Link posts

I’ve updated the blog so that I can make short “link posts” to interesting stuff. You’ll see these posts indicated by an arrow at the end of the post title. The goal is to post a more often, with a little bit of commentary each time.

More price competition coming to e-books?

Of most concern to regulators, Apple’s agreements with the publishers included “most favored nation” clauses that prevented publishers from selling their books through any other retailers at lower prices than offered through Apple’s iBookstore. Reuters now reports that the parties involved in the dispute are continuing to move toward a settlement in order to ward off a lawsuit, and that the settlement is likely to see the removal of these clauses.

Sounds pretty good to me.

On Fairness and Data Use

In a recent post, Dan Frommer argued that AT&T has now fairly resolved the controversy over throttling high-usage mobile accounts with “unlimited” plans. I think he’s wrong.

The essence of Frommer’s point is that mobile networks have a finite amount of capacity, and people who use a lot of capacity should pay more than those who don’t.

If you use a lot of data, it’s only fair for you to pay more than people who don’t. That’s how many other constrained utilities work, and that’s now how wireless broadband works. That shouldn’t be hard to understand. Especially given the sorry state of AT&T’s data network.

That’s pretty reasonable. The real problem is AT&T’s approach to the reality of their limited resources. They’re trying to have it both ways: claiming to let people keep their old unlimited plans, while sucking the meaning out of the word “unlimited.”

The honest approach would be for AT&T to concede that they’re simply unable to continue offering unlimited data, and migrate unlimited plan users to the 3GB/month plan. At present, AT&T charges $30/month for 3GB of data, the same as the unlimited plan. Data over 3GB is charged at $10/GB. The number of users who go over the 3GB cap is probably quite small. Sure, a few users might leave for another carrier, but if a small number of high-bandwidth users are such a drain on AT&T’s network, that might be a relief.

Instead, AT&T has chosen to present their plans in a way that strains credibility. They still claim to let long-time users keep an “unlimited” plan, even though their stated policy is that they limit your access, through throttling, once you exceed 3GB. By doing so, they’re missing a chance to both be fair and to educate their customers about the limits of wireless networks. It would be refreshing to hear a carrier say, “There’s only so much bandwidth to go around, and the small number of people who use a lot will need to pay for it.” Sadly, AT&T doesn’t seem to have the guts.

If AT&T’s network really can’t handle users with unlimited data plans, they should simply take those unlimited plans away. Leaving them in place while neutering the meaning of “unlimited” is just misleading customers. Water companies don’t offer “unlimited water,” while slowly reducing water pressure until the faucet is a mere trickle. It’s much simpler than that: the more water you use, the more you pay. Mobile bandwidth should be no different.

Which iPad Should I Get?

A lot of people ask me for advice before buying Apple products. The questions usually take one of two forms: (1) Should I buy one now, or should I wait until the next one comes out? or (2) Now that I’ve decided to buy one, which model should I get? I’m going to try to answer both today, with regard to the just-announced new iPad. (I may refer to it as the 2012 iPad for clarity.)

Right off the bat, I want to note that I stole the idea for this post from Marco Arment, who posted his iPad buying advice yesterday. I agree with almost everything Marco wrote, and his post is recommended reading for anyone thinking of buying a new iPad. However, the people who ask me for advice are a little different from Marco’s audience, so I’m going to tailor my advice a little differently.

I don’t have an iPad. Should I get this one?

If you otherwise want to buy an iPad, then absolutely, buy this one. If you’ve been holding off on buying an iPad, this is the time to go for it. Apple’s mobile devices tend to follow a major-minor cycle, where a major release one year is followed by a more minor update the following year. The 2012 iPad is most definitely a major release, and should provide good longevity. Of course, there’s always next year’s model, which will surely be better than this year’s. But: there’s always next year’s model. If you take that approach, you end up waiting forever.

That said, there’s no reason anyone “should” get an iPad if they don’t want one. I sometimes get asked, “Why should I buy an iPad?” In general, if you’re asking that question, you probably shouldn’t. Chances are, that means you’re happy with the technology you already have and aren’t really looking to buy another device.

I already have an iPad or iPad 2. Should I upgrade?

In general, I advise people to upgrade on the major part of the major-minor upgrade cycle. I think it gives you the best bang for your buck, in terms of how long the device lasts. I bought an iPhone 4 and and original iPad in 2010, but sat out both the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2 in 2011. Both the 4S and the iPad 2 are great devices, but I didn’t feel a compelling need to upgrade. This year I plan on upgrading both to their 2012 versions.

For original iPad owners thinking about upgrading, I’d strongly recommend getting a 2012 iPad. The retina display is a big, big upgrade, particularly if you do a lot of reading on your iPad. Text is going to look amazingly clear and sharp.

For iPad 2 owners, the question is a little tougher. The 2012 iPad contains the same basic processor as the iPad 2, meaning most new apps should continue to run fine on the iPad 2. If you’re happy with your iPad 2, don’t feel like you need to upgrade. In fact, it might be worth sitting out the next iPad release as well, and getting the 2014 model, since that’s likely to be the next major upgrade in the cycle.

That said, the retina display on the 2012 iPad is a big step up from the iPad 2. If you care a lot about the clarity of text and photos, it’s worth considering and upgrade. One nice thing about iPads is they hold their value fairly well. If you’re interested in upgrading, you may be able to sell your iPad 2 for a fair portion of your original purchase price, and use that toward a 2012 iPad.

Should I get 16, 32, or 64GB?

It really depends on whether you plan on keeping a lot of media on your iPad. I don’t keep much music on mine, but I do tend to load it up with a fair number of movies and TV shows before a long flight. I find the 32GB capacity works great. The 16GB is also fine if you don’t need to store as much media. I doubt that many people I know would have a use for the 64GB model.

Should I get the 4G LTE model?

This is the question where I differ most from Marco’s advice. The 4G option does give you greater flexibility in Internet access, but in my experience most people I know use their iPad in places where Wi-Fi access is available. If you think you’ll use it, by all means get a 4G model – it looks like a great product. But I think it’s probably overkill for most people, especially if you have a phone that you can use as a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Black or white?

Mostly, it’s just a personal preference. I lean toward black, mostly because I think the idea of watching a movie surrounded by a white border is a little odd. But if you like the white, go for it.

Did you get a new iPad? Which one and why?

I ordered a black 32GB Wi-Fi iPad with a green smart cover. Although I was tempted by the 4G LTE option, I mostly use my iPad at home and didn’t think I’d get enough use out of 4G to justify the extra cost. I’m upgrading from a Wi-Fi original iPad, and there were very few times that I wished for 3G. For any times I do need connectivity on the go, I’ll just use the personal hotspot feature on my iPhone. I assume the next iPhone (which I plan on buying) will have LTE as well.