I don’t have an iPad. When I heard that Apple would be announcing a new iPad today, I figured I’d probably get one. The time had come, I can afford it, and it would be nice, I decided, to have something that was a bridge between my iPhone and my MacBook Pro.
But in the last few days, my commitment wavered. And after today’s announcement — despite the OMG AMAZING RETINA DISPLAY — I’ve decided I still don’t want one. More important, I still don’t need one — even though Apple sold more iPads in the last quarter (15.5 million) than any PC maker. Apple’s been pushing the idea for years that we’re moving towards the “post-PC”, aka tablet, era — which “we” may be. I’m just not there yet.
I have a relatively practical position towards gadgets and technology: if there’s something that will make my life demonstrably better, and I can afford it, then I buy it. So I got an iPhone in August 2008 when I felt like I couldn’t go another second without a smartphone; I got a Kindle when I got sick of lugging books on the subway; I got a dongle when I realized I could hook my computer up to my TV. (Also, it was $5.) But I haven’t figured out a really compelling reason to get an iPad yet, other than that they’re cool! And fun! And pretty! Which are great attributes, but not things I feel like I need to spend $499 on.
And that’s the crux of it: The iPad has yet to cross over from something I want to something I need. The new display is nice, sure, but it’s not the thing that’s going to make people like me buy the iPad — we’re thinking more about what we can do on the iPad.
I wondered whether people like me felt the same way, so I did an informal survey of some of my female friends who are all in their early 30s, have jobs in media, and could afford one if they wanted one. Also, we all have iPhones; several of us have Kindles. We don’t hate technology, or America, or Apple. But the general consensus was that we mostly don’t need one — and those of us that do have them use them relatively infrequently.
“I feel like my phone serves all my needs,” said one friend. “I don't really feel any need to get one except for flights.”
And many of my friends felt similarly. The major reasons I heard over and over again were that people who have iPhones feel like their phones do everything they would need to do on an iPad, the reading experience isn’t as good on the iPad as it is on the Kindle, and if people want to watch movies or TV shows in bed they can just use their laptops.
“I love it when someone I know has an iPad I can play with, but I just do everything on my phone and it works fine,” said another. “The iPad's good for online shopping, though -- easier to fill in all the fields than with my fat fingers on the phone.” (Note: She doesn’t really have fat fingers.)
“My Kindle is better for reading long stuff — there are no emails popping up in the middle,” says another friend. Plus, “I think I’d only feel like I needed one maybe like, if they stopped printing magazines? I was thinking this morning that's the only experience I really feel like I'm missing on it. Like if there was something that it did better than anything, that I couldn't get anywhere else.”
One friend who has an iPad — and a Kindle and a MacBook Air — said she used her iPad all the time until a couple weeks ago, when she got her first iPhone (she had been a Blackberry user). “My main use for the iPad was reading news, Twitter and various publications via the Pulse app in the morning before work,” she said. “The iPad was good for that and could easily move with me around my apartment as I ate breakfast, got ready, etc. But in the weeks since i got my iPhone, i don't think i've touched my iPad.”
Even my most enthusiastic iPad user friend — “My laptop is sort of ignored these days — I like that it’s a laptop I can carry in my ladybag,” she said — admitted that she’s going to get a Kindle for reading. “The iPad sucks on the beach — too much glare!”
And a third friend with an iPad said that if it wasn’t for her job, which requires a lot of traveling, she probably wouldn’t have gotten one. “It's the easiest thing to shlep on a plane to catch up on TV shows/movies, and I have Netflix and HuluPlus for that, too. I also use it for work while I'm traveling because my iPhone is impossible for looking at layouts/reading random periodicals,” she said. “The problem is when I know I have a lot of work to do, I have to shelp my computer AND the iPad because it's impossible to really type on, and I've been considering getting a MacBook Air so I can use my travel time for personal writing. In that case the iPad will probably be obsolete.”
That’s not to say, of course, that the new iPad isn’t going to be a runaway success. It almost definitely will be. But until it moves into the “need” category — and part of this undoubtedly also has to do with how much it costs; even though I technically can afford it, I also don’t have so much disposable income that buying it would be like buying, oh, say, a Kindle — it’ll be tough for me to justify owning one.