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Should you pre-order an iPad?

Apple's device is available for orders Friday. How to weigh early adoption.

By Karen Datko Mar 11, 2010 11:47AM

This Deal of the Day comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner site SmartMoney.


Owning a cutting-edge gadget has a certain cool factor, but early adopters rarely get a great deal. Some observers say Apple’s new iPad, available to pre-order Friday for an April 3 release, isn’t likely to be an exception -- though there will probably be no shortage of shoppers wanting to go first.


“Most people are better off waiting for the technology to mature,” says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, a San Jose, Calif.-based technology research firm. First versions of emerging technology are at premium prices and riddled with glitches. “Even the first iPhone owners were pretty unhappy.”


Apple, which did not respond to requests for comment, charges $499 for a 16GB version of the touchscreen tablet with Wi-Fi; 32GB and 64GB go for $599 and $699, respectively. (Later this spring, the company plans to offer iPad models with both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity for $629, $729 and $829.)

If the prices don’t spook you, and you're still determined to own, you might consider pre-ordering, since demand for popular new gadgets tends to eclipse availability. When Barnes & Noble moved to introduce its Nook reader in late 2009, for example, so many consumers tried to buy, the company had to push back shipments by up to two months and ended up offering a $100 store gift card to consumers who were promised delivery by Christmas Eve. Shoppers who order close to the April 3 launch may have to wait.


Not completely sold on the need for instant iPad gratification? Hold off. Some of the difficulties with early adoption are likely to disappear within a few months. Consider these five reasons to wait:


Price drops. Putting off your purchase a few months could cut your bill substantially. When Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, it slashed the 8GB version’s $599 price tag to $399 just 10 weeks later. (Outraged early adopters received a $100 credit.) That swift of a drop on the iPad is unlikely, but the price could come down in as few as six months, says Michael Carnell, the founder of Charleston, S.C., information technology firm Palmettobug Digital. “The run-of-the-mill consumer can wait that long,” he says.


In particular, consumers could see prices drop on the Wi-Fi/3G version. “The extra charge for 3G in the device doesn’t make much sense,” Enderle says. Apple stands to profit from the $15 to $30 monthly 3G subscriptions.


Bugs. “This is version one -- there’s a lot that has to be worked out,” says Aaron Ray-Crichton, an independent technology consultant and founder of ARC Systems Consulting in Brooklyn, N.Y. Apple originally anticipated an iPad release in late March, and analyst reports have pointed to possible production problems.


App availability. Currently, the iPad has very few apps of its own. Most are iPhone apps, Carnell says. Displayed on a 9.7-inch screen instead of a 3.5-inch one, they may appear too jagged and low resolution to be useful, he says. If you’re looking at the iPad for the apps, hold off a month or two until developers can catch up.


Connectivity. A Wi-Fi-only device is fine if you plan to use it at home or other areas with Wi-Fi hotspots. But 3G connectivity -- available in iPad models set to launch later this spring -- is basic for consumers who want their iPad to work while traveling in the car or in other locations where Wi-Fi is scarce. “Otherwise, you’re going to have limited access to that rich Internet content,” Ray-Crichton says. The cost of a 3G subscription will set you back an extra $180 to $360 a year. Given that cost, an iPhone may be a more cost-effective choice for some users, he says.


Competition. It’s still unclear exactly what the iPad will do best, Enderle says. Competing devices slated for release may be better choices, depending on what you would use the iPad for. Shoppers looking for an e-reader may want to wait for Amazon’s expected Kindle 3, while Dell’s Streak tablet offers more computing power, he says. Another soon-to-be-released contender, Notion Ink’s Adam, “is probably closer to what the second-generation iPad will be than what the iPad currently is,” he says.


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