10 Reasons Why Apple's iPad 3G Isn't Worth the Extra Money

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2010-05-04

10 Reasons Why Apple's iPad 3G Isn't Worth the Extra Money

Apple's iPad 3G is now officially available to U.S.-based customers. The device boasts all the same features as the WiFi-only iPad, but with the major addition of 3G, which will allow users to connect to the Web when they're away from a wireless hot spot but within range of AT&T's 3G network.

So far, the iPad has been a success. According to Apple, it has sold more than 1 million iPad units since the tablet launched at the beginning of April. And by the looks of things, that success will continue as more users find reasons to buy a tablet rather than a notebook or netbook.

But deciding which tablet they should buy may be difficult. Although the iPad 3G seems like a better option for most folks, it might not be. After all, the newly released tablet is expensive and, for many users, the ability to connect to the Web at home is all they really want.

Besides that, there are other options making their way to the market that might satisfy consumer desire more effectively than Apple's tablet. At this point, we don't know what these options will be. But one thing we do know is that Apple's iPad 3G might not be the best option for most users. It's certainly nice to be able to connect to the Web away from home, but in the end, adding 3G connectivity isn't as decisive as some thought it would be.

Here's why:

1. The iPad with WiFi is just fine

When owning Apple products, most consumers should want to have every option available to them. After all, it's possible that when future iterations of iPhone OS or new versions of applications arrive, owners of the more capable iPad model will benefit most. But that might not happen. Currently, Apple seems intent on supporting both iPad versions equally. Plus, the WiFi works beautifully on the cheaper iPad version. And for most users, living with just WiFi connectivity hasn't proven to be an issue. The option to connect to 3G might appeal to some, but in the end, those same folks might quickly realize that the WiFi model does the job.

2. It's expensive

The iPad is not a cheap device. Consider that there are currently dozens of netbooks on store shelves that offer more functionality than the iPad but at lower prices, and it quickly becomes clear that Apple's tablet is a luxury product. Realizing that, should consumers really pay a $130 premium just to have the ability to connect to AT&T's 3G network? If so, then they should also remember that to connect to 3G, they will also need to pay between $15 and $30 per month depending on usage. If they opt for the cheapest iPad 3G model for $629 and get the cheapest data package, they will still pay more than $800 for the iPad 3G in the first year of ownership alone. Yikes.

3. Do you really want to pay extra money every month?

Speaking of that, consumers must ask themselves if they really would like to pay an additional $15 to $30 just to access AT&T's 3G network every month. Apple has marketed the iPad 3G as the device that will give consumers and enterprise users the options they really desire. But once they find out that they will need to pay a relatively substantial sum just to connect to the Web when away from WiFi, it could prove to be more trouble than it's worth. Luckily, AT&T doesn't force iPad customers into a contract, so they can opt to stop paying for 3G access at any time. But at that point, the iPad 3G is little more than a WiFi-only model.

4. The 3G can't match WiFi

As anyone who has used AT&T's 3G network knows, accessing the Web through the service can't compare on any level with a solid WiFi connection. In my experience with AT&T 3G, I've found that connecting to the Web can be agonizingly slow. And compared with WiFi, it's no contest. Granted, the 3G will provide users with access to the Web in places where WiFi isn't available, but its usefulness can be called into question. For most, 3G will be used as a last option, rather than the desired connection.

More Options Come to Those Who Wait

5. It's AT&T's network

When it comes to 3G, finding the best network can be difficult. Depending on the source, some say AT&T's network is best, while others claim Verizon's takes the crown. In any case, consumers might find it hard to accept that to connect to a 3G network, they will need to work with AT&T. Apple's longstanding relationship with AT&T has been rocky. But AT&T's relationship with consumers has been even shakier. Like other carriers, AT&T has trouble appealing to consumers. And in the process, it, like its competitors, faces continued criticism over its practices. In some cases, those criticisms aren't fair. In others, they are. But if nothing else, some folks won't want to pay extra for an iPad 3G simply because AT&T is operating the network.

6. Video quality over 3G

Video quality on 3G is abysmal compared with video on WiFi. To some extent, that can be expected, since 3G speeds can't match WiFi. But that still doesn't make it any more appealing. That said, there are times with lower-quality videos that the experience actually matches WiFi. But as someone who actively seeks out higher-definition video, watching video over 3G is frustrating most of the time. I don't think I'm alone. Although some video is better than no video, most folks won't like that the iPad's big, lush screen can only be appreciated with WiFi connectivity.

7. AT&T's 3G isn't ubiquitous either

A reason commonly given for buying the iPad 3G is that AT&T's 3G network is available where WiFi isn't. People argue that because WiFi isn't ubiquitous, having the option of connecting to AT&T's network is welcome. Unfortunately, the same folks fail to mention that AT&T's 3G network isn't even close to ubiquitous either. In fact, many customers are still attempting to access the Web via the company's EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) network. Although 3G is more readily available than WiFi in many metro areas, several suburbs and rural areas across the United States are still lacking that connectivity. In other words, spending that extra money on a 3G model might not even make sense for a large portion of Apple's customer base.

8. There are alternatives

It's important for consumers and enterprise customers to remember that there are other options on the market besides the iPad 3G, if they want to be able to connect to the Web while on the go. Currently, users can walk into any carrier's store and pick up a relatively cheap netbook that comes with the ability to connect to the company's 3G network. The overall price in the first year for such a device could be cheaper. Even the iPhone is a fine alternative to the iPad, if folks want more functionality than Web surfing and checking e-mail. Simply put, the iPad 3G isn't the only way to connect to the Web when away from WiFi.

9. There are more tablets coming

There are other alternatives coming to stores in the coming months, like (perhaps) the HP Slate, which could make consumers think twice about the iPad. That could prove troublesome for Apple. Right now, the iPad is the only big player in the tablet game. But in the coming months, there will be several similar devices for customers to choose from. Some won't match the iPad, while some might have a chance to steal some market share away. And now that Apple has tipped its hand, it's entirely possible that those alternatives will also be more affordable. Given the competition, spending all that money an iPad 3G might not be the best option right now.

10. The apps still work

There's no debating that the iPad 3G will offer a richer experience with applications from Apple's App Store. But that doesn't mean that the experience is worth an additional $130, plus the fee for connecting to AT&T's network. I have used several applications on my iPad with just WiFi connectivity and never once felt that I was missing out. That doesn't mean that I won't feel like I'm missing out at a later date, but so far, none of the applications in the App Store are so necessary as to make customers feel required to pay an additional $130 for the more capable version of the tablet.

The iPad 3G is a fine device. But due to its higher price, it doesn't seem like the ideal device to buy right now.

Rocket Fuel