To 3G or not to 3G? Apple’s cooler iPad

As always I preview my blog with the highlights for readers who think the end of the journey is always better than enjoying the view of the road:

If you’re going to buy an iPad, buy the 3G model. No matter how convincing your rationalizations to the contrary:

  • Sooner or later your wireless connection will fail
  • You will regret cost cutting, especially when you buy a second iPad to correct the mistake
  • Apple will make sure you will never find a third party work around for a 3G connection
  • If you want to save money, disable 3G when wireless is available

In addition I introduce readers to a precautionary tale, once again criticize Apple for their dual-release strategy, explain the cause-effect relationship between the presence of cats and a sore ass, introduce the concept of cyber-hell, describe how years of college teaching can condition you to be insensitive to your loving wife, relate the joy of reading a new product announcement followed immediately by the disappointment of reading the fine print, and bring up a few additional players in the ongoing drama of Siamese Rescue. Not human players, mind you, we merely wait in the wings to clean up after the drama unfolds.

I also make three blatant product promotion references to Siamese Rescue. Oh, wait, now it’s four blatant references.

How it’s possible to lose money by saving money

If you haven’t already bought your iPad then you’re going to be faced with a big decision: should you spring for the extra $150 (plus monthly service charges) to add 3G capabilities?

For many buyers this is a no-brainer. Buy the 3G. Those buyers who are on the fence are probably on the fence for one reason, the money.

Undoubtedly money will influence other choices as well. For instance, should you buy 16, 32, or 64 GB of storage capacity? Should you buy a case? Should you buy new headphones and should they be Bluetooth? Should you add on the dock keyboard, the Bluetooth keyboard (or, if you have wads of disposable income, both)? And these are all important questions because you could walk into the Apple Store intending to spend a reasonable $500 and walk out owing your soul to your credit card company and AT&T until your grandchildren watch their grandchildren graduate from college.

Consider yourself fortunate. At least you have the choice. For six weeks Apple shamelessly denied iPad purchasers the option of adding 3G to their devices. Why? Because they knew that half of their first adopters would realize they shouldn’t have been so damned impatient to buy their iPads when they should have held out for the 3G. And those buyers would be back.

Shame on you Apple. Shame on you. We all know this is your game. Release the crippled, high priced model and then release the more elegant, more powerful and cheaper version six months later. But six weeks? Trust me, you have already earned a reservation in cyber-hell unless you repent and never, ever do it again.

Yes, Steve, there is a cyber-hell whether you believe it or not. It waits for developers who prey on the weaknesses of loyal consumers. It lurks at the terminal end of an abandoned trunk line somewhere in Anahuac, Texas where the oil bubbles up through the ground and water table to coat fiber optics cables with a residue so thick you can no longer tell ones from zeros and bandwidth is somewhere around .00012 baud.

And just to be sure you’ve earned forgiveness, you might want to refund the money for my wireless iPad that I bought because I was too weak-willed to wait.

If you are a buyer who is on the fence about the 3G option, let me make the following recommendation. Spend the money. Give up the extra storage space if you have to, or sell your second child. Trust me, the day will come when you’ll regret not adding 3G. The only scenario I can imagine where you wouldn’t would be that your life is so disconnected from the world of wireless computing that you still have a cell phone that only makes phone calls and you’re happy with basic cable.

Sooner or later your wireless connection will fail

Consider the following precautionary tale. I left the house to write a proposal on my new wireless only iPad at Starbucks. The proposal was under deadline and I couldn’t get any work done because Jenny Manytoes and Teddy Bear were engaged in a territory war over my lap with our most recent foster, a rag doll named Zorro.1

Zorro is a sweet but insecure cat who came to us from a single family home. He doesn’t understand that, long before her arrived, Jenny and Teddy spent more than a year working out a schedule for sharing my lap. He just understands that 1) my lap is the closest thing he knows to his previous owner’s lap and 2) the other cats look really menacing. Jenny and Teddy only know that yet another interloper has challenged them for the alpha spot.

Any one with more than one cat can easily imagine the resulting scenario. Zorro was cuddled underneath my lap desk while I typed the proposal on my iPad. Jenny and Teddy approached my lap from opposite sides, Zorro began a low moan that turned into a sound that resembled approaching zombies. Our long haired flame point Ari leapt on the bed to arbitrate because that is his role in the family. Diana, an oriental shorthair, sensed trouble and jumped to the dresser, knocking a dozen DVD cases into the litter box (which, by the way, Carol hadn’t had the time to clean). The sound of clattering cases proves to be the equivalent of a kitty starter gun.

Before I could remove myself from the situation the room filled with the sound of a dozen snarling buzz saws, my coffee cup tumbled off my lap desk and my coffee escaped from the mug to fill the air with freeform fractal droplets. I jumped from the bed with my iPad over my head to protect it from the flying fractals of coffee at which point I stepped onto the mug which scooted out from under my feet causing me to fall backwards onto my ass and almost drop my iPad, which, fortunately, I protected from falls (if not from hot tumbling liquid) by purchasing the Apple iPad case.

