on the side, and skim through morning reading relaxed and without hunching over. I much prefer this lean-back mode of consuming the words. The screen is on my desk. I can listen to a podcast in the background, but it doesn’t feel like work again. It feels more of a relaxed consumption of information. 

The iPad Mini turns out to be an excellent lightweight device for light work and casual activities. However, when it comes to heavy-duty work such as answering lots of emails and writing longer pieces, the device is hard to use, even with an external keyboard. You simply need a bigger keyboard and extra screen real estate to be more productive.

I tried pairing the Mini with the new magic keyboard. I found the distance from my eyes to the screen is large enough to make the screen’s smaller size pretty obvious. My eyes had to work hard to focus on the smaller screen, and the experience was uncomfortable. I also tried thumb-typing but gave up after a few paragraphs. I don’t intend to damage my hands to get work done. 

The best way to extract the most out of the smallest iPad is to think of it as a device enhanced by non-keyboard input methods — Scribble with Pencil, snapping photos with the cameras, or using Siri/voice input. The improved “Scribble” allows you to make notes, do quick searches, and even find directions. It is a very addictive way to use the iPad, especially in the smaller size.

I enjoy the ability to clip and store relevant bits of information in the new and much-approved Apple Notes app. I am also using the Pencil to make things easier. Pencil is quite handy when it comes to casual editing of photos on Lightroom and Darkroom apps. I also find doodling on Procreate on this tiny screen easier as well. 

And there is the camera — which, when used with LiveText — becomes a tremendous visual input device in itself. With LiveText, you point the camera at a photo or image with text, tap the indicator icon, and quickly act to make a phone call, translate the text, and more. I found LiveText easier to use on this smaller iPad versus the big iPad Pro that I own. 

The more I use the device, the more I realize that most computing has been defined by a singular idea of work and productivity. Mobile devices have and will continue to redefine our work. In the past, most of the computing involved being in the office. Now, non-office tasks have access to computing resources and thus offer an opportunity to make them more productive. Devices like the iPad are about making non-office work a bit more productive. Whether it is doctors, field engineers, or delivery drivers, devices such as the iPad in general and iPad Mini, in particular, could help change the very notion of productivity.

***

So, after a few days of using the iPad Mini, I have to admit, it is no slouch. It can do whatever its big brothers can do. The lighter weight, lower price, and Pro-matching capabilities make it a worthy purchase for any iPad buyer. But to get the best out of it, one has to reimagine how we interact with computers. I find myself scribbling and talking to this piece of glass. That’s not a bad start.

Last week when Apple’s iPhone 13 models went on sale, I asked Twitter followers which model they planned to order. An overwhelming majority voted for the iPhone 13 Pro, followed by the iPhone 13 Pro Max, followed by the Mini and the Basic. Interestingly, those are my personal preferences, especially now that I have perused all four iPhone 13 models that Apple sent out for review. 

In addition to these phones, Apple sent out another device, so not surprisingly, I have spent most of the past few days mucking about with that device instead of digging into the iPhones. I intend to write my full length iPhone 13 review in time, but I highly recommend John Gruber and Joanna Stern if you want to get some good intelligent reviews.

Like all reviewers, they emphasize two things that have improved across the entire line-up of new iPhones — cameras and batteries. And candidly, it is all that matters to an average person: great cameras to capture daily moments and selfies. Given how much we all are addicted to our phones, battery capacity and performance are pretty high in feature lists for most people. 

Last year, I preferred the iPhone 12 ProMax because it had a better camera –, but this year both Pro and Pro Max have the same camera configuration. The 13 ProMax has longer battery life — Apple says it is an additional 2.5 hours compared to the 12 ProMax model — but it comes at a price: it is heavier, and you can feel it. 

The iPhone 13 Pro, on the other hand, is the “Goldilocks” model — perfect in size, weight, comfort when using in a single-hand mode, battery life (about 90 minutes more than last year’s model,) quality of the screen, and camera quality. It is easier to use for selfies, and it is also less conspicuous in one’s pocket. 

The other significant improvement — at least for me — is the screen performance. In the two Pro models, Apple has added a “Super Retina XDR ProMotion” display, which allows the device to use “ProMotion.” That allows a screen refresh rate of up to 120Hz. It makes the whole user experience so smooth and flawless. 

Within a couple of minutes, your brain is so used to this latency-less experience that you start to notice that your year-old iPhone 12 Mini feels like a slowpoke. Apple has made some OS-level improvements to ensure that the system can dynamically switch between 10Hz to 120Hz refresh rate (based on content), so it doesn’t drain the beefier batteries. This new refresh technology puts iPhone on par with Samsung’s latest Galaxy S21 Ultra. I just have not been able to get over this smooth screen experience — this is the icing on the cake. 

The cake, though, is an all-new camera system inside the Pro models. (I will eventually get to the Mini and Basic models, but I am focusing on the 13 Pro for now. Apple has put a new sensor inside the phones. It is bigger than previous models (though Apple didn’t share how much bigger.) However, you can see that they are bigger because the rear camera module is visibly larger and has visibly larger camera lenses and camera bumps compared to last year’s model. 

