My Morning Purchases

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Between the hours of 8:30 and 8:45 this morning, I bought two things:

1) Breakfast, consisting of a wheat bagel and a Diet Coke. Purchase price: $1.74.

2) An iPad. Which cost me more than the breakfast.

People have been asking me “So which iPad are you planning on buying?” and I still don’t know how to answer, even though I’ve actually bought one now. I’m not anywhere near the average consumer.

So instead, I’ll tell you what I think about the two major variables in this sort of decision. You’re in on the ground floor at $499. Where should the rest of your money go? Is it even worth buying a better model?

I think the first thing you should spend money on is additional storage. The iPad is going to be one hell of a great content device and my experience with my iPhone tells me that although you can make any amount of storage work, a mobile device pays the greatest dividends when there’s a good chance that answer to the question “Gee, I wonder if I have that file or content with me?” is “Yes.”

This is an especially big deal on a device like the iPad, which comes with a big, gorgeous screen. 16 gigabytes is useful. It means that I can cautiously put a movie or two on it, and maybe a vodcast subscription, and sure, I can have a couple of photo albums on there so long as I don’t go nuts. But 64 gigs means I can throw media on there with the reckless exuberance of a dancing hippie who doesn’t know that the Rolling Stones have hired Hell’s Angels as event security.

It also means that when apps like AirSharing and Evernote come to the iPad, the device can truly be that one electronic file folder that contains every document or scrap of research you’ve touched in the past month or will ever want to lay your hands on.

Put it this way. I’m in a coffeeshop and writing this on Lilith, whose 500 gigabyte hard drive contains just about everything I’ve created and everything that’s ever caught my eye online. If it suddenly occurs to me that what this blog post needs is right here, right now, is a statue of George Washington regarding a lesser public sculpture, I don’t need to hit the Internet for just the right image or head home to my desktop:

Thomas Ball's statue of George Washington, in Boston's Public Garden. Sculpted during the Civil War, it was the country's first equestrian statue of the first President. Photo by me.

So get as much storage as you can afford, I say.

Onward to the 3G question. I’m starting to wonder if 3G is going to be terribly important. “Internet everywhere” is impulsively attractive, but do you really need mobile broadband? New England is practically lousy with free WiFi. There’s so much radio traffic here that it interferes with the migration patterns of many local bird species. As I entered the coffeeshop this morning I passed by a whole family of wrens, shivering in little Bermuda shorts and wondering what the hell happened.

And if you already have some sort of device that can share its mobile broadband connection — a phone with an app that turns it into a mobile WiFi base station, or a MiFi — the question’s of moot.

Still, Apple and AT&T are offering a sweet deal on the data connection: $29 for a month of unlimited traffic, with no contract or ongoing commitment required. If you want mobile broadband this month, you buy 30 days of mobile broadband. Done.

As a MiFi owner, I’m more interested in the 3G model’s GPS features. Live navigation on a pocket device is lovely. But what can we do with it when the screen is THIS big? What happens when this live, interactive map is flat on a table where three people can peer at it and make suggestions? What kind of car app is possible, when there’s enough screen real estate to deliver a lot of information in a concise and uncluttered way?

If you’re truly seeking my advice, and your funds are limited, I say give the 3G model a miss and put that extra $129 into additional storage, or an important accessory.

If I were an ordinary consumer, I bet I’d be opting for the 32 gig WiFi model, with the wireless keyboard and the desktop dock as no-brainer addons. I think those two accessories will have a bigger impact on my use of the iPad than 3G and GPS. I’d want to own the 64 gig one, but we’re trying to economize in this scenario.

Of course, if I truly were an ordinary consumer, I’d be patient and wait to see what the reviews have to say about the iPad. It’s a rare person who can afford to pre-order a $499 thing sight-unseen. I think most of the folks who are rushing to pre-order the iPad are folks like me who have pre-existing plans for theirs.

What did I actually get? Oh, the top-of-the-line model: The iPad 3G with 64 gigs of storage, due to ship a few weeks after the WiFi-only iPad.

