The iPad mini Would Make a Great Phablet

It’s ‘just a big iPhone’, after all

Key Takeaways

  • Apart from cameras and size, the only differences between iPad and iPhone are arbitrary software limits.
  • The iPad can do anything the iPhone does, often better.
  • Apple may prefer you to buy an iPhone and an iPad, instead of just the iPad.
An iPad mini side-by-side with an iPhone.

Jeremy Bexanger / Unsplash

That new iPad mini is the perfect take-everywhere device. Wouldn't it be great if you could use it to replace your iPhone?

Unlike some Android tablets, which are pretty much just big phones, the iPad has some curious limitations that stop you from using it as a full-on iPhone replacement. It can't make regular phone calls or receive SMS messages. It has no Wallet app, and it can't pair with an Apple Watch. You can kind of work around some of these limits, but it's such a shame that Apple doesn't make it possible to go solo with the iPad. Especially the fantastic new mini. 

"[Apple has] geared the iPhone to be a great way to communicate with friends, family, and business partners," June Escalada, iPhone and iPad user, and Photoshop teacher, told Lifewire via email. "However, the iPad is better for getting things done. It has a larger screen with more accessibility to apps, making it the go-to for work and play."

iPad Only? Why?

An iPad really is just a bigger iPhone. They use the same chips and run the same apps. Hardware-wise, there's the size difference, and the iPhones get better cameras. Software-wise, the differences are chosen by Apple, but could be reversed. 

Many folks prefer the largest phone they can buy, and in this light, the iPad mini is a small step up from the iPhone Pro Max (the iPad is barely two ounces heavier). Others, like me, carry an iPhone as a brain for their Apple Watch, as well as to read and listen to podcasts or music on the go. 

"With more device options available, their product offering has further reach by having specialized products for each target demographic."

In both cases, an iPad may be a better device than the iPhone. Reading, watching movies, and even checking Instagram would be better with a bigger screen. The iPad mini is less ideal for photos, but if you prefer to carry a camera, an iPad is a much better place to import and view photos. 

Obviously, I'm not saying that the iPad is better than the iPhone for everyone. Far from it. It's just that, for those who would prefer the iPad to the iPhone, the barriers are purely determined by Apple's policy.

If it wanted, Apple could release an iPadOS 15 update that let you pair the Apple Watch with an iPad, add the Wallet app, and let the iPad receive SMSs and phone calls. Perhaps the last two in that list might require extra certifications from government telecoms agencies, so let's leave those out. FaceTime audio is better anyway, and who needs SMS anymore?

And it's not just the iPad mini that would make a great iPhone alternative. Many of us leave the iPhone in a pocket, purse, or bag and only interact with it via Apple Watch and AirPods. The only reason to take the phone out is to snap a photo (better on iPhone) or when you want to read or look at something (both better on the iPad).

Why Not?

The most obvious reason that Apple doesn't unlock the iPad is that people may buy fewer iPhones. Right now, the iPad is an extra purchase on top of your phone. And if you own an Android phone, the iPad may also be a gateway device, convincing you to go all-in on iOS. 

An iPad, Apple AirPods Pro, iPhone, Apple Pencil, and an Apple keyboard arranged on a desk (The Apple ecosystem).

Brandon Romanchuck / Unsplash

"The simplest answer is product cannibalization," website designer and Apple device user Will Manuel told Lifewire via email. "With more device options available, their product offering has further reach by having specialized products for each target demographic."

This is to say, Apple deliberately differentiates its products to widen its market. 

But, assuming that Apple did bring feature parity to the iPad, would there still be any reason not to use one in place of a phone? 

I asked about this, and several respondents said that the iPhone was a communication device, and the iPad was better for content "consumption" or for "getting things done." Which is another way of saying it's suitable for everything.

The iPhone is more portable and much more convenient to whip out to take a photo. But that's my point. It would be better to let the user decide. As it is, those who prefer the iPad still end up carrying an iPhone, which is probably how Apple wants it. But think about it—wouldn't an iPad mini be a great everything device? For some of us, at least? Let's keep our fingers crossed.

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