opinion One thing quickly became clear when Steve Jobs unveiled Apple’s newest “revolutionary” device at 5AM this morning (Sydney time).
If you want to get the full use out of your new iPad, you’ll want to buy the model which has a 3G mobile broadband connection built-in.
The iPad is clearly designed to function optimally when connected to the internet. The revamp of core Apple applications like Mail, Safari and iTunes, the ability to run all existing iPhone apps seamlessly and the great integration with Google Maps and YouTube all speak to the ideal of ubiquitous internet connectivity wherever a user is.
The sort of connectivity that tens of millions of people have already learned to depend on with their iPhone.
If you walk around Sydney’s Martin Place or Melbourne’s Lygon Street at lunchtime, you’ll see this phenomenon in action. Dozens of iPhone owners, head down, tapping away online, sometimes even walking at the same time.
There’s just one problem with this utopian iPad vision. It’s going to cost money. Lots of money.
The 3G-enabled version of the iPad already costs at least US$100 more than the model with just Wi-Fi. But the kicker is that users will also be required to sign up to a mobile broadband plan with a telco to use the 3G access. The device is unlocked, so theoretically users would be able to just insert an existing SIM card … if it weren’t for the fact that the iPad uses the new micro SIM or 3FF SIM format, which our existing devices don’t.
For most users, that will mean signing up for a second mobile plan, because the iPad is not capable of acting as a mobile phone. It just does data.
In the US, Jobs appears to cut the sort of unbelievable deal with AT&T that the Apple supremo is becoming famous for — users are being offered a choice of two plans, US$14.99 a month for 250MB of data or US$29.99 for unlimited.
But you can bet your sweet unmentionable that Jobs won’t be flying Down Under any time soon to sweet-talk one of our Australian telcos into a similar arrangement. Although Australian mobile broadband prices are steadily dropping, we’re still unlikely to reach a level where it’s trivial for most customers to add an iPad plan to their monthly grocery list.
“Jobs may have created a new category of electronic device. But he’s also created a new category of wireless broadband plan to go with it.”
To add a third plan to that list will seem to many to be unreasonable, unless telcos conduct some very serious bundling exercises.
The reason this affects Australia particularly is that many Australians, especially those in the early technology adopter community, already have both mobile phone and mobile broadband plans already through sheer geographical necessity. And mobile broadband numbers are growing fast.
We’re spread all over this wide brown land, we move around a lot, and there just ain’t enough Wi-Fi hotspots to go around.
The one thing that could mediate this reality would be for Apple to allow iPads to access 3G services through tethering with another device — even a customer’s existing iPhone. Internet forums have already started to light up with requests for just such a feature.
But Jobs didn’t give any indication this morning that tethering would be possible.
Of course, many Australians will simply swap their existing wireless broadband dongles for iPads and stop taking their laptops on the road. But my gut feeling is that most want to have their cake and eat it too — they want their iPhone, their MacBook with 3G, and an iPad. But they don’t want to pay for three mobile broadband connections.
Jobs may have created a new category of electronic device. But he’s also created a new category of wireless broadband plan to go with it.
The iPad is a great device. But, like so many Apple products, it’s one forgotten feature away from being perfect.