Thursday, March 8, 2012

Updated: So You Want A New iPad? Which Model Do You Really Need?

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Now that the third generation iPad (aka "the new iPad") is officially announced, you may be considering updating an older model, or joining the cadre of faithful users for the first time. One thing that didn't improve yesterday was the plethora of available SKUs (stock keeping units). Many, including myself, hoped that at least some of the complexity would be eliminated. Notably, I had hoped that Apple would unify (and halve the SKU count) the 4G/Cellular decision by incorporating all radios in every model. Sadly, if you decide you do want, or need, cellular service, you must select Verizon or AT&T, at the time of purchase.

Given that both cellular companies provide iPad service on a separate, month to month, contract basis it would have been (very) nice to be able to shift your cellular service from one carrier to another based on satisfaction (or a lack thereof), geography, pricing, and other factors. It should be noted that all new iPads support slower, 3G, networks (HSPA, HSPA+, and DC-HSDPA) which will make international travel and roaming convenient no matter which primary 4G carrier your select.

The Easy "Stuff"

The first decision which is completely personal and subjective also has no dollar expense associated with it. The new iPad is available in black or white. When the white iPhone was originally released, this decision did play a significant role in one important dimension, time. There were significant delays in shipping what iPhones for many. In some situations, the delay was measured in months, not days or weeks. It appears that whatever production issues existed have been resolved. So make this choice in move on to the next critical choice, wi-fi only or wi-fi plus 4G.....

To 4G or Not To 4G

Adding 4G availability to the iPad can make all the difference in the device's value for many. If your job demands mobility, if you meet with clients wherever the need arises, you need 4G. If your job is mobile by definition-- Insurance Agents, Landscapers, Marketers and Sales People in virtually any industry-- need cellular access. You cannot rely on ubiquitous wi-fi access if the iPad is a key component of your sales/client service equation. Cellular service availability adds $130 to the initial purchase.

If your lifestyle revolves around home, office, and wi-fi enabled restaurants and coffee shops, a wi-fi only iPad will save you approximately $500 the first year of ownership ($130 in hardware and $360/year in data services).

As I mentioned, the real cost is in data access. Neither AT&T or Verizon offer unlimited data plans. Both companies offer tiered 4G pricing. If you factor in a mid-tier contract, you will pay $30/month for 2 Gigabytes (Verizon) or 3 Gigabytes (AT&T) of cellular data. Plan on factoring in this $360/year expense to iPad ownership. Both companies offer smaller plans (Verizon 1 Gigabyte/month, $20; AT&T: 250 Megabytes, $14.99) and 5 Gigabyte/month, $50 plans. Since these are month to month plans, you can theoretically tailor your monthly contract to your data needs. I say theoretically because for the vast majority,  future data usage is almost impossibly difficult to anticipate (and both carriers understand this point). Overages, like all cellular voice, data, and text services, are  painfully expensive. To date, no carrier has taken me up on my rollover data proposal. For the majority, the mid-tier plan is going to be "the sweet spot."  It is important to remember that the new iPad's 4G focus makes it more important than ever to determine which carrier has the best 4G coverage in your primary geography. (Click here for the AT&T coverage map.  Click here for the Verizon coverage map.)

If all else is equal in your area, AT&T's 4G service is probably the better choice  (and it saddens me to have to make this recommendation!) Apple's own speed tests indicate that AT&T's 4G service is superior and the $30/month mid-tier price currently offers 1 gigabyte more bandwidth each month.

Update (3/9/12 12:30 PM CST): Yesterday, Verizon announced support of  the new hotspot feature on the iPad an no extra charge. If the ability to use your new iPad as a hotspot is important, this may sway your decision as to which carrier to select. Remember, all hotspot use will count against your monthly plan's data usage. As of this writing, AT&T has not commented or responded.

How Much Memory Is "Too Much?"

When you have determined your preferred color and 4G service provider, you are ready to tackle the most difficult and expensive decision, how much memory do you really need...?

The iPad2 and the new iPad are available with 16, 32, and 64 Gigabyte models. Each doubling of memory also adds about a $100 to the purchase price (independent of wi-fi only or wi-fi & 4G choice). So, how much memory is "enough?"

