Friday, March 9, 2012

Curse of the early adopter: no new iPad for me


I probably won't buy the new iPad (a/k/a iPad 3) because I tend be an early adopter of Apple's products.

Yes, you read that right. I tend to adopt Apple products early, buying the first generation of a product line. This makes me question the wisdom of upgrading when new generations are released:

  • Does the new generation add enough incremental happiness to justify the expense? 
  • Shouldn't I wait for the next new generation and get an even larger increase in happiness?

The decision parameters are illustrated in the following figure:

Deciding whether to buy the new iPad

The comparative statics of that picture are: as the difference in happiness from the old iPad to the new iPad, DH1, increases, I'm more likely to buy the new iPad; as the difference in happiness from the next new iPad to the current new iPad, DH2, increases, I'm less likely to buy the new iPad; and the longer the period between the new iPad and the next new iPad, T, the more likely I am to buy the new iPad.

Of course, I don't really know these quantities, except T: the time between iPad refreshes seems to be one year, give or take, and I tend to skip every other generation in all products anyway, so T equals two years.

To evaluate DH1 and have some forecast of DH2 I need to consider how I use my iPad now and how that might change with the new iPad. I also need to consider what incremental changes DH2 could include. (If I determine that DH1 is not high enough, I don't need to worry about DH2, so I'll start with that.)

What I do with my iPad now is consume content; the new iPad seems to be targeted at creating it, but I don't know whether that would work for me. Here's the content I create and its relation to the iPad:

Technical papers in LaTeX. There are a few apps that allow me to edit formulas on the iPad (and one that uses Dropbox and a paired app on a laptop to allow the user to create actual documents), but in general LaTeX is not a good fit for the iPad.

R code. There's no R for iPad and apparently there won't be in the near future. I could edit the code in a word processor on the iPad and run it on a laptop, but that's of minor value to me. (I code in other languages and use Mathematica and Stata too, but the overwhelming volume of programming I do is in R.)

Presentations. I own iWork for the iPad and have tried to use it for presentation design, but I find I  require higher-powered tools: even on a laptop I make most of my slides with Illustrator and Photoshop. The image above was made with Keynote (on a laptop), but that's not up to my presentation standards. I do like how easy Magic Move makes creating simple animations. I can and do use Pages on the iPad to outline presentations.

Teaching materials. I can certainly create some teaching text, but again the drafting and page layout tools I use are not available for the iPad. I find the process of making spreadsheets on the iPad cumbersome, but I use the iPad version of Numbers to create and fill forms to keep track of students (important for participant-centered learning).

There are other types of content that I could create with the new iPad: videos, photos, and music. I think these may have their value, but not for me. I take photos with a DSLR and tweak them with Photoshop, make videos (mostly of my presentations, classes, and exec-ed) with a Kodak Zi8, and make music when I play piano.

What about consumption? Perhaps that's where I can find a reason to upgrade. I mostly do three (and a half) things with the iPad:

Reading: Kindle books, iBooks, Instapaper, and PDFs. By far the most time I spend using the iPad is spent reading. A retina display might make a difference, but I tend to make the type very large anyway. Perhaps new iBooks will make it worthwhile to upgrade, but that suggests I should wait for the next new generation and the books that will be available then.

Browsing the web. I do this usually while watching/listening to TV, usually to deplete my RSS monster, check Twitter and Facebook using Flipboard, and to check out forums. I feed a lot of content into my Tumblr blogs (personal and teaching) and Instapaper this way. The extra speed would be nice, but the binding constraint so far appears to be the low speed of my home internet connection.

Email. I check, and usually process to zero, my morning emails even before getting out of bed. I prefer to read my email on the iPad and compose it on a laptop. (It's true that a bluetooth keyboard would probably make composing the email much easier. But that would negate the compactness and self-containment of the iPad.)

Games. I seldom play games (computer or otherwise; ironic that I'm a game theorist), but, when I do, the only ones I play are the ones on my iPad: Solitaire, Mahjong, and Crosswords. Usually while listening to audio podcasts or television.

I also occasionally use the iPad to finish watching a Netflix movie in bed, to read Marvel comic books, or to watch video podcasts on a repeated exercise machine (like a recumbent bicycle). These are minor uses and don't influence the decision.*

Which, unsurprisingly, is to not buy the new iPad.

Of course there's always the possibility that the decision will come down to a emotional death match between gadget lust and the no-nonessential purchases rule, all logic above be damned.

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* I listen to music, audiobooks, and audio podcasts on my first-generation iPod Nano or my first-generation iPod Touch. My first-generation iPod – yes, the one with the mechanical clickwheel – was recently decommissioned, after ten years of service, due to hard drive failure (its earlier battery death was circumvented by using it as a home MP3 player, feeding my stereo and powered by its AC adapter).