Is this the ‘iPad for kids’?

Is the iPad Mini really good for kids?
Is the iPad Mini really good for kids? 

This week brought with it Apple’s long-awaited announcement of the iPad Mini. My daughter had been begging for an iPod Touch, but with this new gadget in her sights she is revising her letter to Santa. Is this year’s Christmas ‘must have’ really a good choice for our Gen Zs?

As the name suggests, it’s pretty much the iPad, but in miniature. At 7.9 inches (20cm) it’s half as big again as the iPhone, and that makes it the perfect size for little hands to hold. But is it going to be good for kids?

For a start, the price is a fairly hefty $369 for the base model. To put that in perspective, $369 will also buy you seven Photo Fashion Barbies (RRP $50), four Furby 2012s (RRP $95), nearly three Leap Frog Explorer consoles (RRP $139) or half a day’s full body massage for Christmas shopping recovery. As far as kids’ tech Christmas presents go, this is at the high end.

The new iPad Mini starts at $369 for the base model.
The new iPad Mini starts at $369 for the base model. 

Fine, you say, we love our little angels and want to give them the best money can buy. For you, there is a lot to love about the iPad Mini. Obviously it’s smaller than the latest generation iPad. It weighs less than half as much as an iPad 3 and is “thinner than a pencil”, although Apple have not been completely clear on whether they mean the thick kind designed for pre-schoolers. It’s small. It’s portable. It will fit in a large pocket. It will slide in to an average handbag. It is small enough to get lost under the front seat in the car.

But it has not been specifically designed for kids to use, and if yours are anything like mine you’ll know that means being dropped in the mud, used as a badminton racquet, covered in breakfast, run over by a bike and made fun of. The iPad Mini is no more robust than the existing iPad, which means it runs the risk of broken and scratched screens and water damage.

The iPad Mini is no more robust than the existing iPad, which means it runs the risk of broken and scratched screens and water damage.

The other main features are on par with the full-size equivalent: it has a 10 hour battery life, like the existing iPad, and front and rear-facing cameras, like the existing iPad. It will be available in 16gb, 32gb and 64gb models, like the existing iPad. But although the new model iPad 4 has been announced as having a stunning retina display (that means it has more pixels than the old model, so everything looks super crisp and shiny), the iPad Mini uses the old technology. It’s a pretty screen, but it is likely to be superseded before too long.

Don’t rush out to buy the first release either – they are offered with WiFi only, which means your child won’t have access to the internet if you’re out and about (which is often the time you really need it!). Super fast 4G models will go on sale at the end of November.

Although Apple is touting this device as “more than just a shrunken down iPad”, the functionality is the same. It runs the same operating system as the full-size iPad (iOS 6), so your children will have access to the same types of apps as they have in the past, and will use them in the same way. While it’s a great size for reading – only a few centimetres separates it from the Kindle – the Apple iBooks app is secondary to the rest of the iPad functionality.

Rather than trying to jam the iPad Mini shaped peg into the child's toy shaped hole, you might like to check out a tablet that really is designed for kids. The Innotab 2 is robust, so it can take a few hits, but it also offers features like parental controls and built-in learning apps. Storage wise it's not as big as the iPad, and the technology isn't as slick, but at half the price you could pick up one of these and get in a few rounds of mini golf.

With all that said, if what you’re looking to do this Christmas is make sure your child knows how cool you are, the iPad Mini will definitely tick that box. However, at $369, this writer recommends waiting until the new year, when you will be in with a reasonable chance of picking one up second-hand and hardly used.