Apple Killed My Precious iPod. Can an iPad Mini Be My New Everyday Messaging Device?

Apple killed the iPod, so I had to find an alternative. I tested an iPad Mini to see if it was up to the job.
An iPad Mini compared to an iPod.
Image: Motherboard.
Screen Shot 2021-02-24 at 3
Hacking. Disinformation. Surveillance. CYBER is Motherboard's podcast and reporting on the dark underbelly of the internet.

Apple has screwed over me and a handful, or possibly even dozens of other people. In May, the company discontinued the iPod Touch, and said that the next version of its mobile operating system iOS 16 won’t be supported on the device either. The iPod is dead.

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For years, I’ve used an iPod Touch over Wi-Fi as my primary communications device. I use it to send encrypted messages with Signal, Wire, and Wickr. I use the Skype app to call ordinary phones. I installed another VoIP app to receive text messages in a pinch. The reason was that, in short, telecommunications networks are a dumpster fire of lingering security issues; simply having a cellular connection allows for those companies and multiple third-parties to track the location of the device. So, I opted-out and instead used the Wi-Fi only iPod.

Faced with the reality of my device of choice soon no longer receiving security updates, I had to make a choice: was this the point at which I finally bought a phone like a normal person? I could just get a new iPhone that would last for several years. Or perhaps go down the route of customized Android-based operating systems like GrapheneOS, which provide an experience focused on privacy and security.

No. I still did not want to be on a cell phone network, at all. From how crappily telecoms handle user data, to ordinary cybercriminals now having access to the SS7 network providing another way to track peoples’ physical locations, I wasn’t going to give up. I decided to buy an iPad Mini.

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First, the benefits. Like an iPod, a Wi-Fi only iPad doesn’t have a baseband so it couldn’t connect to a phone network even if it wanted to. The iPad also offers some tweaks over its smaller cousin the iPod. It has Touch ID, something which I’ve never had before and have immediately grown to appreciate. This can be used to lock down the encrypted app Wickr, for example, which works as expected, as do Signal and Wire. Whether you would use that depends on whether someone forcing you to unlock your device with your fingerprint was in your threat model or not.

Apart from that, modern iPads will continue to receive security updates for the foreseeable future and run more recent hardware than the iPod.

The larger screen also allows the iPad to work as a hybrid mobile and desk device. I can have it on a mount next to my main computer screen and see my Signal or Wire messages at once.

Now, the negatives. Although the size can have some benefits, overall it is a pain. After handling various iPad models in a store, I settled on an iPad Mini. It was possible to hold the device in portrait mode and type out Signal messages. It obviously was not as comfortable as a normal sized phone or the iPod, but my hands got used to it. Landscape mode is workable if necessary.

As you have probably guessed, even the iPad Mini has trouble fitting into a pair of jeans. My model just about fit into my pocket, but, obviously, looked stupid. It felt like I was carrying a metal plate on my thigh and forced my leg into a rigid lock as I moved. 

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The iPad Mini in my pocket. Image: Motherboard.

In short, I wasn’t going to carry the iPad Mini in my pocket, and there was no point in replacing the iPod with an iPad if I wasn’t able to use it as a mobile device that I take wherever I go. So, I bought something else. We need to talk about the bag. 

After some research I found a Herschel bag with a strap that went around my shoulder which snuggly fit the iPad Mini in. How bad could it be? It’s just a small bag. People use bags, I think? I don’t but those Baggu fanny packs people strap across their chest seem pretty popular, and this is not all that different.

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I hate it. Putting the iPad Mini into the bag is a forceful dance of cramming the device in enough so the zip can work its way around its frame. Getting it out is hugely conspicuous, closer to pulling a laptop out of a case than a phone from your pocket. It looks weird, especially if you’re standing on the subway platform and just want to easily check your messages. You can’t do that. Then you have people realizing that person is holding an iPad like a phone? It does not help you blend in at all.

I’m not happy about it, but Apple forced my hand. Relegated to a life of carrying a 7.69” by 5.3” device to send Signal messages. I will just have to do my best to learn to love my iPad Mini.

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