Non-plinka gadgetology

My iPad mini is over six years old. Bought on Boxing Day 2013 with ill-gotten money, it was a replacement for my 40th birthday iPad, one of the first retina models. The mini, at 8 inches, fit comfortably in most of my outerwear and was a much more suitable way of splitting the difference between iPhone and laptop – and in essence, it replaced the use of a personal laptop for me altogether. And yet I never took it abroad the way I thought I might. Japan, London, Ireland, Chile, NYC – all done with an iPhone 4.7 inches or smaller and a plain Kindle Paperwhite as a book reader. The iPad was just a little too expensive to be a secondary device in unknown lands, and after I found myself with the almost-six-inch iPhone X two and a half years ago, an iPad with a four year old processor was almost superfluous to requirements.

And so I haven’t gotten a lot of use out of it lately. Now it’s got a processor six generations behind my new SE, it’s already had its last OS upgrade, and I was lucky to get a security patch up to 12.4.6. I don’t expect any more. It looks as though five years is about as much as you can expect for iPad support, which isn’t bad for a device that is supposed to be in the role of a laptop. Which makes me think – what would I even need a personal laptop for that I can’t do on an iPad, even a mini? Some of the multitasking stuff, sure. But notes and writing and Zoom and browsing and reading and watching video – an iPad is better for almost all those things than a phone and in some cases a laptop, given that it can be app-driven. And there’s one other trick: Swift, Apple’s programming language and scripting language of the future, is almost wholly optimized for learning on an iPad.

The only function of Alan Kay’s notional DynaBook that wasn’t available for the original iPad was the ability to program for the device ON the device. It’s arguable that Swift has begun to close that gap. And given that my career is basically dependent on Apple goods at this point, I could make a good case that it’s worth the $400 to have a dedicated personal teaching device, especially if I find myself without my work laptop for…whatever reason. In the meantime, maybe if I learn Swift on the laptop, I could justify doing it on an iPad in some future setting, even if Swift-as-scripting-language is unlikely to be a thing on the iPad anytime soon.

I don’t know. I have an Apple Watch coming in autumn – and come soon Lord, because the Fitbit that I got as a warranty replacement for one with a bad screen now itself has a worse screen to the point I put the first one back on. I need to be shut of them with a quickness, but I have to wait for the Apple Watch that has sleep tracking and oxygen level and that sort of thing. So that’s probably another $500, then throw the iPhone SE (still working a treat) on top of that, and then…an iPad? Do I really want to splash out $1500 this year on Apple goods? Especially when I’m on lockdown and have my laptop and iMac and everything here?

Almost certainly not. But if there’s a new iPad mini coming in 2021…maybe? At this point I think it’s turned into a gadget that I aspire to because I want it as an accessory for the kind of life I want to live, one where video chat with friends is a regular feature rather than a momentary pandemic novelty. One where I need the big display to dash off a little bit of remote work from the Adirondack on the porch overlooking the fog in Galway or Pescadero or the Smokies. It’s my age old story of wanting to need the things I want…and wanting to live in a world where the need for the things I want is both possible and realistic.

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