This summer, I bought an iPad -- my first tablet -- to use mainly as a business tool. As with any planned purchase, I did some pricing research. What would be the true cost of the mobile device? What would be its actual value to me?
Following is an example based on my experience. I’ve used numbers (rounded to the nearest dollar) for the iPad 2; feel free to substitute figures for whatever device you're considering.
Let’s start with the initial purchase price. Currently, the basic model -- 16GB of solid-state storage, WiFi only -- costs $499. (I'll ignore sales tax and sale prices throughout these calculations.) Pushing storage up to 32GB adds $100; up to 64GB adds another $100. Adding 3G cellular data capability (not counting the actual cost of service) adds $130.
So a maxed-out iPad 2 costs about $829 -- roughly $35 a month.
That's not the end of the purchase price, however. Even if you don't go wild, there are still a few key accessories that a tablet, like any mobile device, needs. One, a cover; two, a spare AC adapter (one for your travel bag, one at your desk); three, some of Apple's multimedia cables; and four, a keyboard. Let's call it close to $300 for the pile.
Lastly, a little vendor support -- here, AppleCare, extending the default 90-day free phone tech support and one-year limited warrantee to two years for $79.
That gives a range of $499 to $1,200, or about $21 to $50 per month.
Then there are apps. While there are tens of thousands of apps available for free or just a dollar or two, business users will want to spend at least $50 to $100 for Office-compatible apps, as well as utilities for PDFs and passwords, etc., which cost between $5 and $15 a pop. So adding apps, we’re talking $25-ish to $55 per month.
Then there's connectivity. WiFi at your office and home is free. If you travel, you could, of course, easily rack up a few hundred dollars monthly for a few minutes of paid WiFi here, an hour there. An account with a WiFi aggregator like Boingo might keep this down. Or it might not. But let's assume no WiFi costs.
Some tablet owners want cellular capability. If you can tether to your smartphone (via either cable or WiFI) at no extra cost, it's a great convenience.
The good news about 3G cellular plans (for iPad; I don't what the story is for other tablets) is that, unlike many smartphones, it's pay-as-you-go and contractless. So you can't "go over your limit" unknowingly. And you can cancel at any time. (By default, it renews each month.)
The bad news: 3G ain't cheap. AT&T currently starts at $14.99 for up to 250MB, 2GB for $25. (You can pay for more.) Verizon currently offers four steps, from $20 for 1GB, to 10GB for $80 -- all per billing month. (Unlike phone minutes, unused data megabytes don't roll over to the next month.)
So even at the low end, you'd be spending $20 to $30 per month on connectivity.
That puts the cost per month for the iPad 2 over two years between $21 for no accessories, paid apps, or services and $80 for a version with $50 worth of hardware/accessories plus apps and $25/month 3G.
That's about $4 per weekday, or a little under $3 per day -- the cost of a cup of coffee or a new comic book.
Assuming I keep and use my iPad for business for two years or more, and I provision 3G cellular mobile broadband, those recurring monthly costs will equal or fall to about half the amortized cost of the initial purchase.
What's important is to determine whether having a tablet is worth this few bucks a day in business productivity and/or personal activities. Knowing the height of the dollar-per-day bar -- here, pretty low -- should make the purchase decision easier; that is, if you’re the type who thinks things through like this. Otherwise, you may simply say: "Must have shiny object!"
— Daniel P. Dern is a freelance technology writer based in Newton Center, Mass., and author of the blog TryingTechnology.com.