Apple unveiled its latest iPad in San Francisco yesterday, and as usual, the tech world and more established media swooned at the shiny new piece of engineered obsolescence. As a die-hard Android fan, I wasn't moved - sure, the screen is nice (even if it's still the wrong ratio) and the processor is impressive, but my distaste for Apple as a manufacturer, developer and corporation is more than enough to overcome any fleeting feeling of hardware lust. But there's one feature that remains exclusive to the iPad that I want, badly, and it isn't coming to Android any time soon: wireless data without a contract.
With the new iPad
3 as with the previous two incarnations, you'll be able to buy a new tablet from a carrier (AT&T or Verizon) and sign up for a recurring data plan. But unlike almost every single smartphone, including the iPhone, you won't be forced to sign a new two-year contract to do so. Even with the new LTE radio (welcome to 2011, Apple!) you can drop the data at any time, and start it up again later without any sort of penalty. You know, the way wireless data payments should work.
In the United States, there's not a single Android mobile broadband tablet that you can buy at its retail price without a contract. All of them - even the ones that cost as much as an iPad - require a two-year contract or extension, even for users who already have phone service with the same company. Oh sure, you can opt for the "contract free" price, usually for a solid $200 or more on top of the advertised price. This forced application of mobile data is what's keeping Android tablet adoption down the most, at least for mobile broadband versions.
Why is this? To put it bluntly, Apple's got the clout. They're still selling more than two iPads for every Android tablet, mobile broadband connection or not. Android is winning the smartphone race by a healthy margin, perhaps due in no small part to the fact that it competes evenly with iOS on almost every carrier in every market. But for tablets, the average user wants the iPad, and is willing to pay hundreds of dollars more for it. Carriers know this, and more significantly, Apple knows that carriers know it, and forces some pretty enviable terms out of both AT&T and Verizon. Terms that no Android manufacturer can seem to match.
What's the solution? Listen up, Android tablet makers: include HSPA+ and LTE radios in the WiFi tablets you're making already, and sell them directly at retail. Plenty of manufacturers do this, just not in the United States - our dug-in wireless industry has them by the short hairs. Sell us the tablets we want with the connections we crave, and let us buy the data from carriers separately. I myself would be willing to pay an extra $100 to do so, though you'd be well-advised to add the radios and SIM card slots for the current prices. The iPad 2 just dropped to $399, giving you a new limbo price bar to slide under.
High-res screen? Not impressed. LTE? Been there, done that. An always-on connection that I don't always have to pay for? Now that's magic. Samsung, Asus, Acer, Motorola: this is what we want.