Ten Rules for Buying Apple Products, Briefly Revisited

Back in September 2006, we published an article titled Ten Rules for Buying Apple Products, which included one simple question that could help with Apple product purchases, and ten pieces of information that reflected time-tested truths about Apple’s release strategies. A reader wrote us today to ask how this applies to the iPad, so here’s a brief answer or two.

The simple question presented in the article—“does the product available today have the features that will satisfy me?”—remains as appropriate today for the iPad as it was back then for iPods and Macs, presaging the release of the iPhone. Once you have a chance to use the iPad in person, you’ll know whether it does enough to meet your needs, and you can safely assume that roughly annual iPhone OS software updates will expand the software functionality of the device for two or three years to come.

What about the ten rules? We’d be most concerned about number 8—“Beware of First-Generation/Revision A Models”—and number 10, “Big Changes (Typically) Come in Six-Plus Month Cycles.” Even having watched Apple for years, we were surprised at how quickly the original iPhone dropped in price and how completely the company discarded its widely liked original enclosure for the glossy, crackable plastic shell of the iPhone 3G. There were arguably good reasons for Apple to take both of these actions, but the price changes whipsawed early adopters, and the casing changes—particularly when cracks appeared in iPhone 3G units—caused some later adopters some concern.

These iPhone changes are just a couple of recent examples; we’d expect similarly bold actions from the company with the iPad. Apple now works actively to build market share for new products, and has proved increasingly willing to make rapid price, capacity, and engineering changes in the early stages of a new product’s lifespan if they’re necessary to boost sales and reduce complaints. Consider the first-generation iPod nano, released as a brand new product in 2005. Some of Apple’s changes to that model were very subtle, like the secret addition of an anti-scratch coating to the original iPod nano, while others were more obvious, like the early 2006 addition of a protective case to its package, and still others were huge, like Apple’s late 2006 switch to more durable aluminum in the second-generation iPod nano, and the late 2007 addition of video with an entirely new body design. Even if the changes don’t appear universally positive to consumers, like the switch to the glossy plastic iPhone 3G bodies, they’re always done for some relatively important reason, and generally make sense later on. Apple sold far more of the discounted, cheaper-bodied iPhone 3Gs than it did original iPhones, and the same was true of later iPod nanos relative to earlier ones.

So should you buy an iPad now, or wait? We’ll obviously have a lot more to say on this in our review—it’s way too early to judge right now. But go into the decision well-informed of the reality that the iPad, like all other Apple products, will only improve over time. That’s a guarantee.

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