Q: Should I buy an iPad with Wi-Fi only or should I wait for the 3G version?

Tech Q & AA: The iPad has generated a lot of buzz among consumers and business people alike. While tremendous numbers of iPads have been sold already, many people are waiting for the 3G model to arrive, due April 30th. The difference between the Wi-Fi only model and the 3G model is that the 3G model will add cellular data connectivity to the AT&T network. Many people have been asking if they should wait and purchase a 3G model or if they would be fine with a Wi-Fi only model. The answer, of course, depends on how one intends to use the iPad.

Firstly, note that Apple’s official designations for the iPad models are “Wi-Fi” and “Wi-Fi + 3G”. They do this in order to ensure that people realize that the 3G model also has Wi-Fi. I believe this is wise, as already we’ve had many people ask if the 3G model has Wi-Fi. However, the common practice is to simply call that model “3G”.

Second, the 3G model’s subscription plan is month-to-month and does not require a contract. This means that a user who has a 3G model does not necessarily need to pay every month for data service if they do not plan to use it.

The major determining factor on which model to buy is whether or not the user believes they will be using the iPad in areas where there is no Wi-Fi available. For users who will mostly use the iPad in their home or office, the Wi-Fi only model is likely just fine. Even users who will take the iPad around town will likely be fine with the Wi-Fi only model if they know they will be using the iPad in areas with public Wi-Fi coverage.

On the other hand, users who will require Internet access in any location will likely want the 3G model. Users who plan to take the iPad to places like trade shows or on-site to client locations where Wi-Fi is not guaranteed would benefit from having connectivity to AT&T’s network for Internet.

But as with most things, there are exceptions to the rules. For example, many apps on the iPad do not require Internet access. If the user plans to use the iPad for non-Internet related activities while away from home, they may not need the 3G model. And in contrast, a user who mostly uses Wi-Fi but thinks they may need 3G connectivity periodically may benefit from the 3G model. Remember, because the iPad’s data plan is month-to-month and does not require a contract, a user only needs to pay for months in which they will use the 3G service. For example, a user may only need 3G service while on vacation once or twice a year. They would only need to pay for one or two months worth of 3G service out of the year and simply use Wi-Fi the rest of the year.

Another exception are users who need Internet access anywhere but already have or plan to purchase a separate “mobile hotspot” such as a MiFi device. These devices connect to a particular wireless carrier (like Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T) and broadcast their connection over a Wi-Fi connection. These devices are very useful if you will be traveling with a group of users who all have Wi-Fi capable devices since a single device can cover many Wi-Fi devices such as laptops and iPads.

The 3G models are all $130 more expensive than their counterpart Wi-Fi only models. Honestly, if you think there is any chance that you will benefit from Internet access while on the road with the iPad, then the 3G model is probably worth purchasing. Assuming you do not have a MiFi device, the relatively small difference in price is probably worth the assurance that you will be able to connect from nearly anywhere with your iPad if you need to. However, if you are confident that the iPad will only be used in Wi-Fi areas, then save the money and get the Wi-Fi only model.

If you have a technology question, please let me know and it will be featured in a future newsletter!