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There’s still a chance for the iPad mini to become the best iPad ever

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At yesterday’s iPad event, despite a late-hour rumor to the contrary, Apple didn’t announce a new iPad mini. 

But the company didn’t kill it, either. The 3-year old iPad mini 4 even got a mention from Tim Cook, which sounds minor but it’s important for a company that obsesses over details. 

This means that the iPad mini is still in the game, and that there’s still a chance for Apple to give it an update down the road. And a Home button-less iPad mini with Face ID, tiny bezels and updated internals could very well become the best iPad Apple has ever created. 

I explained why I think the mini is the best iPad last year, when I begged Apple not to kill it. In short, its form factor is so much more practical than the form factor of any other Apple tablet, that it negates the drawback of having a smaller screen. 

Ahead of yesterday’s event, I actually hoped that the smaller, 10.5-inch iPad Pro would have its overall size shrunk as to become more like the mini. Alas, it hasn’t happened; Apple increased the size of that device’s screen to 11 inches while leaving its overall dimensions roughly the same. 

Apple seems to think that bigger is better, but I disagree. I’ve tried out the iPad Air and the small iPad Pro and it’s still too big to lug around comfortably. If you have to put it in a backpack, you might as well bring a MacBook. 

But Cook’s nod towards the iPad mini gives me a glimmer of hope.

Not because the iPad mini 4, which can still be bought from Apple for $399, is a good purchase right now. In fact, it’s pretty damn horrible; it hasn’t been updated in three years, it’s obsolete in many ways and it’s not even the cheapest iPad you can buy. 

But if Apple does have plans for the mini, it means we could see an exciting major update in the future. If Apple shrinks the iPad mini’s bezels and removes the Home button, as it did on the new iPad Pros, it means the mini’s screen could grow from its current size of 7.9 inches to roughly 8.5 inches while retaining the exact same form factor. Apple could also make the mini slightly thinner, making it even more portable. And while Apple isn’t likely to give the mini the same A12x processor that the new Pros have, or support for the Pencil, it’s not really necessary. The iPad mini is not for people who want to do professional work on a tablet — it’s for people who use it to consume content, play games and occasionally do a bit of light work. 

Side note: I’ve never been quite on board with Apple’s philosophy of turning the iPad into a workhorse machine for professionals. A MacBook is still better most of the time, and I don’t see this really changing unless you attach a proper keyboard to the iPad Pro, and then you basically get a MacBook with a touchscreen and less work-oriented software. Apple is free to push and steer into this direction, but I predict that most people will continue to use the iPad as consumers, not creators. 

The new iPad Pro isn't exactly cheap.

The new iPad Pro isn’t exactly cheap.

Image: Stan Schroeder/Mashable/Apple

Consider the price, too. The iPads have gotten more expensive — crazy expensive if you tick all the options — and a shiny new iPad mini with a lower price point could hit all the right spots with users. 

Unfortunately, I don’t think the scenario above is very likely. Yes, Apple will probably update the mini at some point, but as Apple analyst Ming Chi-Kuo predicted a week ago, it’ll probably just be a minor upgrade. So, faster processor, perhaps a storage upgrade but the same old form factor. 

It would be a shame; today, when even cheap Android phones have near-bezel-less screens and face recognition tech, the iPad mini deserves thin bezels and Face ID. But even if that doesn’t happen, the mini would be my iPad of choice. In fact, now that the smaller iPad Pro has actually gotten a bigger screen, I don’t think I’m ever buying an iPad that’s not the mini. I don’t think they’re bad devices, they’re just not for me. 

In its earnings reports, Apple doesn’t break down iPad sales by model, so I don’t know just how alone I am in my love for the mini. The mini probably isn’t selling so well — but that’s understandable, given the lack of updates. Call it a hunch, but I believe it still has its faithful audience, who’d be more than happy to upgrade if a new one came out. 

For now, I’ll definitely be rooting for a major upgrade to the aging iPad mini. Just the thought of having that beautiful, new screen and the power of the new iPad Pro in such a compact, practical form factor makes me reach for my wallet. 

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