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Two Years with the iPad: Was It Worth It?

Tomorrow, thousands of people are going to head out to Apple stores to pick up a shiny new iPad, or wait eagerly for delivery of the latest tablet from Apple. While the attention is on the new iPad, though, what about the original device that helped propel Apple past Microsoft as the world’s most valuable tech company? Two years later, did the early adopters get their money’s worth?

OK, technically it’s not quite two years. The first iPad went on pre-order on March 12, and users got hands-on with the iPad on April 3rd, 2010. But, for my purposes, the additional couple of weeks isn’t going to actually make a substantial difference.

Living Up to Expectations

To say I was excited about getting the iPad would be an understatement. It’s easy to be jaded about tablets now, but the iPad really seemed like the realization of tech Sci-Fi fans had been fantasizing about for decades. Whether it’s Star Trek’s PADD or Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide, a sleek tablet with (essentially) all the information at your fingertips has been dreamed about for years. The iPad was the first product to realize the dream.

To Apple’s credit, it took a while for the excitement to wear off. I can honestly say that I never really felt disappointed in the iPad, but it also became apparent that its impact on my computing habits were less drastic than I’d hoped.


Most of my iPad usage is read-only. That is, I use Reeder extensively to skim RSS/Atom feeds. I browse the Web anywhere in the house. I play games, read eBooks and watch movies. But for creating content? Not so much.

As RWW founder Richard MacManus wrote last year in his conclusion, the iPad “really is about consumption.” I’m sad to say, that’s truer than it should be – though Apple’s emphasis on business and business apps coupled with more emphasis on iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand might help with this.

If I travel for vacation, with no plans to do any real writing or even heavy work correspondence, I feel like the iPad is sufficient. But if there’s real work to be done, the iPad is a little too limited. For instance, even with a Bluetooth keyboard, the ergonomics of using the iPad for writing just don’t work. (And try finding a good ergonomic Bluetooth keyboard…)

Apple has taken steps to make the iPad a fully realized computer rather than simply an accessory (such as removing the need to pair it with a computer running iTunes). However, it still feels like the iPad is not being allowed to live up to its full potential, lest it eat into Mac sales. More’s the pity, because even after two years, none of Apple’s competitors have really offered a viable competitor that can go toe-to-toe with the iPad.

The apps, on the other hand, have evolved pretty well in the two years since I first laid hands on the iPad. Folks lining up for the iPad were taking it on faith that the apps would come. On launch day, the iPad had about 3,000 apps available – which is a lot, but there were a lot of gaps.

Now you can find tens of thousands of apps, though you have to slog through a lot of crap to find the really good stuff. That’s true of software for any platform, though.

Would I Buy it Again?

The big question, and one that’s answered all too infrequently on tech sites, is “would you buy it again after actually using the device for years?” Reviewers usually spend days or weeks, maybe a month, with a device and then move on. The real test is whether you’d part with your own cash for the same brand. Has the company delivered sufficiently not only to recommend the device you’ve used, but the next model that they offer?

The answer to that, at least in my case, is yes. If I had it to do all over again, I’d still buy the original iPad. I did plunk down the cash for a new iPad, even though the original is still working just fine. One reason is that I wanted a faster model, but mostly I’ve been itching to get a model that isn’t Wi-Fi only.

Most of the time, I use the iPad at home where Wi-Fi is plentiful, reliable and (most importantly) unlimited or as close to it as needed. But the 10-20% of the time when I’m not at home, I’ve often regretted not having a iPad capable of having a data plan. Though I think that Apple is over-charging for the 3G/LTE functionality by a wide margin, over the life of the tablet it’s a worthwhile expense. So if you’re still on the fence about a new iPad, I’d suggest spending the money for the LTE model.

Where you could save some dough, though, is by buying one of the lower-end models instead of the 64GB iPad. At least for my use, the 64GB has only been necessary when I really load it up with music and movies for long trips. I suspect the 16GB models have ample storage for most users’ needs.

The reason 16GB should be enough for most users isn’t due to iCloud, it’s because the iPad still falls short of replacing the PC. There’s no need to store all of your data on the iPad, because as good as it is, it can’t replace a PC for many users. While I like, use and even recommend an iPad for many people, Apple hasn’t quite delivered on the promise of the “post-PC world” yet with the iPad. Maybe next year.

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