Essays on Technology and Culture

You Get the iPad You Deserve

Like all Apple fanboys, I eagerly awaited the announcement of the iPad mini, and was pleasantly surprised by the announcement of the 4th Generation iPad with the new Lightning connector along side it. However, the iPad mini stole the show with its smaller, pocketable form factor, aluminum construction, and low(ish) price point. As the announcement neared, and rumors flew, I found myself considering, at last, getting an iPad, and knew the announcement would give me a lot to think about. As I’m teaching myself responsive web design, I knew a tablet would be useful for testing things, and also figured it might come in handy at my day job. I mulled it over for a week or so, and then decided to pull the trigger. This past Thursday, November 8th, 2012, I became the proud owner of a 32 GB, Black, Wi-Fi only, refurbished 3rd Generation iPad.

I made the decision based on two simple factors: cost and features. While the iPad mini’s $329 price wasn’t too steep for me—I am an Apple user, after all—it lacked a key feature of it’s bigger brother: retina. Along side learning how to make websites that scale to different screen sizes, I’m also trying to learn how to do retina image replacement. It’s one thing to write the CSS that says if a screen is retina quality, then use the double-size image and scale it down. Making sure it works is a little trickier, especially on a decidedly non-retina laptop. While I am planning to put my battered old white polycarbonate MacBook nothing out to pasture and replace it with a shiny MacBook Pro, unless the price comes down steeply, I won’t be getting a retina model any time soon. Enter the iPad, er, maxi? [1] Whatever you want to/have to call it, this iPad is my gateway to the retina web. Yes, I have an iPhone 4S, with its own shiny retina display, but non-retina graphics look just fine on it due to the screen size. To have a proper testbed for retina and for responsive, tablet-optimized layouts, an iPad with a retina display is what I needed.

So, why a refurbished, 3rd Generation model? It’s good enough, and it costs less. Plain and simple. A new, 32GB, Wi-Fi only 4th Generation iPad costs $599. It has a new plug, which means I would need to get ahold of at least one other Lightning cable, which costs $29. Add on the Smart Cover, and that’s another $49. We’re talking almost $700 for the full kit. The refurbished iPad and the Smart Cover combined, cost a little over $510, or the price of a base, 16GB, Wi-Fi only 4th Generation iPad, and all I lose is a faster processor and a new connecter. I’d rather have the $190 in my pocket. I can spend it on iPad optimized apps, instead. [2]

If money were no object, not only would I have bought a new new iPad, but also an iPad mini. And a Retina MacBook Pro. And a pony. If money were simply less of an object, I’d just have bought the 4th Generation iPad. Here, it’s simply a question of enough, which I’ve written about before, but not as well as others. Speaking from personal experience, Apple refurbished products are literally as good as new. My second Apple computer was a refurbished iBook G4. Built like a tank, it kept kicking even after the machine’s exhaust fan died. [3] There’s enough jokes and complaints about Apple’s pricing, but refurbished models are a great way to get Apple’s quality and save a few bucks. It’s always good to save up and get the best thing, rather than save a few bucks and get something that isn’t going to be worth it.

Certainly, I didn’t need a tablet—it’s a nice to have item, not an essential tool in my arsenal. I’d often told people that I don’t have an iPad because I don’t have a use case for one, though if I had one I would quickly find a use case for it. It’s too early to tell how useful I’ll find the iPad, but in the first few days, it’s already become my device of choice for reading, and social networking. I also wrote most of the first draft of this post on my iPad, using my old aluminum Apple Bluetooth Keyboard that’s been gathering dust.

I’ll also be honest—I never even considered an Android or Windows tablet, because I already locked myself into the Apple ecosystem as soon as I bought an app for the iPod touch, five years ago. I’m not complaining. I’m happy. (And it’s not Stockholm syndrome, either.) I am an Apple user, because I want tools that work with a minimum of fuss. Coming to Apple from Linux in the days when I would have to edit /etc/fstab if I plugged my MP3 player and thumb drive in the wrong order, Mac OS X was a breath of fresh air, as has almost every experience with new Apple hardware and software.

As pleasurable as they are, these things are still tools. When you buy a tool, any tool, you need to factor the price versus the need, and then buy the one that will do the job the best, and for the longest period of time. A hammer that is a solid piece of metal, with a high quality rubber coating around the handle will last you longer than a hammer that is a stamped metal head on a cheap wood or plastic handle. If you can find a quality hammer that meets those criteria for a lower price, why not go for it? My MacBook, my iPhone, and now my iPad are the best tools I can afford, even if they aren’t top of the line. If I’d cheapened out, I’d get exactly what I deserved.

  1. Jokes aside, Dan Benjamin may have been on to something with his iPad junior name. iPad senior does have a good ring to it.  ↩

  2. Between Tweetbot, Appbot, Reeder, Things, 1Password, Alien Blue, and iThoughts HD, I’ve dropped at least $50 on iPad specific versions of apps. Welcome to Apple-town.  ↩

  3. Meanwhile, my purchased-as-new MacBook nothing’s backlight inverter is on the fritz after five years of service. However, that is only a minor inconvenience.  ↩