My decision was influenced by factors that would never apply to a regular consumer. iPad 3G, or the WiFi-only model? By one way of thinking, I needed to buy both. I need to have one in my hands on April 3 (meaning: the WiFi edition) but I’ll also need the 3G model because I’m writing a book about the iPad, and the 3G model has unique features.

Damn. I remind you that I am a freelance journalist in a rapidly-collapsing print market. I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll have an Apple loaner on April 3. I don’t know for sure, mind you. But you need to place your bet before the betting window closes and no matter what I bought, I definitely wanted my pre-order to be near the head of the pack in case models were in short supply.

So I went with the 3G. I did hesitate a bit over the “accessories” question before completing my order. Ultimately, I didn’t buy any.

I already have the Wireless Keyboard and that’s the only accessory that I consider to be a slam-dunk. I don’t wanna drop an extra hunnert bucks, only to discover a month later that the folding easel I keep my iPad in makes Apple’s $29 desktop stand irrelevant, and that I almost never see the benefits of an extra $29 charger.

Why might that be? Because apparently the iPad can charge from its USB sync cable. This is just conjecture, but I imagine that the only thing the 10-watt brick can do is charge it faster. My office is already lousy with USB wall chargers. If it takes twice as long to charge it via USB — I’m just making up a number, here — how likely is it that I’ll actually take advantage of that extra time?

[Edit to clarify: you do get a 10W charger with your iPad.]

There was another factor at play: for the love of God, I was already spending $829, before tax, on this thing. I’m being paid more than $829 for the book so please, shed no tears. Nonetheless, to a freelancer, that kind of an expenditure is like a deacon hearing people whistle in the church. It fills me with a secret sorrow.

All I can tell you is that when I arrived at the coffeeshop, something made me order the 75-cent can of Coke instead of the $1.69 bottle of juice…

93 thoughts on “My Morning Purchases

  1. Bob Barnett

    Here’s a q I’ve had. Will the iPhone cords – the component video connector cord, the usb charger cord and brick – match the specs for my beloved soon to be released on my son 6th bday? And the other, can one date on the calendar offer more possibilities for the future for one man?

  2. Elroy Jetson

    I understand that this is what works out best for your situation, but I have to humbly disagree.

    First more people are 4 – 6 hours max away from their desktop/laptop. So swapping out media is a simple syncing procedure.

    Second, WiFi is nearly as available as 3G for most people and much cheaper. Most McDonalds offer free WiFi now. So save money on the 3G.

    Third, and lastly, stick your data in the cloud, eg email, document etc. the iPad has the best mobile browser in the industry.

    What this ends up with is needing only the disk space to store data for 4 – 6 hours (again the average person). Save the cash to spend on media.

  3. DDA

    Ya know, Andy, it’s entirely likely that the trip up the Apple Store in lovely Rockingham Park will cost less than the tax on that purchase. Just sayin’…

    And you can always pay the tax later when you file your MA tax form next year in the excise tax section where you will, of course, declare everything you bought for which you hadn’t already paid the govena’, right? ;-)

  4. Justin D

    Interesting regarding WiFi in New England. Here in NYC we have the *illusion* of “there’s free WiFi everywhere.” In reality, open hotspots are pretty hard to find unless you’re only going between two or three locations that you can scout – running around town, the hassle of finding an open hotspot (read: hotspot that doesn’t require a dramatic setup procedure) means having 3G is a big win.

  5. Dusty

    Great post as usual! A couple of quick comments…
    For me, the GPS of the 3G model is a killer feature. What I haven’t heard, and don’t know, is whether this will still work without paying AT&T’s monthly fee. (They’re completely separate technologies, but perhaps the maps would require internet?) Any foresight in this regard?
    Secondly, I have almost never seen “lousy” used in its secondary sense, rather than as a synonym for “terrible”, and you managed to do it twice in one post! :)
    Thanks for your insights. Keep up the great work.

  6. Josh

    It makes me happy to know you still call your laptop Lilith. I just wanted you to know that when I was younger and had aspirations of being a tech writer myself, I coined the first laptop I ever owned (and took to college with me) “Maris” as an homage to the guy who inspired that dream (“Frasier” reference, there, in case you’re wondering).

