iPad mini in bad keyboard case

I Finally Found a Use for the iPad mini

I usually try to figure out how a piece of tech will fit into my life before I buy it, but sometimes I buy on faith that the device will find its own place. I’m easily influenced by my geek friends in this regard, so if a lot of them say something is great, I’ll probably give it a try.

In 2019 I bought a 5th gen iPad mini. I already had a 16” MacBook Pro and a 12.9” iPad Pro, but everyone told me that the mini is such a great device and that there was room for it in my life. They were wrong.

I carried it around for a while, and I even used my Gen 1 Apple Pencil with it. I can tell you that an Apple Pencil sticking out of the side of an iPad mini looks really silly. I bought the Logitech Crayon for it, which required a cable but didn’t look quite as silly. I used MyScript, now discontinued software that would recognize my handwriting and convert it on the fly to text. I tried drawing with it.

And yet I always felt cramped with the iPad mini and would reach for my 12.9” iPad Pro.

I found an article I wrote about the 5th Gen iPad mini entitled Does the New iPad mini Have a Place in Your Digital Life? and my conclusion was yes, but that was evidently well before the honeymoon was over. Sounds like wishful thinking to me.

I started realizing the problem. I use the iPad Pro a lot because it has a keyboard that also acts as a stand. The obvious answer was that I needed a keyboard case for my iPad mini. I set out on a quest to find the perfect keyboard for the iPad mini. If I could just find that keyboard case, then I would be productive with the mini.

In 2019 I wrote an article entitled Maybe if I Had a Keyboard for My iPad mini I’d Use it More in which I admitted that the novelty had worn off and described the keyboard cases I’d tried. I’ll save you the time of reading it – they were all awful. I mean truly terrible.

The obvious solution was to upgrade in 2021 to the 6th generation iPad mini. This was a sweet little iPad with a flat magnetic side for the Gen 2 Pencil to charge. It sports USB-C which is so much nicer than Lightning.

I thought maybe I’d use it as a book reader, but it was so much heavier than my Kindle. The battery only lasted a day or two while the Kindle lasts weeks. It was too easy to flip over to social media and play around than read books when I really wanted to read books!

The new Pencil support was nice, but when I would scribble notes on it, I felt like I was always at the end of the page with the mini. I don’t have a lot of need to scribble on an iPad, but when I’m programming I find it a much better way to think things out. I wrote an article called Write by Hand When You Need to Think where I described how it works. But it doesn’t work for me on the iPad mini.

I know a lot of people who simply love the iPad mini but they all tend to use it as a consumption device. They read Apple News, or idly scroll through social media. My problem is that I simply can’t read anything without wanting to contribute. If I see content I like, at the very least I want to copy the link and send it to someone. If it’s social media like Mastodon, I’ll want to reply. I like to engage with content.

I was still holding out hope to find a good keyboard solution for the iPad mini when I heard Andy Ihnatko talk about an interesting solution. He bought a wraparound cover for the Magic Keyboard. When unwrapped, it gives a nice stand for the iPad mini. Instead of the overly cramped and improperly placed keys of the keyboard case solutions I’d tried, the Magic Keyboard has full-sized keys so typing on it would be a dream. After I got the case and put my spare Magic Keyboard in it, I thought I was set.

But it’s a big pain to carry around not one but two devices. It was clumsy to open, and awkward to carry because the keyboard case and the iPad were different shapes and sizes. That poor case has been sitting in my closet for years.

I did find a small use for the iPad mini for a while. I used to use some software for running the live show that had a companion app for iOS. This app gave me a nice control surface with big buttons as an audio/video switcher. This let me do things like mute Steve or change what the viewers were seeing on screen. While it was perfect for this use, every single week when I opened it up, the battery was dead. I had to get in the habit of shutting it down every week just so I didn’t have to wait for it to charge up for the live show.

We don’t use that software any longer, so the iPad mini went into the drawer again.

The end of the story is that I finally found the perfect use for my 6th Gen iPad mini. My son and his wife had a third baby and I gave it to them.

When they had two babies, they used my first 12.9” iPad Pro and my second 12.9” iPad Pro as baby monitors and it worked great. They could see both babies and hear both babies if anything went wrong.

Kyle knew he needed a new solution, and he was delighted to find out that Wyze supported two cameras in view at the same time. He figured he’d have the true baby monitor on the new baby and Wyze on my two older and very adorable grandchildren. But when he went to set it up after the new baby was born 4 weeks early, he discovered you can only hear one of the Wyzecams at a time. I did a little bit of research and I’m pretty sure this is a limitation from Apple.

I sent Kyle the iPad mini, he set it up as their third baby monitor and finally, my little device has a loving home.

3 iPads No Waiting and an Echo Show
3 iPads No Waiting (and an Echo Show)

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