iPad Mini For the Cockpit
One thing I've never figured out about the iPad—or actually the people who use them in the cockpit—is how tolerant pilots are of mounting the things in suboptimal locations. Well, okay, ridiculous locations. My Oscar for most ludicrous mounting in an airplane too small for it goes to the Mooney owner who mounted his iPad at eye level a foot from his face, blocking radios and instruments. I've always felt the iPad was just a beat too big for ideal cockpit use, so when I use it for flying, I rarely mount it and especially not on a yoke.
Now comes the iPad mini which, theoretically, at 70 percent the size of the full-up iPad, should solve this problem. But does it? I've been messing with a mini for a couple of days and I'd say yes, it definitely does. In my view, it's what the iPad could and should have been in the first place, and not just for cockpit apps. The mini is perfectly sized to work with a small kneeboard I have and I suspect it will mount nicely in a yoke, although I haven't tried that yet.
There are some tradeoffs. Images and iconography for app commands are smaller and this can't always be addressed with pinch scrolling. But for plates and charts, you can find the right scale to make them just as readable on the mini as they are on the iPad. One unexpected bonus is that the slightly smaller keyboard and overall smaller size of the mini make it easier to thumb type than on an iPhone. I haven't mastered fast or accurate thumb typing on the phone, so I tend not to do it much. The iPad is just slightly too large and too heavy for thumbing.
Speaking of weight, at 10.9 ounces, the mini is less than half the weight of the iPad. When I toss my iPad in my backpack, I know it's there; I don't even feel the mini. One thing I don't like is that Apple is still equipping these devices with the highest reflectance displays among all the products in this market segment; the mini could double as a signal mirror. This is a nuisance in daylight and sometimes even at night, since it can also reflect instrument displays. The solution is a $30 anti-scratch/anti-glare screen that the competition doesn't require. (And of course, you need a $30 case and a $100 remote GPS, unless you buy a celluar version, which have onboard GPS.)
The tech press has been mildly enthralled with the mini, but some evaluators say that Apple blew it by not equipping it with the high-res Retina display. The mini has the same 1024 by 768 pixel display found in the original iPad, rather than the 2048 by 1536 used in the pricey iPad with Retina model. Those, by the way, start at $499, compared to the $329 for the starter mini. I haven't used the Retina version, although I've seen the display. For $170 and twice the weight, I can't see a functional difference for cockpit use. The lower res works just fine.
But, as the tech writers have noted, Apple's competition in the Android market, Google's Nexus 7, has a higher res display so Apple is seen here as somewhat wanting. The entry level Nexus is also cheaper, at $199. That got me wondering if Steve Jobs, were he still with us, would have let the mini out of Cupertino with a lesser display than the competition has, assuming he could have been talked into a 7-inch product in the first place. For some technical reasons related to power consumption, thickness and weight, the lower res display has some advantages. But Jobs was famous for pushing his technical staff to achieve what they argued wasn't possible. So my bet is that he wouldn't have let the mini out with the lower res display and would have insisted on something better that also wasn't heavier.
Judging by the timing, maybe Apple just didn't want to give up the Christmas sales to Google. As a result, the mini may not be insanely great, as Jobs liked to say, but for the cockpit, it's still an incremental improvement over the original iPad, which I have not picked up since the mini came out of its box last week.