    I’m typing this on a more modern incarnation of Apple laptop, but the name remains the same.

  7. John King

    Andy, this is why I read your blog. You cut to the chase.
    I will probably go for the 16GB wifi model so as to afford it sooner. I have a 16GB Dell netbook and have never come close to maxing it. It is what it is.
    It’s not like I am giving up my MBP with the 640GB drive in it. :-)
    Thanks for the clear thought. Say hi to Leo.

  8. Doug

    What about AppleCare? I usually decline for a Mac, but for a brand-new device I’m inclined to say “Yes.” Any thoughts?

  9. GeekLady

    I’d just like to say, while free internet may be everywhere in New England, 3G is faster than the fastest internet my inlaws can get in their house. Their electric company started offering point to point broadband only a couple years ago, and it isn’t that much faster than the dial up. The connection is in the back of the house, so using the wired internet longer than an email check is rather unsociable. And since the modem is on the roof, we can’t power cycle it to get a wireless router working.

    So cheap, contract-less 3G may not be very attractive to you, but it is really, really attractive to me.

  10. Willduo

    As usual you put the the whole plot on the table, or should I say the iPad. Here in the UK we don’t even know what it will cost yet and what network tie-ins will materialise. For me it is a straight replacement for a 12″ G4 Powerbook but I reckon that I will use an iPad much more. So as for 3G or no I have a sense that despite no tethering with an iPhone, someone will come up with a way so it’s wireless only for me and then as much memory as I can afford…still not sure what the synching capabilities will be with say my iMac.

  11. dusanmal

    For me your article was confirmation of how many different people needs will end up in a very different iPad choice. I like the device, but it is still not satisfying some of my basic requirements. I hope for V2, but here are the choices I’d make if I could get one for free:

    -Basic Wi-Fi model. Price is not an issue. I’d pay 1000$ right now if the basic model had built in universal card reader, real USB standard plug and REAL stylus option (I sharpen my pens for writing and do not use cotton-ball tipped sticks for that purpose).

    -Why not more storage? – Because of the overall limit and it is a pain to bring content TO this device on the fly. Bringing multiple GB’S via WiFi (never mind 3G) or carrying dongles and/or proprietary cables around is not for me for this type of device. Waiting for V2 to have built in universal card reader or using existing machine with permanently mounted card reader dongle. Having few large memory cards with the topic of usage (ex. my library on one, which would alone test the full capacity of top model; videos on another; photo collection on third;…) provides much more storage space in tiny form factor and ability for instant availability of GBs of content. Modular in a way.

    -Why not 3G: lifestyle. I am either at home, in a car driving or at destination with free WiFi available.

  12. kevin

    The online Apple Store charges state taxes, at least in all states that have an Apple store.

    I have an 8GB iPod touch. Decent size for music, not good for movies or a lot of documents. I only sync to rearrange music once a week, maybe every 2 weeks. I frequently buy something on iTunes/Amazon MP3 forget to sync and not have it with me.

    I went with the 64GB + 3G model too. I probably won’t use the 3G for awhile. I’ve got a mifi too, but I like not having to sign up for a contract and being able to activate for a month at a time. Nice backup feature to the mifi.

  13. suckeffect

    I went with the wifi 16GB model.

    My use case is that I will am only doing business travel on rare occasions now. It won’t be replacing my iPhone as my “iPod” device. This will be a couch device more than anything else. Since it lives in my house, it will have ready wi-fi access to shared photo and iTunes libraries from my primary Mac. So storage will almost entirely devoted to apps and I’m gambling that 16GB will be enough until the next gen of IPads come out.

  14. Jeffery Harrell

    Wouldn’t it be more on the order of four times as long to charge off the sync cable, Andy? I could be totally wrong here, but I think I remember reading that USB from a computer gives you 2.5 watts, as opposed to the nominal 10 watts off the wall wart.

    Not that it matters for purposes of the point you were making, of course. But reading your post tickled something in the back of my brain, and I thought I’d share it.

  15. bud

    Went with 32 wifi. My way of low balling.

