Like many others, I waited for Apple’s (s aapl) online store to open this morning. It’s iPad pre-order day, in case you missed it, and I purchased two. The 32 GB model is for my own use and review purposes, while my wife and stepdaughter will share a 16 GB version. Both devices are Wi-Fi models: We have Wi-Fi here at home and I pay for a Boingo Wi-Fi account, plus a 3G MiFi device to use on the road. With the MiFi, I can share 3G with multiple iPads, netbooks and notebooks over Wi-Fi.
While many folks are ordering, some are indecisive on the connectivity options because they’re unsure of how the 3G service is going to work. Typically a 3G plan requires a long-term commitment, but not so with the iPad. Now that Apple has laid out the details of the 3G service, they’re worth closer inspection. From what I can see, this is mobile broadband done right.
Right off the bat, you won’t need to sign up for a 2-year contract to use 3G on the iPad. That’s a huge selling point right there — in fact, I expect many to splurge the extra $130 for the 3G option. Why not plan ahead and pay for the ability to use 3G on an as-needed basis? Again, I’m totally covered with my other plans and devices, but if I weren’t, I would have gone with the 3G option. Contract-free is generally more favorable than a lock-in. Mobile technology is changing far too fast for the standard 2-year contracts. It’s for this reason that I paid full price for my Google Nexus One (s goog) handset: I have the freedom to change phones — and service providers — whenever I want to.
The iPad’s 3G monthly plan pricing is another draw. Through AT&T (s t), you can opt for a 250 MB plan at $14.99 or unlimited data usage for $29.99. While it’s not a true apples-to-apples comparison, these same plans for a laptop 3G data connection are currently $35 for 200 MB and $60 for 5 GB through AT&T. The unlimited smartphone data plan — like the one used for Apple’s iPhone — is the same $29.99 as for the iPad.
But some may only need 250 MB per month, so saving $10 $15 is a nice option and one that’s not available with today’s smartphones. On a related note, we’re running a poll on how much 3G throughput folks are using with their smartphones. As of this writing, 26 percent of the respondents use 200 MB or less, so it’s possible that 250 MB could be enough. On the other hand, smartphone data usage is typically less than on other devices due to the smaller display and “bite-sized chunks” of web usage. With its larger display, the iPad could be used more than a smartphone, with a usage pattern more akin to a data-hungry notebook. And here’s where Apple is doing mobile broadband smartly.
Turn it on or off with metered mobile broadband
The 3G service can be activated or canceled right on the device. No need to find an AT&T store, hit an Apple retail location or make any phone calls — you simply make the transaction on the device. Not only that, but Apple includes a metering system so you know how much data you’ve used during the service month. That’s handy for those trying to stay under that 250 MB limit. And there’s no need to keep checking how much data you’ve used on the iPad — the device will alert you when you approach 20 percent, 10 percent or zero of the 250 MB plan. Each alert allows you to bump up to the unlimited plan or kick off another month of 250 MB service. That could get dicey if you play the 250 MB game — eating through that data in two weeks, for example and grabbing another 250 MB essentially cuts your first month short in terms of time, i.e.: you would have been better off with the unlimited plan at the same price. Regardless, the approach provides options and looks easy to manage right on the device.
No service change fees?
It’s still unclear if AT&T will charge any fees to change or cancel the plan. Apple doesn’t mention this on the iPad product page, but it’s standard for AT&T to charge a fee around $36 to activate a 3G device. I don’t think it’s going to apply here, though. For starters, I’d like to think that Apple would outline that in the details and there’s no mention of it. And that type of fee would add a usage barrier that I wouldn’t want to see if I were Apple. We’ll know for sure next month when the first iPad 3G models hit, but I don’t expect to see any type of charge for 3G service changes. It would defeat the entire “breakthrough deal with AT&T” that Apple negotiated for the iPad and mar this mobile-broadband-done-right approach.
Images courtesy of Apple
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