As I sat in the middle of a puddle of coffee, surrounded by cats with their tails pointing straight to the ceiling, Carol said, “I’m sure glad I ripped the carpet up. It will be much easier to clean the coffee off the floor.” She didn’t bother to look up from her book because she would have seen nothing she hadn’t seen many times in different variations before.

“Yes,” my aching tailbone said. “Remind me to thank you for that.”

So I drove to the Starbucks down the block to work in relative peace and quiet and I finished the proposal with two minutes to go before the submission deadline. I logged on to post the proposal and couldn’t get a connection. “Excuse me,” I said to the barrista (never mind what I was saying under my breath to myself), “the wireless connection seems to be down.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “We don’t have anything to do with that.”

Now I really won’t repeat what I was saying under my breath to myself and fortunately didn’t say to her. It was too late, the deadline passed, someone else got the contract.

In that moment I realized I should have waited for the 3G iPad. Which brings me to my point, which I believe I’ve already stated. Sooner or later your wireless connection will fail. In that moment, and believe me it won’t be the only one, you will wish you bought a 3G iPad too.

Don’t rationalize the expense. You’ll live to regret it.

Carol and I came to this conclusion a long time ago: If you have a choice between the cheaper version and the better version, you will always regret not buying the better one to start with (unless the difference is purely cosmetic). Inevitably you will have to spend more money because the cheaper product was cheaper for a reason. That reason is that manufacturers would rather you buy three of the cheaper product that costs half as much as the better product. If they make it cheap enough, you may buy four of the half-price products.

A good pair of shoes will last longer than ten pairs from Walmart. A new car will require fewer repairs over it’s life than a used car. After you upgrade your 60 GB hard drive to a 100 GB drive to a 250 GB to 375GB, 500 GB and 750 GB drives, you will have spent four times as much as you would have buying a terabyte drive.

Knowing that, Carol and I still debated whether or not to go wireless or waiting for a wireless/3G. We have iPhones, we finally decided, why would we need 3G account and the additional expense involved? We can still do everything on the iPhone that we would do with the iPad 3G.

Except we couldn’t. Not really. You see, Steve Jobs knew that once we downloaded email on our iPad we would never, ever, never ever want to read email on an iPhone again. And once we surfed the web on an iPad we would only surf the web on an iPhone even if the iPad was dead or being used by someone else and someone in the family might die if we didn’t go ahead and access our accounts on the iPhone.

Steve Jobs did something to the iPad that makes it rewire your brain the minute you use it. It’s like digital crack. And when your wireless connection is down you find yourself jonesing for your connection with no iPad twelve-step program for support.

Part of the rationalization to buy cheaper process includes what I call the “technological patch” argument. We all know it. BP had one of those when they decided to take the cheap route on their Gulf Coast oil rigs (“if we spring a leak, we can plug it”). We take the patch phase for granted because we grew up watching Star Trek (“Don’t worry Captain, we’ll just invent a widget for the phase capacitors and the universe will stop bleeding time”). Of course, the BP execs, being British, didn’t get that attitude from Star Trek, they got it watching Doctor Who (“just a twist of the old sonic screwdriver, Sarah Jane, and the two universes won’t collide”).

Don’t kid yourselves. Apple will make sure the only way you can get a 3G connection on your iPad is to buy a 3G iPad.

No, seriously. There will be no patch or work around.

I didn’t feel so bad that I settled for the wireless iPad when I found an interesting post on the web about tethering my iPad to a cellular connection through my iPhone. I thought, no way. Apple would never let us make that kind of hack on our iPhones.

At the very moment I was reading that post, Carol, who was reading an Apple product announcement, asked me, “What’s tethering?”

Even though I was reading the tethering post, my old brain–the college teacher’s brain fossilized by years of answering less than stellar questions and conditioned by the need to remind students you are the enlightened one and not them–short circuited the discussion and I said, “You should know that. It’s connecting two things with a rope or line.”

Carol took a moment to stare at me as though I were the biggest asshole in the world, with some small justification, and then explained, patiently, as though to a college student, “I meant wireless tethering.”

My years of training as a college teacher had conditioned me to make an emotionless transition and to roll my eyes and present the appearance of a wise, but patient mentor who’d known what she was referring to all along. I explained, “when you use the Bluetooth connection on your cell phone to act as your wireless server for your laptop.”

Carol then said, “Then you’ll love this. Steve Jobs just announced that the new iPhones will tether to other devices. We don’t need a 3G iPad after all.”

Joy of joys, I thought to myself. We were going to upgrade our iPhones in the fall anyway. So I went to the article Carol mentioned and read all the way to the bottom where I noticed the gotcha. Jobs added that the iPhone would tether to every possible device in the known universe except…can you guess?…the iPad.

So if you’re trying to rationalize the decision to bypass the the 3G iPad and settle for the wireless because there might be some kind of 3G adapter in the future, forget it. Jobs will never let that happen until he knows there will be millions it for Apple. And right now he’s banking on the fact that you will cheap out now, discover how much you need 3G, and return for a second 3G iPad (which could explain why they’re backordered for up to a week).