This is a very difficult question with many interdependant variables. There really is no "typical" iPad user, but I can provide some general guidelines. For the vast majority, 16 Gigabytes will provide enough space for hundreds of apps, data files, and some music and video  media  files. If you anticipate using your iPad primarily for web surfing, email, and perhaps reading, your decision is over. For those with large media collections, extensive travelers, and content creators, keep reading.....

If you travel extensively and wish to pre-load your iPad with movies and music, you are a candidate to  consider the 32, or perhaps even 64, Gigabyte models. The new iPads HD (hi def), retina, display demands richer graphics to take full  advantage of  this incredibly high resolution display. Movie files can be played in full 1080p hi-def  (a single hi-def movie can consume 3 to 4 gigabytes of space). While Apps don't take up much room, graphic intensive games, will take up more space than ever because of the improved graphic ability of the iPad itself.

If you are an avid photographer and/or videographer, select the 32 or 64 Gig model. The new iPad offers a superior internal camera which can also take full 1080p video. Perhaps more importantly, Apple showcased the new iPhoto App which promises great photo editing and viewing on the retina display. The new iPad itself will support up to 19 Megapixel images (approximately 100 of these high resolution photos will consume 1 Gigabyte of storage).

Even if you consider yourself in one of these high use groups, or like me, prefer to "future proof" your purchase but rounding up for a $100 (iPads, like all Apple iOS devices, cannot be upgraded in the field), the 32 Gigabyte model is probably sufficient. If you are a current iPad owner and want to get a feel for your current storage consumption, you can easily determine your space utilization by tapping on Settings | General | About and looking at a few numbers:

You can view your actual data usage....

Final Thoughts

To give some perspective, I consider myself a data intensive iPad user. my iPad2 is a 64 Gigabyte model and I have never concerned myself with storage limitations in my day to day usage. As the nearby screenshot  shows, my iPad currently has over sixteen thousand (16,000) songs (which is a somewhat deceiving because i utilize the Apple Match service which streams music and doesn't actively store all music on a device); fifteen (15) videos (not movies) and nearly eight hundred (800) photos.

On this 64 Gigabyte device with an available capacity of just over 58 Gigabytes, I still have over 30 Gigabytes available! Your mileage will vary, but for the vast majority of my clients and readers, the 32 Gigabyte model will provide ample storage. So what model am I buying? Despite the evidence available to me (see actual usage stats nearby) and the virtually certainty of another new iPad which will enter the fray a year from now, I pre-ordered a 64 Gigabyte, Verizon 4G, black unit.

I rely on my iPad and increasingly work with clients on mobile solutions, I rationalize this decision as a "future proofing" of this critical device for the next year. (My decision to move from AT&T to Verizon is more emotional than logical. I wish I had a third option, or more ideal, a "universal" iPad able to seamlessly shift between carriers. Verizon simply has been more honest and transparent with its pricing policies than AT&T. I choose to reward honesty with dollars which is the only way of expressing your relative satisfaction. Had AT&T honored its commitment to original iPhone and iPad owners with continued access to true unlimited data plans, I would continue my patronage.)

Speaking of the iPad2, it is still available and has been discounted $100. If price trumps all, consider buying an iPad2 at this new discounted rate. Even better, the secondary markets will be flooded with "gently used" iPad 2's as early adopters upgrade and sell their devices on Ebay, Craigslist, or through such online services as Gazelle. For a quick list of the new iPad's enhanced features click on this post. While I think the enhanced display and other improvements offer compelling reasons to upgrade or spend an additional $100, for many of you whose anticipated use makes a 16 Gigabyte wi-fi only, or even a wi-fi plus 3g, a compelling choice, the $399 base pricing now available for this model, may be a tipping point.

Hopefully, this article will assist you in making the proper purchase choice (and save you a few dollars in the process)! If  you have saved a few dollars be sure to pick up the new iPhoto, updated Garageband, and iMovie Apps! ($4.99/App; free upgrades). These Apple iOS Apps are available today and have been optimized for the new iPads improved graphics. Even if you aren't a rock star, this century's Cecil B. DiMille or Ansel Adams, these apps are inspirational and fun. (And if you are a pro content creator, you will be surprised how productive these iOS Apps can make you.)

Enjoy! If you find this post of interest, please share through Google+, Twitter and Facebook! We welcome your comments  below! We welcome your comments (which you can provide via the comment form below).

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Companies:   Apple

I have a long position in $AAPL

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