Skipping the iPad Pro

I just can’t justify buying the new iPad Pro.

Don’t get me wrong; Apple’s new tablets are gorgeous. I’m impressed by the edge-to-edge display, the Braun-inspired squared edges, and the overall thinness. And the new Apple Pencil fixes all of my biggest complaints: the cylindrical (roll-prone) profile, the fiddly end cap, and the awkward charging method. Overall, the iPad Pro looks like an incredible upgrade.

But it’s also incredibly expensive. Jaw-droppingly expensive. Prohibitively expensive (at least for me). Not only Apple raise the cost of entry by $150, they also tacked $20–30 onto the price of each accessory. All told, even if I bought even the cheapest model,1 an Apple Pencil, and the new Smart Keyboard Folio, I’d be dropping just shy of $1,200.

That’s some serious cash—enough to buy a beefy Windows PC, ski passes for the whole family, a passable mountain bike, or a long weekend at the beach, steak dinners included.

If I honestly believed that I would use an iPad Pro, I might be been able to justify its exorbitant price tag. Unfortunately, the evidence is stacked against me. I’ve purchased three iPads in the past, and each one ended up gathering dust. I’ve just never found a great use case for an iPad; my Kindle is better for reading, my laptop is better for writing, and my phone is better for everything else. There was nothing in today’s keynote that makes me think this iPad would be different. (You know, like external touchscreen support?)

The iPad Pro is great for drawing, of course. And I do occasionally doodle. But why plunk down $1,200 when a $15 drawing pad works just as well?

So I’m sitting out this Apple launch, despite a gnawing gadget envy. I’m bummed that I can’t take another crack at the “iPad lifestyle,” but I’m excited to save that money for something I’ll almost certainly enjoy more. ■

  1. I’d get along fine with 64 gigs of storage, but it’s lame that only the 1TB models have 6GB of RAM. ↩︎

apple culture

Putting the iPhone’s expense in context

Ten years ago, I had just started grad school, and the newly-released iPhone seemed like an unimaginable extravagance. Hundreds of dollars upfront, then a recurring bill… forever? It seemed like a device targeted at the rich and foolish.

But by the time I finished grad school, three years later, I had bought the iPhone 4. Since then, I’ve upgraded every two years: iPhone 5, iPhone 6, iPhone 7. And from here on out, I may buy a new iPhone every year, starting with the recently-announced iPhone X.

How did this happen? How did I move from “the iPhone is a ridiculous expense” to “I want a new one very year”?

First, there’s the coincidence factor: the iPhone rose to prominence just as our careers were getting started. My wife and I scraped by during our grad school days, working stints in low-paying administrative jobs to support each other’s studies. Back then, tacking $100+ onto the monthly budget seemed impossible; paying the rent and affording groceries were difficult enough. Now, a decade later, both of us work steady jobs, and we have more discretionary income to apply to gadget purchases.

But even if our financial situation hadn’t changed, the iPhone would have been difficult to resist. The device has grown more capable and usable with each passing year, replacing a variety of standalone devices that we would have otherwise purchased. Consider:

Device Price per year Notes
Camera $200 ($1,000+ every 5 years) Our iPhones have relegated our old point-and-shoot to the junk drawer. And we almost certainly would have bought a DSLR by now, in order to document our daughter’s early years. The iPhone X’s chief appeal is its dual-lens camera system; it’s tricky to capture a toddler’s madcap antics without a zoom.
iPod / MP3 player (x2) $166 ($500 every 3 years) We each owned various digital music players before our first iPhones. My beloved iRiver iHP-120 gave way to the iPod touch, the bridge device that first convinced me how useful a pocket computer could be.
Dedicated GPS $67 ($200 every 3 years) I’m astonished that there’s still a market for these standalone navigators. I’m more astonished that the Wirecutter thinks they’re better than just using your smartphone.
Document scanner $50 ($250 every 5 years) For light document scanning needs, Scanbot does the trick. It’s not as fast as a dedicated device like the ScanSnap, but it easily bests a a flatbed scanner. This is definitely a case where “good enough” wins out.
Portable voice recorder $20 ($80 every 4 years) I would want this to record the Careful Tech podcast when I’m traveling.
Mini flashlight (x2) $10 ($40 every 4 years) In high school, everyone carried the Maglite Mini. Now, for everyday purposes, the iPhone’s built-in flash does the job.

That’s over $500 in annual gadget expenses that our iPhones render unnecessary. And that ignores the new uses that standalone gadgets can’t match—in particular, the iPhone’s portable computing ability, whose value is hard to overstate but difficult to quantify.

In other words, the iPhone X’s $1,000 price tag is deceptive. Yes, that’s a lot of money. But to some extent, it’s money that would otherwise be spent buying less flexible devices.[1]

  1. Most of the functions listed above could be handled by an older smartphone—one that costs a fraction of the new hotness. There is a tax for living on the bleeding edge. But some of that extra expense can be recovered by reselling your old phone to pay for the new.  ↩