Let the suspense end. We bought the damn thing.

I’m sure most of you already guessed the ending to my precautionary tale. After many negotiations over who would get the new 3G iPad and who would use the old one, Carol and I ordered a second 3G iPad. I just have to let her use the 3G when we can’t get a wireless connection for hers (the two month old hand-me-down iPad).

I think she was really reticent because she couldn’t believe how useful she would find the iPad. After all, she kept her laptop right beside her at all times. How often would she really use it?

Almost as often as me. She loves it. So do Paris and Leaf, her dedicated lap cats. Leaf, by the way, is available for adoption from Siamese Rescue.

Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

I know this is what some of you are thinking. You’re also thinking, “Didn’t you write that you emptied your bank account downloading gaming apps?” If you’re thinking this, I’m grateful you’re actually reading my blog.

Yes, we’re broke. But, fortunately, Carol knew I would be begging her for a 3G iPad the day I came home grousing about how the Starbucks connection went down. And the day after that and the day after that until the good folks at our neighborhood Starbucks realized that what I had been saying all week was right. They could pick up a phone and call someone to fix it.

So Carol wisely moved the money to an account I never knew we had because, it turns out, this isn’t the first time I would have spent us into the poorhouse. And the good news is, we have two iPads and we aren’t broke after all. And furthermore she says there’s no way in hell she will give me access to that other account.

With some relief, therefore, our precautionary tale came to an end and so far we’ve lived happily ever after. Except now we pay an additional monthly service charge, which is another thing you will need to consider when buying a 3G iPad.

Go ahead and rationalize the cheapest service plan.

AT&T does offer two service plans, $15 a month for 250 MB of 3G data downloads and $25 for 2GB. They offered unlimited service for about two weeks and backed out of that right away. Now it might make sense to pay the 2GB and not have to worry about rationing yourself, but but the difference is only slightly less than two hundred dollars a year. That’s more than the bump in the price to add 3G to your iPad to start with,

On the other hand, you might be surprised to realize how little data can be pushed with a 250 MB limit. Remember that limit includes every email, attachment, text message and video on a web site you might not want your wife to see.2 Those bytes add up fast.

Fortunately, you can sign in at the lower rate and upgrade if you need to. If you have a wireless connection at home, you should be able to limit the amount of 3G access you need. To insure you limit your 3G data usage there is another neat trick I learned:

Turn off the cellular connection when you have a wireless connection.

When you have access to a wireless connection, you can disable the 3G in your iPad’s settings app. Look for the cellular data option and set it to off. This will prevent your iPad from using 3G when you don’t need it.

When you’re on the road, however, your passenger can switch 3G back on to check email or use Maps or a GPS app. I stress “your passenger” because you should never, under any circumstances, look at your iPad while driving. This may seem obvious but years of college teaching have taught me that the obvious is rarely obvious to anyone but you.

Should you buy a 3G iPad? In my opinion, if you intend to buy an iPad make it 3G. It’s much cheaper than buying a second iPad when you realize the decision to go without it was completely shortsighted.

PS: There is another option but I hesitate to recommend it

Some buyers may not actually be interested in using 3G, they just want it as a status thing. Much better to have the coolest toy than the second coolest toy. And here’s where Apple did you a favor. Most companies make sure the cooler model looks cooler. But when you put the iPad and 3G iPad side-by-side it’s hard to tell the difference.

For some reason, the cooler iPad looks just like the iPad

Why is this important? Because if you’re just in it for the status, buy the cheaper iPad and no one will know the difference. Even if someone says, “Show me how the cellular connection works,” it won’t matter. If you’re near a wireless server, just show them a web site. If you’re not, pretend to look a site up and say, “We must be out of the service area. I turned roaming off to keep the charges down.”

They might know you’re lying if they looked in your settings, but if you bought an iPad for the status you wouldn’t want anyone to actually touch your iPad anyway. Even you. It’s just for demonstration purposes.

Yours would be the only situation where I would recommend against the iPad 3G.


1Non-siamese people, and I include many cat people here, have no idea just how many Siamese variations there are. Most people assume there is only one–wedge face with brown nose, ears and paws. As far as the siamese purists are concerned, that is the only type. But for more democratic siamese lovers there are wedge head, apple head, snow shoe, rag doll, Balinese, Himalayan, flame point, blue point, lynx point and even oriental short hair. The Balinese and Himalayans are actually pure bred species, but the rest are all somewhere between siamese and mutt. If you want to know the difference, contact someone from Siamese Rescue and they will be so glad to help you you’ll probably end up adopting one yourself.back
2Oh wait, those sites usually use Flash embedded video. Or so I’m told. So your iPad will be guaranteed to be prudish and pure.back

Jenny rates the iPad 3G

Jenny Manytoes bristles her tail when she thinks how shameless it was for Jobs to market the iPad for six weeks with no 3G option, but as soon as she sees my 3G iPad tucked away in its case because I know what she’s about to do, she walks over and makes biscuits on the cover.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System


Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad
iPad Envy.

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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 5 Stars - Biscuits, iPad and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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