They have increased the sensor size. For the standard camera, it is 1.9µm pitch pixels, which at 12MP translates to a 1/1.67” sensor. The aperture on this camera is now  f/1.5 and is IBIS stabilized. That is what allows a much-improved Portrait mode performance and gives the phone ability to create a “cinematic effect” in the video. The ultrawide lens now has an f/1.8 aperture. The Telephone lens has gone up from (an equivalent of) 67mm in the 12ProMax model to (an equivalent of) 77mm equivalent focal length, or 3x magnification over the normal-camera module. The telephoto lens has an aperture of f/2.8. 

I am also digging the ability to get close to my subjects and automatically switch into macro mode. Macro photography is so hard to do even with the most expensive cameras and best lenses, and the iPhone 13 Pro is throwing out one good photo after another as if it was child’s play. The biggest takeaway from the new camera rig is that it works amazingly well in low-light situations, which means fewer blurry and less noisy photos during romantic dinners. 

Many Android phones have superior camera rigs and are improving their quality by leaps and bounds. However, as an iPhone owner, this set-up is enough for me to take good photos. I have not had a chance to go out and take photos with the new device extensively, but whatever work I have done so far has given me some astonishing results. I can’t wait to get out tomorrow and the days after to put these cameras to use, capture some great moments and share them with you. 

For now, if you are looking to upgrade, even with my limited experience, I can safely say: you can’t go wrong with the iPhone 13 Pro.

In a recent blog post, George Hahn, who writes about many different things, talked about how capitalism benefits from sowing seeds of discontent. Sure, the piece is not about technology, but it is nevertheless worth a read. This paragraph stands out:

Quite the contrary. In the interest of making a profit by selling things, happiness and contentment are the enemy. Discontent is the spark that ignites the burn and yearn for something more, something bigger, something else. It’s all about what we don’t have, where we aren’t, with whom we aren’t. Discomfort or dissatisfaction with self and everything else is the kryptonite marketers have, telling us that we’re losers or less-than without the right car, the right watch or a full head of hair.

Read article on George Hahn's Blog

Between the Piers! Made with Leica SL2-S & Leica M f2/35mm APO-Summicron. Photo by Om

There are some days when the view outside your window aptly reflects your state of mind. And sometimes those days turn into weeks. This week, I found myself in a foggy state of mind, all too often. The whole mess around the pandemic, the abortion ban, and the general malaise in the planet, added to my broodiness.  

And as a result, I was too contemplative and unable to untangle a lot of thoughts and ideas spurned on by conversations with many smart people.  I hope to finalize a few bigger pieces in the days ahead. In the interim, as always I am sharing what I am reading — and find important & interesting on the link blog They are also shared on my Twitter account. 

September 5, 2021, San Francisco


Sticks & Smoke! Made with Leica SL2-S & Leica M f2/35mm APO-Summicron. Photo by Om

Sept 3: I have been trying to track down my former boss from a while ago. There was a time one could call “directory assistance” and get a phone number. How I am trapped in a spider web of broken/outdated links. What progress we have made with technology.

Sept 3: “The hypocrisy is not lost on any of us that a bunch of people running around shouting about bodily freedom when it comes to vaccination—are the same ones who think women shouldn’t be able to decide whether or not they wish to be pregnant.”  @abbygardner 

Sept 3: “CEOs have political power, particularly in Texas. Maybe they shouldn’t, but they do. Right now they’re abdicating it.” @danprimack  is so spot on!

Sept 2: Just coming across  @seanlock  video clips on @YouTube  is such a mindfk and makes me sad. This genius is gone, taken too soon. RIP.

August 31: “A key to making meetings more productive for me has been providing my meeting agenda items to the other person in advance.” 

 @bump  A very good productivity hack!

August 31: So  @danprimack says we are in the “age of dragons” and you are a member of the club with a minimum valuation is $12b. I wonder how many former unicorns are now “dragons” in public markets, as public markets better barometer of valuation. [Also: Someone just DM-d and said, when things don’t work, they will become drag-ons.] 

August 30: It is somewhat ironic that I find myself doodling about NFTs, networked society, memes, and narratives on paper using an old-fashioned fountain pen & ink.

August 30: Who is willing to trust this line of reasoning from a company that lies more often than being upfront about “anything.”  

n

August 29: Starting the Sunday right: new photo book. New coffee. New (old) Coltrane on the music system. Let the day of rest begin!

grayscale photography of people walking in train station
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Ambition means different things to different people, but in the capitalist framework I am talking about, I think its defining feature is its linear trajectory. Think of all the highly driven and ambitious people you know working long after their basic needs are met: Are they ever “done” or satisfied with where they’ve ended up and ready to call it quits on achieving? Of course not. Ambition is an unquenchable thirst.

Since the Industrial Revolution launched a large subset of humanity into the illusion that we could conquer nature for our own purposes, linear ambition has been a kind of survival strategy. In recent decades, that’s certainly been true for privileged, knowledge-economy workers like me: We’re always trying to keep up in a world of work that seems to constantly get faster and expect more of us, leaving us too burned out and apathetic to deal with anything that doesn’t directly affect us or our families.

This is a wonderful read and a good reminder of lessons from the pandemic, that we have already started to forget.

Read article on Rosie Spinks