    Since I cannot possibly consume more than 16 gig in once charging session, could have gone 16, however, since my iPhone is 32, I do not have to change the way I think about loading the two devices, I expect parity between the two devices on contents until there is really a lot of difference app wise. Actually I expect I will be watching a lot more video come April.

    Yes, I am a GPS nut, and would love to have that capability in an iPad, but I expect iPad will be mostly an in house item, not ported about the outside world. The prospect of even having to pay temporarily for 3g access just to use a GPS app is not one I care for.

    Also, the less I get now, the more likely I will be to go for a hardware bump a year from now. This first iPad is a future spare tire, another terminal in the home.

  16. suckeffect

    One other thought, longer range: If the rumors are true, Apple is hard at work putting together a cloud-storage solution for all your content. It may not make a difference in the purchase of this iPad, but I think they see that the cost and size of the solid state drives the iPads use for storage is going to be the biggest sticking point on making the devices more and more affordable.

    So sooner or later I believe we won’t be using to iPads to carry everything around with us anyone. We’ll access our stuff in the cloud via wifi and 3(4?)g.

  17. Mike Cohen

    I bought a 32GB WiFi model. I’m hoping that something like the MiFi will be available with a similar contract-free pricing plan so I can have WiFi for my MacBook & Eye-Fi card as well.

  18. matt

    Also went for 32 gb wi-fi. My touch is 32 gb and that has been sufficient for movies+music. I figure that my ipad will have much less music, since the touch (or iphone when it comes to verizon) has a better form factor for a music player. For me, the ipad will be used at home for web surfing/email (replacing a work laptop) + live mlb/nba viewing and ebook reading (replacing the touch, which is really too small for this), and used on trips for those activities plus movie/video viewing + (hopefully) the device to dump pictures to from my camera. So 3G is not really a requirement.

  19. Ihnatko Post author

    Re: The Cloud — Yes, and Apple isn’t the only company offering cloud services. I can picture many wonderful ways that Dropbox or Box.net could work with an iPad. And if I can get an iPad edition of the Pogoplug app…yowza!

    But remember: “data stored in the Cloud” is only hypothetically available to you. You still need to find a connection to the ‘net and you can’t always count on that. Even if you have the 3G model and you have a connection…just how long will it take to download an 18-megabyte presentation file?

    Michael also raises a great point: the fact that the iPad supports RAW files (in addition to JPEGs) can potentially remove another reason for bringing a “real” notebook with me when I travel. It always seemed silly that I was carrying a MacBook a thousand miles just so that I could dump photos off of my camera card to make room for the next day’s hypertourism.

  20. Sam

    Its amazing the people are still fooled by the “GPS” in the 3G model, it is NOT true GPS, here is what you will find on apple’s web site:

    Assisted GPS (Wi-Fi + 3G model)

    So it is not a true GPS device (c’mon apple it is only like $.79 right?), you still need WiFi to get assisted GPS.

  21. Joe Colletti

    Ihnatko assesses the situation perfectly, as usual.
    First, I want to compliment Apple’s online store, they have a great layout for their iPad page(s) that give good detail, and make the product quite attractive and answer a lot of questions.
    When it comes to storage, “the more you have, the more you have.” That’s why I reserved a 54 gb wifi model this morning.
    I reserved it in my local Apple Store instead of pre-ordering because Saturday delivery is a little dicey here in my neighborhood.
    I don’t want to wait another month for the 3G model, and I have a Verizon MiFi, so it should be fine.
    In about a year, when the iPad II comes out, I’ll be at the end of my MiFi contract, and then I may opt for a 3G model.

  22. Tim

    Sam — that isn’t correct. Look at how Apple displays the “Location” specifications for the iPhone 2G and the iPhone 3G/s. Then look at how they display the “Location” specification for the iPad Wi-Fi and the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G. The Wi-fi + 3G iPad has the *SAME* spec listed as the iPhone 3G/S and the Wi-Fi only iPad has the same specification listed as the iPhone 2G. “Assisted” means that the GPS chip gets “hints” of your location by the cellular network to speed up acquisition and enable a lower powered GPS chip. However it is TRUE GPS, just like the iPhone 3G.

