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Originally published April 3, 2010 at 10:03 PM | Page modified April 4, 2010 at 10:17 AM

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Brier Dudley

No iPad? It may be worthwhile to hold off

Really, you don't need to lose faith if the Easter Bunny failed to bring you an Apple iPad this weekend.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Really, you don't need to lose faith if the Easter Bunny failed to bring you an Apple iPad this weekend.

Like a crocus, the iPad is the first to appear. Before you know it, slatelike browsing devices will be all over the place. They'll be jostling for space on the tiny tables at Starbucks, marked down at Costco and secondhand on Craigslist.

It's fun to have the latest and greatest gadget, especially one that will turn the heads of people wondering if the iPad's worth the hype.

The device is basically an extra-large iPod Touch, an elegant metal-and-glass slab that's just under 8-by-10 inches, a half-inch thick and weighs 1.5 pounds. It can browse Web pages, play music and videos and display digital versions of books, newspapers and magazines.

Software and media companies are especially excited about iPad's debut, with a few hundred thousand of the devices expected to be sold through this weekend. It could be a golden egg if these companies can sell iPad apps and subscriptions at higher prices than they've been able to get for iPhone apps.

But those who missed the first batch of iPads may have the last laugh. Here are a few reasons why:

1. By waiting, you'll avoid the premium price the first batch of customers will pay.

I'll bet the price falls by the holidays, giving Santa a chance to make up for the Bunny's oversight. By then you won't be the first on the block to have an iPad. Nor will you have spent the spring and summer obsessed with a new iPad.

The basic version that arrived Saturday costs $499 to $699, depending on its storage capacity.

That's for a Wi-Fi-only model that doesn't work on high-speed 3G cellular networks. The iPads with 3G are coming later this month and will cost $629 to $829, not including wireless service, which will cost $15 to $30 per month.

Steve Jobs has said the iPad is revolutionary, but the masses won't be able to afford this one, at least for a while.

Don't forget what happened with his truly revolutionary iPhone. About two months after its crazy debut in 2007 — when Apple fans lined up for the first batch — the price dropped from $599 to $399. A year later it was $199.

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Unlike the iPhone, the iPad is not subsidized by phone charges — it's not a phone, after all — so its price won't drop so far and fast. But it will come down.

In the meantime, what's left of America's upper middle class may think it's at a reasonable price. Others will need convincing an iPad offers more bang for the buck than a new TV, computer or game console.

2. Waiting also will provide time for the iPad-application market to settle.

The software apps that really add value to the iPad are expected to cost more than comparable apps for the iPhone. Media companies are going to use the iPad to experiment with new subscription and advertising models. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, reported that it's going to charge $18 per month for its iPad edition — more than double the price of a Web subscription.

Still, if early iPad buyers feel shafted by the cost of apps, prices will come down by the time the price of the device itself falls.

3. Waiting will give people time to figure out if the iPad will be a necessity or a trinket for the digital home.

The iPod simplified digital music and made it accessible to the mainstream. The iPhone popularized the notion of having an anywhere, anytime browser and Web applications in your pocket.

I'm looking forward to hearing how the iPad changes people's lives. Ever since I tried a few of them at the iPad launch event in January, I've been wondering what I'd do differently if I had one.

Maybe it will herald a new era of grab-and-go computing, where you pick up a nearby screen and instantly start browsing, instead of waking up a laptop or desktop. Lots of companies are pursuing this vision, but Apple may define the emerging category the way it did with the iPod and iPhone.

Still, slates like the iPad are an interim step, until we're able to just speak a command or wave our hands and connect through the nearest screen or a projection that appears on a table, wall or window.

4. Waiting avoids buyer's remorse when other, similar devices appear.

The iPad may be the new bacon, but more treats are coming to the buffet.

Just waiting until late April will give you a choice between the Wi-Fi and 3G iPads.

Within a few months, there will be many other slatelike devices on sale or announced. Hewlett-Packard is preparing one that looks very similar to the iPad but is a full-blown Windows 7 computer. Its price probably will be comparable to upper-end 3G iPads.

Asus, the company that started the low-cost netbook trend with its Eee PC, is preparing two slate models, one based on Windows and the other on Google software.

Slates that are full computers will have a few notable advantages over the iPad (which has a processor comparable to the latest smartphones). They'll support the Adobe Flash platform used by most Web video and online games. They'll also be more open, so you can load applications directly without being limited to programs vetted by Apple and funneled through iTunes.

That closed-garden approach will limit the iPad's potential to displace laptops, I think. Will people want an iPad to become their primary computer? Then there are the e-book-makers who are set to introduce new models with bigger screens, color and other features to compete with the iPad and each other.

Both Apple and Amazon.com are putting digital bookstores and reading software onto the iPad. That may lure some buyers who would otherwise buy a Kindle or other device designed mostly for reading, with their longer battery life and flicker-free screens.

5. Those who wait will get faster wireless service.

This will be a breakout year for high-speed mobile broadband service, with Clearwire's fourth generation, or 4G, wireless service finally getting scale, Verizon launching LTE (another form of 4G) and T-Mobile USA boosting its network.

The 4G networks will power laptops, tablets, automotive computers and big-screen phones. Then the questions will be: how many Web devices do we need, and how many fees can we afford?

Apple's iPad may have a better design and a great selection of applications. I think it's also going to be used mostly in the home and places with Wi-Fi, so it won't necessarily need mobile broadband.

But it may seem limited compared with the 4G tablet computer you'll ask for at Christmas. Similar to the way a black-and-white Kindle feels next to the iPad.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com

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About Brier Dudley

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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