Which Model iPad?

Apple iPadNow that Apple has announced the date of Wi-Fi iPad availability as well as the pre-order date I feel some pressure to make a decision as to exactly which model iPad I want to purchase. Since the nearest Apple store is about 90 miles away, it’s probably best for me to go ahead and pre-order the device through Apple’s website. History has taught that with these hot items getting your pre-order in on day one makes a difference in terms of your delivery date. I’ve gone back and fourth about which iPad model is right for me, my decision changes every couple of days. Part of me says no questions asked, I need the top of the line 64GB 3G model for $829 because that will best suit all my possible needs. Another part of me says I only need the 16GB Wi-Fi only $499 model because this will save me $330 and will meet my needs more than 90% of the time. So when you split the difference, you end up with the $729 32GB 3G model. I should point out I have a 16GB iPhone and storage has never been an issue, except it was a little tight (but manageable) when I loaded it up for video for my Macworld trip.

I’ve gone this long without an iPad and my life hasn’t fallen apart. So do I buy based on what will be work for me most of the time and just deal with the limitations the small amount of the time I don’t have what I need? Or, do I spend more money on features that I will rarely use? Here’s the kicker… no matter what I buy, I’m guaranteed that something better, faster, bigger, and cheaper will be out next year and I’ll want that too. Alas, that’s the nature of the beast.

Part of the problem is the iPad is a totally new type of device, so I really won’t know how I’ll use it until I get it. My iPhone changed my life overnight. Will the iPad do the same? Will it take longer to become an extension of my body? Will it take a couple of revisions and updates? Plus, I still have my iPhone at my side 24/7 and the ability to take my MacBook Pro where I need it. So that goes back to the ultimate question, here does the iPad fit in?

Maybe I need to focus on my anticipated use of the iPad. First, I see it as a device that will primarily be used at home. I’m a creature of habit, I don’t travel much and I tend to run in the same circles. I see about 90% of my use being at home or one of my regular haunts where Wi-Fi is available. I also don’t see myself watching all that much video on the iPad. If I’m home, I’m going to watch the video on my 42” Plasma connected to my AppleTV. If I’m away, it’s likely only for a couple of hours and having a couple of videos will be fine. In most situations, the low end model will suit me just fine.

But a couple times a year I travel. A perfect example is Macworld, I can’t tell you how many times I thought, “If only I had an iPad right now…” The iPad would have been a great video device on the plane rather than pulling out my laptop. I really could have used it on the show floor for taking notes about products. But again, I had my laptop with me in the hotel room and my iPhone in my pocket. Having the 3G would have been nice for composing longer emails and surfing the web while waiting for the plane, but that was a couple of hours of my day a couple days a year.

Adam Christensen just about had me convinced I needed the 3G version on the iPad edition of the Mac Roundtable. His point was it’s better to pay $130 for the 3G and have it, because inevitably there will come up a situation where you need it and don’t have it and then it’s a really big deal. I agree. But is $130 premium worth those few occasions? I should also note, I’m more than a little miffed that the 3G version costs $130 more. Come on Apple, that’s like a $12 chip you’re putting in there, give me a break!

The other option I'm considering, but need to look into further, is the idea of buying a Wi-Fi only iPad but also purchasing a Verizon MiFi with a pay as you go plan. I've experimented with Virgin Mobile's mobile broadband in the past and liked the idea, but found the Sprint service spotty. The MiFi is more expensive, but a more compelling product because of the versatility. I would have the ability to network multiple devices including a MacBook Pro, iPhone and iPad if needed with room to share the MiFi wireless love. Buying a WiFi only iPad saves me the $130, but the MiFi cost is around $200. But, for the extra $70, I get two toys plus the extra versatility. I'm going to visit my local Verizon store this weekend and investigate the MiFi option further and will follow-up with another blog post since I've gotten a lot of questions already from Twitter on the subject.

There’s also the upgrade issue. I tend to use iPods until they die. I’m on a 2 year upgrade cycle with my iPhone. (Thanks in large part to my contract). I didn’t upgrade to the iPhone 3G S when it came out because I was in the middle of my iPhone 3G contract and it didn’t kill me. In fact, I rarely even think about it now. I’m on about a 30 month upgrade cycle with my Macs. What kind of upgrade cycle will the iPad have?

No question the 2nd Generation iPad will have a lot of perceived missing features including the illusive camera and probably double the storage space for the same or lower price. So, if I buy the low end iPad for $499, sell it in a year for $299 and put the savings towards a 2G iPad am I actually making out better in the long run? If I’m going to keep the iPad for a couple of years, then it’s better to go with the higher end so I won’t need to upgrade? Also, what’s coming with iPhone OS 4.0? You know it’s coming later this year and will run on the iPad. Will there be compelling new features then that will make me wish I had a more advanced iPad?

Lastly, there’s the 30 day delay issue with the 3G iPad. That sucks, and really throws a wrench in everything. I know I shouldn’t be so impulsive, but there is something about having that iPad on the day it is released. If I decide to go with the 3G version, it’s stupid for me to buy a Wi-Fi iPad only to turn around and sell it 30 days later. But the child in me wants the new shiny toy the instant it’s available. I want to drive 90 miles to the nearest Apple Store and stand in line for 3 hours with my early adopter peeps. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want to wait in a line that wraps around the Apple Store all day?

So, I hoped writing this all out would help me organize my thoughts and make a decision. Guess what, it hasn’t. I’m still conflicted. Perhaps my trip to the Verizon store will offer more clarity. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I have a week to figure it out. Feel free to comment with your perspectives; I can use all the help I can get in making this decision. While I don’t want to buy a device that doesn’t suit my needs, I think I’m going to be happy just to have the iPad regardless of which way I go.