  23. Mimi

    Interesting reading… Here are some musings from a non geek, but tech appreciating female…

    I’m holding off on an iPad purchase, as I’m hoping it’s deficiencies will be corrected in subsequent models and I’m already pretty happy with my trusty 64 iPod [it holds a nice long charge for listening to books and music on the go], iPhone for connectivity, camera , apps, 3G and wifi… oh yes, and as a phone, 17″ Macbook for home&office computing and a Kindle for reading. I don’t really watch vids or movies on small devices… just photos and clips.

    I suppose I’ll be in the iPad market when one of my other gadgets gives out. But honestly, my iPod is 4 years old and hasn’t had a single hiccup, my Macbook recently upgraded to Snow Leopard and is my primary computer, my iPhone is great for out and about, travel, etc and my Kindle is the perfect size as a reader.. not too big, not too small, and has almost a week of battery life when reading.

    In my suburban neighborhood, I rarely get a 3G connection, so I’m wondering why I’d want a 3G iPad? Most places I’d use it have wifi. I just returned from two overseas trips, including to some rather off the beaten track places and I had minimal problems finding wifi. Even small hotels had it.

    Bottom line, for me, it’s wait and see.

  24. Caustic

    I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to have Diet Coke for breakfast. I’m just saying, you might not want to advertise that publicly, they’re listening.

  25. Dean

    @Sam – Assisted GPS IS real GPS. The assistance is there to improve on the basic GPS functionality.

    If you take your iPad to a location that has no WiFi or 3G coverage, it will still give you your location based on the information that is coming to it from the GPS satellites alone. If, however, you turn it on in the vicinity of a cell tower or WiFi base-station that has a known geographic location (and the iPad can talk through a data connection to find out what that location is) then the GPS now has a head start on finding out where on the planet you are.

    So it already knows, for example, that you are in Cupertino, not Boston. As a result, you get a faster fix on your position.

  26. Steven Fisher

    Sam: Assisted GPS is a good thing. It means in addition to the usual GPS, it can get an initial rough estimate from cell towers for faster startup. Note: IN ADDITION TO. Look it up.

  27. Dan Frakes

    Sam, as Tim noted, “Assisted GPS” is indeed real GPS. The “assisted” part is that the device can use 3G and WiFi to reduce the time it takes to get the initial fix.

  28. Ryan G

    I bought the 64GB 3G model too with the case and external display adapter for presentations. Something strange happened after my purchase though. Apple emailed me to tell me that they removed AppleCare from my purchase because they are not allowed to sell it in my state. Did this happen to anyone else?

  29. Jared

    I’m still on the proverbial fence of purchase but have a couple of observations.

    I always have my iPhone with me, of which ~15GB is devoted to music. I really don’t see myself using the iPad as a giant iPod, so there’s no need to sync music to the iPad. So there’s an extra 15 GB of storage that’s freed up on the iPad.

    Also as my iPhone unofficially supports tethering in a (jailbroken kind of way), I could just skip the 3G bit altogether. But I’m not certain that with the 3G circuitry (but no activated SIM) would the assisted GPS be any different than just the WiFi model?

  30. Ihnatko Post author

    “Yes” to what Dan and the rest have said about “assisted GPS.” The iPhone (and the iPad) have some remarkable little tricks to minimize the GPS radio’s impact upon the device’s battery life, and to fix your location without much of a wait. Getting a “hint” from a nearby cell tower is one of those tricks.

    And @Jared – much is still unknown about the iPad’s operation. But the best available data says that GPS will work on the iPad 3G even if you don’t buy a broadband package, and the WiFi edition won’t support GPS at all.

  31. JGowan

    I didn’t know one could pre-order the 3G version until I read your blog — just ordered my shiz!

    iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G 64GB
    iPad – AppleCare
    iPad Case

    Can’t wait!!!

  32. Konker

    For me the article is a clear indication of the unhealthiness of American people and the ugliness their npn-society. Diet coke for breakfast! I bet Andy had breakfast on his own while he was walking down the street with his baggy t-shirt hiding his oversize ass. At least when Andy gets his iPad he will have to sit down with friends in a cafe for breakfast and discuss the news as it is piped in via wifi whilst enjoying a coffee.

