Why I Returned My iPad

I returned my new iPad last week without ever taking it out of the box. I ordered it in mid-March and, rather than get a wi-fi-only model on Day 1, elected to wait for the 3G model that was expected to come in “late April” according to Apple.

During the month, as I waited for my 3G, I started to see copies of the wi-fi model that my friends had purchased. Even though I knew what the iPad’s dimensions were and I’m a prior Kindle and netbook owner, the iPads I tried were still punier than I expected.

As I waited, I also started to think harder about how I would actually incorporate the iPad into my work processes. The fact that I knew it was coming without key features – lacking Flash access, no built-in camera, and no multi-tasking capability – was starting to weigh heavily on my mind. I mean, even my iPhone has a camera!

So, by the time the 3G came in the mail the last weekend in April, Friday, April 30, as promised, I was starting to regret my decision. It was delivered straight to my house by FedEx while I was away during the day, so when I got home I figured my tinge of regret would disappear once I opened the box and burst the shrink wrap.

But, instead, I hesitated popping the shrink wrap. I was a little tired after a long day, so I figured I’d open it up fresh the next morning, when I had the full Saturday to devote to it. Looking over the day’s mail that night, though, I noticed the latest AT&T bill, which includes the two iPhones we already own (mine and my son’s). “Oh yeah,” I was reminded, “this is going to add yet another data plan to our household.” On top of our broadband AT&T U-verse account and AT&T wifi account, the latter which at least I maintain at no charge through my Starbucks account.

Saturday morning came and went, rolling into Saturday afternoon and, even though the iPad was sitting on the kitchen table, it remained unopened. “Hey Andrew,” I offered to my 17-year old, “if you want to, you can open the iPad and hook it up to see how it works.” He didn’t; he was too busy apparently practicing his latest skateboard tricks.

Sunday likewise came and went, but still no movement on the iPad. By this point, the elephant in the room was pretty apparent – none of us could think why we would use this device. Sure, we were familiar with the hot new apps that several people had mentioned and/or shown us on the iPad.

In fact, I had complimented my niece Justine a few days earlier on the iMac/iPad bundle that she had just purchased for college – the desktop machine for her dorm and the iPad for portability and the ability to have all of her books (cheaper in digital form, as a bonus) wherever she went. With the bundle being about on par, cost-wise, with the cost of a Macbook pro laptop, I had to smile at the clever positioning – you’ve got to hand it to Apple on great sell-through strategy.

But for me, the compelling need just wasn’t there. Truthfully, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if I were to purchase an iPad-style device, it would be an Android- or Chrome-powered machine, so that I could gain first-hand experience with the functional differences – people expect that kind of expert opinion from me.

So, come that Monday morning, I ran through the process of prepping the iPad package for a return. Apple has it mapped out pretty painlessly. The reason that I checked on the return merchandise authorization (RMA) form Apple provides? “Changed my mind,” I checked.

In fact, the only painful part of the RMA process was getting stuck with a $99 non-refundable charge (plus tax!) for the AppleCare maintenance option that I had selected when I pre-ordered the iPad. Apparently that’s too “hard” for Apple to reverse that part of a pre-order – meaning they’ve learned they can stick it to customers returning product without too many ramifications…the risk justifies the ill-gotten reward.

So, that’s the story of why I returned my iPad. In the end, I think intentionally or not, I wound up in the camp best expressed by Yale CompSci professor and author David Gelernter, who said “The iPad (though it’s beautifully designed and lots of fun) is transitional, like vinyl LPs (but likely to be much shorter lived).” 

PS:  Gelernter’s most recent essay for The Edge is recommended reading: “Time to Start Taking the Internet Seriously.”

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