Why I just dumped the iPad 3 (Hint: iPad mini!)

“So long iPad 3. We’ve had a fun time these past eight months and I’m sorry to see you go. With your Retina display and speedy A5X processor, you’ve served me well. And it’s not you; it’s me. See, almost two years ago I dumped the first iPad model in favor of a smaller model. Even though you trounce the new iPad mini on some specs, portability is pretty high on my  list of desired features and, well, as I said in January of 2011: Size matters.”

Ok, so I really didn’t have that conversation with my iPad 3. At least not out loud! But it is true: The new iPad mini is replacing my iPad 3; lack of Retina display, be damned! Before I share more thoughts on the two tablets and what led me to the decision, let me bring back some salient points I made nearly two years ago on Apple(s AAPL) missing out on the small tablet market. That post, along with the great reader commentary, was read by Apple executives who then decided to enter the small tablet market.

What’s the big deal about small tablets?

Here’s my summary from back then when describing the experience with my 7-inch Galaxy Tab:

“I’m not suggesting everyone dump their iPads; I’m simply explaining my own decision making process to help you make your own. And aside from our own Darrell Etherington at the GigaOM Apple channel who tried, and then returned a Tab, I’ve heard from at least a dozen Tab owners who are also finding less use for the iPad (and other devices) based on the 7-inch form factor. Darrell’s experience with the Tab ironically made him realize that he wants a 7-inch iPad. I’m inclined to agree and would consider dumping my Tab if Apple were to sell such a device. It would be the best of both worlds, regardless of Steve Jobs’s insinuation that it will never happen.

Darrell’s sentiment highlights a key point I’m trying to make here: We often look at the features of a device, but I contend that form is just as much a feature as the CPU clock cycle or the amount of memory in a mobile device. Of course, you never know that until you try a new form factor to see how it fits in your lifestyle. I’m glad I did that with the Tab.”

Perhaps the most important point here is that without the experience of using a small slate, it’s easy to miss its biggest benefit: portability.

But it doesn’t have a Retina Display!

Dooming the device without experience is of using it has already been seen: iPad mini naysayers were decrying the device for its 1024 x 768 display before the device even shipped. I can’t argue with them that the Retina display on the recent iPads are outstanding. But the screen on the iPad mini isn’t as bad as the ones found on the first two iPads.

Wait, aren’t those all 1024 x 768 resolution? How can the iPad mini screen be better than the first two iPads?” I’m glad you asked, and it’s a pretty simple answer really. Because the same 786,432 pixels of a display with this resolution are crammed into a smaller screen, the pixel density is greater. That means, all things being equal, things on the screen will look clearer. Not by much, but enough to see a difference. So no, the iPad mini display can’t compete with the screen on the newest iPads, but it’s better than the iPads from two or three years ago.

Just as I said when I dumped the first iPad in favor of a 7-inch tablet, I don’t expect everyone to follow suit. After all, thanks to a myriad of applications, the iPad is used differently by everyone. For example, I actually don’t create much content on an iPad, outside of emails and social network updates, that is. If I actually used my iPad to write my daily blog posts, I might feel differently as I find that activity better on a screen larger than 7 or 7.9 inches.

Instead, I do far more content consumption: ebook reading; web browsing; watching TED videos, television episodes and movies; using various apps and games. All of these activities fit nicely on the iPad mini and I’m already doing them in more places: my “large” iPads always tended to stay at home, but the iPad mini can easily go anywhere. And as I noted in early 2011, the best tablet is the one you have with you.

A full iPad experience in a smaller package is a huge selling point

As far as the iPad mini’s usage, performance and feature set, I feel like I’m getting the full iPad experience in a package more suited to my particular needs. Based on a visit to the local Apple Store in King of Prussia, Penn. over the weekend, I suspect many others are starting to see the light. I watched person after person enter the store and walk up to the iPad mini display units with a quizzical look on their face, as if to say, “What’s the point of this smaller iPad?”

More often than not, those looks melted away after a few minutes and it was as if I could actually see the light bulbs going off over people’s heads. Between the portability, the lower price and the full iPad experience, I suspect Apple will sell more iPad mini tablets this holiday season than any other iPad model.

So, goodbye, iPad 3. You were great; whenever I had you around, that is. The problem is a slimmer, lighter model provides the same utility in more places for me; even with that lowly 1024 x 768 display.