The countdown has started. The first of Apple's new iPads, a new media player/e-book reader/Internet device, should start hitting the store shelves in two to three weeks. The first models to ship will be the WiFi only model. The AT&T cellular network models won't be out until the end of April. The big question is - "Should I wait or go ahead and get the WiFi only model?"
During a press event held at the end of January, Apple CEO Steve Jobs stated that the new iPad would be available in three sizes: 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. There would be a WiFi only model and one with cellular access through AT&T, the provider for the iPhone. This means that there will be six models to choose from, two of each storage size, one with and one without cellular data access.
The new iPad has the same functionality as the iPod Touch, except that it won't quite fit in your pocket. It will play your music and video library and show off your digital photos. It has the Safari Web browser, Mail, Calendar, contacts, maps, notes and will run most of the over 140,000 Apps made for the iPhone/iPod Touch. Plus Apple has made special versions of their iWork applications for the iPad that takes advantage of the touch interface - iWork is Pages, Numbers and Keynote.
The iPad has an amazingly sharp and bright 9.7-inch LCD screen with LED backlighting. Just like the iPhone/Touch, this larger screen is touch sensitive. There is a non-removable battery, similar to the MacBooks, which is stated to last up to 10 hours. The iPad measures 9.56 by 7.47 inches and is only a half and inch thick. Weight is only 1.5 pounds.
Unlike the Touch, or iPhone, the iPad will be much more computer-like. Because the screen is much larger, the onscreen keyboard is near full size. There will also be a VGA adapter available allowing the iPad to connect to an external monitor. Apple has also shown other accessories, one of which is a nice dock/keyboard. This physical keyboard will give users a traditional input device.
The iPad has an accelerometer built-in that allows it to sense its orientation. If you turn it vertically it will automatically rotate the screen for you. If you bring up your iPhoto library as a slide show you can just flip it over, to show someone in front of you, and it will flip the screen right side up, all automatically. It is a very slick system.
The lowest priced model is the 16GB WiFi only iPad. Most of the media and press corps present at the unveiling were certain that the price would be close to $1000. Apple shocked them all when they revealed that pricing would start at $499.
This low-end iPad can do everything the others can it just has less storage. If you just need to casually surf, check email, play a few games, watch video online, all with a WiFi network then the $499 iPad will work just fine. Of course it does not allow you to access the Internet when you are away from your WiFi, or any WiFi, hotspot.
If you need more storage then buy that model. There is no way to increase storage once you have made your purchase, so choose the one you need. The 32GB iPad is $599 and the 64GB iPad is $699. According to WikiPedia.com, the Kindle DX, an E-Book reader from Amazon, has 4GB of storage and can hold approximately 3500 non-illustrated books. If your primary reason for getting an iPad is to read, then 16GB should be plenty.
If you need an iPad to do a bit more, then more storage may make more sense. If you have downloaded movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store, or if you plan to use the iPad more like a computer, then the 32 or 64GB model will be better. Remember that the iPad does dock and sync to your computer, Mac or Windows PC, so you can easily remove stuff off the iPad and replace it with new content, which could be audio, video, photos, E-books, or Apps.
The other thing to consider, and this could be tough for those who have that 'buy it now' gene, is whether to get one of the first iPads or wait until the cellular network models are available. By having access to the AT&T network you can essentially be on the Internet practically anywhere (at least where there is AT&T cellular coverage).
AT&T and Apple have corroborated to give iPad users a special deal. AT&T has a special data access plan just for the iPad. For $14.95 a month you get a data plan up to 250MB/month. For $29.95 a month you get an unlimited data plan (although not stated, this plan is likely to have a 5GB/month data limit). The big deal is that these plans are available without a contract. This allows you to pay-as-you-go. If you want to use if for four month, just pay for the four months and then cancel it. This low price and no contract is practically unheard of in this day and age.
The other big advantage with the cellular data iPad is GPS. This is only available in the cellular model and is actually called assisted GPS, or A-GPS. With A-GPS, a device can use a data network to get more information allowing it to calculate its position much faster. Unfortunately, this does add to the cost of the iPad. If you want the cellular data and GPS functions, add $130 to the cost of whichever sized WiFi only iPad you like.
No matter how you look at it, the iPad is going to change things for Apple and possibly the industry. Just like the iPod changed the music industry, the iPad has the possibility to drastically change how we read books/magazines/newspapers, watch TV and other videos, use the Internet, and even compute. Custom Apps for the iPad are sure to be available by the time it ships, and deals with publishers are in the works right now.
Will you get one of the first iPads, or will you have the willpower to wait for the one with cellular and GPS capabilities? With the data deal that AT&T has come up with, it makes sense to wait for the iPad with the extra features. It will be more versatile and more future-proof, since there is no way to upgrade an iPad after the purchase. The only problem is dealing with the knowledge that you have to wait a whole extra month after the WiFi only ones go on sale.
(On Friday, Apple officially announced the WiFi only iPad would be available starting April 3rd. You will be able to pre-order the WiFi only model starting March 12th. For more late breaking Mac news, info and tips, check out my Post-Journal Mac Blog at www.post-journal.com/page/blogs.list)