  33. JGowan

    Diet Coke for a breakfast beverage is NOT vile! It’s what I had today, too with my Jalapeño/Cheese Pigs in the Blankets! Non-Coffee Drinks need a caffeine fix too!

  34. Adam

    @Dean – While it is true that you can get a GPS location independent of any WiFi or 3G connectivity, the maps app is going to be pretty useless in that situation since it needs a data connection in order to download the map tiles. Unless you’re using a third-party app that caches map tiles locally.

    @Ihnatko – Nice summary. I’m in wait-and-see mode. It would be nice if Apple would open up the “camera connection kit” and make it a generic USB-to-dock adapter for purposes other than just importing photos. But I’m not holding my breath for that to happen.

  35. DocB

    64 Gig Wi-Fi + 3G
    Case
    A dock
    Extra power supply
    Another Bluetooth mini-keyboard
    Apple Care

    My only problem is I want it now.

  36. forddorr

    Holy crap! $1.74!?! That would cost me at least $4 where I live.

    I ordered a 16GB/WiFi – no 3G where I live (Massachussetts) and I’m pretty sure this is going to be a couch/bed reader/viewer. Also added desk stand (picture frame when not in use) and case (not to keep it in but to travel with).

  37. zwei

    The extra space simply isn’t worth that much to me. I can take a few extra minutes a week to manage media files.

    The extra $200 I’m saving will instead go towards an iPad v2. Twas and easy decision for me.

  38. Mike

    Ordered iPad 64 GB WiFi w/o 3G (no need).
    Added a case. As with the Kindle, I would think this was a must buy.

    Question: What is the point of the dock connector? I have an iPhone. I’ve never thought I needed a dock connector with it.

    On the fence on other accessories, including the BT Keyboard. Also, looked for but could not find any information about future iPad version of iWork. I will get it when it is available and that might be when the keyboard will be necessary. Until then, the iPad is pretty darn big and using its virtual keyboard will probably be just fine.

  39. blackfrog

    Great summary. When my friends ask which iPad to get, I’m sending them here.

    And as a semi-pro iPhone developer, I COMPLETELY relate to your angst about shelling out that kind of money. I too will make the cost back soon enough. But yes, I too am filled with secret sorrow. And yes, I skipped the coffee shop this morning, and went straight to work for the free bagels.

  40. bobhenr

    Sadly I need to replace my computer first. But I’ll be getting an iPad by the end of summer. I’d love to buy one on the first day but I’m guessing I won’t regret waiting a bit and letting Apple and the early adopters work out the kinks first.

    Since I live in Montana and don’t travel much, I won’t be getting 3G. There is no ATT in my neck of the woods. Were the machine compatible with Verizon, it would be a different story. And my beloved Nano will always be in my pocket, so I’ve no plans to use the iPad for music. I’ll probably get the 32GB model, because I anticipate using programs that require document storage (pdf’s, Pages, anything the OmniGroup produces, etc.) and with my digital camera, especially since the iPad can handle RAW. I won’t be storing many pictures, but I can see offloading them from the camera onto the iPad to preview or mess with. The 64GB model would probably be overkill, but by delaying my purchase I can get more feedback from others about what is necessary.

    In the meantime I’ll hover over you Andy, and listen to your every thought (not counting those that include diet cokes) so that I can continue to be well informed come purchase time. And by August your book will be done. Right?

    By the way, you’re just as beloved as my Nano. In fact, you’re even more beloved because you never get lost in my pocket. (I know that sounds bad but I can’t think of any other way to put it.)

  41. David C

    I went with the 32GB wi-fi. I plan to continue using my 32GB Touch to carry the lions share of my audio (Sorry Steve-O, but the iPad just isn’t the bestest portable music device on the planet) and will use the iPad for video to go, Books, browsing, calendar and the rest. I’m passing on the 64GB for now, as I’ll likely find iPad 2.0 an irresistable upgrade, so this baby is already bound for the hand-me-down circuit.

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