The third generation iPad was unveiled today, and being the semi-anonymous person I am, I did not get an invite. So I did the next best thing: I followed the event on Ars Technica. I was going to follow on other outlets as well but their coverage was spotty.
Aside from the conspicuous absence of a number, most of the specs of the new mobile computer have been tweeted and blogged like crazy. So by now, you know the third iPad’s specs, 9–10 hour battery life, a Retina display, A5X dual-core CPU and quad-core graphics, 5MP camera with 1080HD video, AirPlay video streaming to Apple TV (3rd generation) at up to 1080p, and—most important to investors and pundits—4G LTE. Oh, and what no one mentioned: BlueTooth 4.0 whose inclusion is probably more important than faster internet over the communications carriers networks. But let’s look at what it doesn’t have? Thunderbolt, any new interfaces such as an SDXC slot, and a lack any new accessibility features for my friends that do not have full mobility. As some of you know, I have been trying for months to find supported devices for non-physical for Siri activation.
But does the lack of any of these things matter? Not to most people, and certainly not to investors. Immediately after the event, the Apple Store was mostly unreachable for at least an hour unless you got lucky. Most people I talked to that pre-ordered one after the event had to try at least 4 times before being able to place their order. I have a few people asking me about it as well. The question is not “Should I get one?” but “which model should I get?” Before diving into that, let’s look at what was said try to use that to forecast Apple’s future a bit.
Apple will probably continue the trend of taking last year’s iOS models and discounting the price on the base model and offering that for budget customers from now on as with the 3GS and iPhone 4. That will address their lack of product offerings and price complaints that many pundits use to ding Apple. Apple still thinks 16GB is a good entry point, unfortunately. Interconnectivity is now embedded in their DNA: all the new features emphasize wireless sharing between your other iOS devices, Macs or PCs. Apple realizes that they have to synchronize their iOS and OS X offerings by migrating applications and features between the two, but still change the UI to match the use context paradigm. Finally, Apple is not about to rest on its laurels. Android is racing to catch up, and Windows 8 is just around the corner. It will use the same strategy that revived the Mac business: build on standards, continue to vertically integrate an expanded their lineup of interconnected devices, innovate and not compromise quality for the sake of market share. Also, most importantly, not be afraid to cannibalize their own market share. So, that should put to rest the constant low-price Mac or iPhone rumors. Next year’s low cost iOS device is last year’s ground breaking device. Remember that if you can’t afford this year’s hot iOS offering and can wait a year.
If you cannot wait, read on. To decide what model to get, you can do what I do: take your current needs, add 20%-30% head room for 3+ years growth and go from there. To assess your current needs, take your most demanding use of your computers: audio/video creation, large movie or audio libraries, etc. and figure out how much storage you use and how fast it is growing. Unfortunately, my laptop drive is packed with full bit-rate audio ripped from my CD collection, so it made more sense to join iTunes Match than to buy a 64GB model. (For the $100 difference* I can pay for 4 years of iTunes match and have all my ~140GB of music in reach.) However, since I discovered AppAdvice.com’s AppsGoneFree, my application footprint on my iPhone has gone from 2–3GBs to just over 10GB in about 6 months. So, it looks like the 32GB model will be my buy-in point. However if it wasn’t for the apps, there are now WiFi friendly portable Hard drives that can add additional video or audio storage as long as you have a WiFi connection. (Coincidentally, the WiFi Drive nullifies the need for any storage expansion slots.)
Speaking of networking, let’s look at 4G LTE and AT&T vs. Verizon. I am not a cheapskate (or else I would probably only be using the triple-boot PC I built myself 5 years ago), but I am frugal. I realize that if I buy into a carrier by chosing either the Verizon or the AT&T model, they have the leverage and can hike prices leaving me with no recourse. So I will forego the 4G LTE models entirely, get the WiFi only model and then purchase a hotspot so I can use all my iDevices and my laptop anywhere there is coverage. T-Mobile offers a no contract month-to-month 5GB/$50 hotspot plan, but I have not checked how their coverage is in my region nor their data rate and latency. But that’s what suits me.
If you want simplicity, have a small media collection and will probably not download a ton of apps—even if they are free—then you might be better served with a less expensive model. If you are just using your computer for email, web browsing, music and video streaming at home and have no interest in content creation, faster 3D games, full 1080p streaming to your TV via a third generation AppleTV, or a higher resolution display, then an iPad2 might suit you until you discover other uses. $400 for an entry-level—yet still snappy—iPad2 is fine. It’s still a good machine.
Also, I realize I am biased when it comes to iOS/OS X. I have been using Macs since the 128K Macintosh. My loyalty is not to Apple, but the most reliable and time-efficient platform. In every company I have worked for I noticed the Windows machines required around thrice the support resources, no matter how responsive and proactive the IT department. If you are a true gearhead like some of my friends, want to be able to hack freely and can solve technical glitches yourself, then stick with Android and Linux. I hear that the new Android 4.0 ICS is pretty good. But if you want to save money in the long run, the upfront costs are the least of your considerations. That’s why I recommend iPads to first time tablet buyers.