Why You Shouldn't Buy an iPad (Yet)

Apple's iPad arrives in stores tomorrow and reviewers agree that it's a magic revolutionary new class of computer. But you shouldn't buy one. Not yet, anyway.

Let's break this down.

First-generation Apple products are for suckers. Only lemmings with no self-control and excessive disposable income buy first generation Apple products, especially in a new gadget category. When they do, they pay the double the price for immature hardware and software.

Remember the iPhone? It debuted in 2007 with two models priced at $500 and $600, with no native applications—only mobile Web apps, few of which came in an iPhone-friendly format at launch because it was such a new device. A year later, in 2008, a faster iPhone 3G went on sale for $300 less, with native application support. At the time, there weren't very many native applications because it was a brand new application platform. Finally, last summer, the iPhone 3GS—a beefy, snappy phone for the same price as the 3G—actually ran a huge catalog of native apps a few versions old at a reasonable speed. The 3G is now on sale for a measly $100, one fifth of the price of the first generation's cheapest model.

Don't be the guy who bought the first-gen iPad when Apple slashes the 2011 iPad price in half.

Next year's iPad will be faster, cheaper, less buggy, and have better apps and worthy competitors. Let all the deep-pocketed Jobs apostles be your canaries into the iPad coalmine. Give developers time to fix their apps to work well on the iPad. Give Apple a year to lower prices on faster hardware and fill in all the gaping feature holes. (Remember how long early iPhone owners lived without copy and paste?)

While the Apple faithful could argue that the iPad's application platform matured during three years of deployment on the iPhone and iPod touch, keep in mind: iPad developers have been working on their software not with an actual iPad, but with a software simulator. You can't truly see how your application works in a simulator. The great iPad apps haven't grown up yet—and most of them haven't even been born.

iPad reviewer Xeni Jardin writes:

Maybe the most exciting thing about iPad is the apps that aren't here yet. The book-film-game hybrid someone will bust out in a year, redefining the experience of each, and suggesting some new nouns and verbs in the process. Or an augmented reality lens from NASA that lets you hold the thing up to the sky and pinpoint where the ISS is, next to what constellation, read the names and see the faces of the crew members, check how those fuel cells are holding up. I like [iPad] a lot. But it's the things I never knew it made possible — to be revealed or not in the coming months — that will determine whether I love it.

If you're interested in the iPad because of what it will be someday, put your $500 in an interest-bearing savings account between now and when the device (or a competitor's) realizes that potential. You'll get a better product for less dough.

The early adopter tax isn't the only cost of acquiring an unproven device.

You don't know if you need an iPad yet. If you've already got a smartphone and a laptop, the gap in your workflow that the iPad might fill isn't obvious, and discerning consumers only absorb gadgets that fulfill a need. Plenty of geeks across the Internet have described how the iPad is an expensive, closed platform with too many missing features. I'm opting for simple common sense: new gadget acquisitions come with hidden costs. Only buy devices whose benefits you know outweigh those costs.

New gadgets create friction in your life. Every new gadget you acquire is another screen to pay attention to, another battery to charge, another device to sync, secure, weigh down your bag, and buy accessories for; it's another shiny thing to worry about losing, getting stolen, scratched, dropped, and serviced. If the iPad doesn't fill an obvious need in your work or home life right now, pass.

At least for now.

In one year the iPad will be a much better device, and an entire ecosystem of competitors will offer you more choice and features for your money. When the heat of the iPad launchlust cools, and you've still got your 500 bucks in the bank, you'll be glad you stayed out of the Apple store this weekend.

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