The iPad mini from the eyes of an educator

Jonathan Nalder
5 December, 2012
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“Its smaller, its lighter: thats about it!” - Tasmanian Teacher / fellow co-fonder Deon Scanlon

It seems to me that in the last 2 1/2 years, Apple have pretty much already done the work needed to explain to most people what the iPad is. And now, there’s a mini version – it really is that simple. Yes you might want to know its not just mini, it’s super thin and only slightly heavier than most phones. This in itself makes it an important entrant in the tablet world where half the point is portability. You might also want to know that it’s a solid slice of aluminum and beautifully constructed.

Beyond this, I’d probably also point out that Apple has done well in their goal of continuing to try and make the hardware disappear until all that you notice is the screen and the portals that apps open up for you. The keyboard (one which I’ve typed this whole article) is a little awkward in portrait, but I fixed that using iOS’s split keyboard option (the first time I’ve found a use for it). I would just also mention that the stereo speakers are great – quite loud and unlike no speakers in any iPad before.  For me, the fact that there is space enough to include them in the mini makes it clear why Apple has moved to a smaller dock connector.


Apple CEO Tim Cook reported during the iPad mini launch that 2500 US classrooms are now using iPads. He also stated earlier this year that in the preceding quarter Apple had sold 1 million iPads just to schools. In Australia the Sydney Morning Herald (1.7.12) has reported that 60% of Catholic Schools in the Sydney area have deployed them, with large official trials having been run by almost every state Education Department as well. If the figures I see in my day job and roles are anything to go by, there could be more than 70,000 iPads in schools across the country. So, yes, iPad is big in education. But what then does the mini’s smaller size and screen mean for learning?

So far since Friday I’ve personally seen the mini in the hands of just one kid, my own 5 year old. She is very taken by it, and I must say that seeing her with it vs the larger iPad 1 she normally gets to use, I feel happier as a parent that its lighter and more ergonomic for her to hold. She hasn’t had any troubles with the smaller iPhone-sized touch points that the smaller screen has (and neither have I).

There is actually a group of young students in New Zealand under the tutelage of fellow Apple Distinguished Educator Matt Thomas (of RubberChickenApps) who may just have been the first kids in the world to use a mini thanks to their timezone. Matt has been kind enough to share their impressions vs the iPad 2′s they have used in the past:

Selection of other quotes:

  • Easier to handle/ carry around – but is it more likely to be dropped?
  • Camera is better
  • Apps all work the same, just slightly smaller
  • Movie making is great – faster than iPad2
  • Easier to hold when videoing / taking photos
  • Easier to type on – keys are slightly closer together
  • Sound is great, has better speakers – stereo, not mono
  • Good to use to Blog, make pic collages, use iMovie
  • Richer, brighter colours on screen
  • Loads web pages slightly faster – seems to be faster

There was a couple of negative comments about the keyboard being smaller, and two students thought the smart cover was ‘dumb’. Matt himself concludes that “it works for our kids better than I thought it would. Time will tell, but I think we may just buy a whole lot of these devices”.

Aussie primary school principal Craig Kerwin has overseen the deployment of 150 iPads at Moorooka State School in Brisbane (see their website for great iPad related tips). Here is his opinion:

“Would I buy them for my school? Yes! They are a nice product but it hinges on pricing. If Apple could reduce the cost of the mini close to $300, a class set purchased out of my next budget would be on the cards. In the short bit of testing I’ve done, to me they are a 1:1 personal device. The original iPad, while also a 1:1 device, can be used between two students comfortably. With dwindling funds in schools, I can’t justify even the Big W price of $358, when they also sell the iPad 2 for $398 … for the $40 more for the iPad 2 we get a two-to-one device that suits the shared model we have at Marooka. Don’t get me wrong – I think the Mini has its place, just wishing it was better priced. If I was introducing a student-funded 1:1 tablet program, then I reckon I’d encourage the Mini”.

And here are my pros and cons based on my many hours spent over the last 5 days testing it:

Pros for education:

  • Much better speakers for when used as a group activity station.
  • Much lighter especially for younger students to use for longer periods
  • Battery life is as great as an iPad 2 and better than the iPad 3. I’ve gotten over 9 hours of heavy usage out of it (screen at 70% brightness running videos, games and/ or streaming music with wifi and sometimes bluetooth on as well).
  • The perfect device for schools that have 1:1 laptops but want to also add a more mobile and flexible learning device.
  • The cameras mean it can function as a recording rig and light content creation tool when needed.
  • Apparently performs better in a drop test than the iPad 3 and Google Nexus7 (

Cons for education:

  • Slippery back mandates a case (but most schools get these anyway).
  • Smaller touch points might be tricky for kids with low fine motor skills.
  • While adults can hold it in one hand, for kids the ‘one-hand’ marketing doesn’t really work.
  • Shared group activities would work for 2 rather 3-4 kids.
  • Cheaper price means its almost too easy for schools to buy them without having a proper learning plan in place first.

Here are some explicit usage scenarios and the suggestions re: which iPad is best:

  • For mainly classroom desk-based use, go with the larger iPad.
  • If all you need is 16gb, go with the iPad 2.
  • If you need more than 16gb, OR money is an issue, get the mini.
  • If you have other devices (laptops or larger iPads already), get the mini.
  • If you will be sharing iPads between students in groups, consider the larger iPad.
  • If you are used to a retina iPad, wait for the retina mini.
The iPad mini is lighter for young students, offers great battery life and camera’s, loud speakers and is a good agile tool for learning content creation and consumption. However its cheaper price means its almost too easy for schools to buy them without having a proper learning plan in place first. Overall I would give it an 8/10.

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