iPad 3G? MiFi? iPass?

I have a WiFi-only iPad and it feels like something that should always be online. I feel like I always want to at least have the option at any time to surf the Web, stream Netflix movies, use Yelp to check out restaurants people mention, or take virtual walks in neighborhoods I don’t know using Google Maps. Maybe this is just Internet addiction and I should get over it, but for better or worse it’s how I feel.

A friend recently informed me of a service called iPass. For just seven bucks a month (with a one-year commitment) you get unlimited WiFi at many affiliated locations such as airports, hotels, McDonald’s, and Starbucks.

It’s tempting, especially with all the McDonald’s and Starbucks locations in New York, but I’ve been trying to think through when I’m going to actually want WiFi, and whether I should get iPass, get a MiFi, trade up to an iPad 3G when it becomes available, or none of the above.

I have an iPhone 3GS which I can use for email, Google Maps, and web surfing, so my “needs” are technically met most of the time — they’re just limited to the phone. The devices I’d love to have mobile Internet for are my laptop and my iPad. The most frequent situation is when I’m in a restaurant alone, which is pretty often. I suspect, though I don’t know for sure, that the restaurants I usually go to won’t be iPass affiliates or be close enough to one for me to connect via iPass.

I don’t travel much any more, so I’m not often in airports or hotels. Would I want to change my dining habits and start going to Starbucks and McDonald’s? Would I find myself ducking into a Starbucks and spending a couple of bucks on a beverage I wouldn’t have wanted otherwise, just to be able to sit and get online? Will the bandwidth be acceptable with multiple customers all using WiFi in the same location?

I’m not knocking the iPass service, but thinking this through, it might not be for me.

A MiFi would provide mobile Internet to my laptop. Thing is, it would have seemed a decent deal six months ago, but now the pricing feels high compared to AT&T’s rates for the iPad 3G. Part of me is trying to convince myself the MiFi would be worth it.

One twist is that with a MiFi I might be able to replace the iPhone with a cheap bare-bones phone, and basically do what Scott Lewis described doing on the iphone-talk mailing list today:

Anybody ditching an iPhone for the iPad/iTouch combo? I just did. Between the $89.99 voice plan, $20 text plan and $30 Internet plan I was at $140 + tax from AT&T. Getting a 3G iPad would add another $30 + tax or closer to $200!

I bought a MiFi (BEFORE anybody talked about that Verizon leaked memo suggesting they market MiFi to iPad customers, mind you). Once the iPad came, I spent about 3 minutes with it, and decided it was ABSOLUTELY fantastic. Within a day or so, a smartphone screen starts to hurt – you just miss that HUGE screen, and the new App UI paradigms.

So now, I have an iPod Touch (for when I need something quick), an iPad (for most other Internet based tasks), a MiFi serving 3G wireless to both 5 hours of battery at a time (plus I carry a small 1800 mAH battery that can charge any of the above). That’s $60 a month + tax. I got one of those MetroPCS phones for $40 a month tax INCLUDED. A $30 phone (Samsung candybar, weighs … nothing), that has voice dial and bluetooth support, so I never have to look at it. One USB connection later and a quick run of the free BitPim and my contacts are there, granted they don’t sync via MobileMe, but it’s not that bad), and I’m saving close to $100 a month. I also now can get wireless off my MacBook in hotels without the $10 to $15 a day charge too, as a plus, and service at those pesky airports (only half have free WiFi). Oh, and Boingo can now suck it, with their monthly charge except for iPhones and iPads that have a SECOND monthly charge. :)

Having just paid the pro-rated (slightly) iPhone 3GS cancel fee, I’ll make it back within 2 months of not paying $200 a month, and as an added benefit, when the next gen iPhone ships that’s too cool to avoid buying, I won’t have a contract anymore, and can get it at the subsidized price, and start this nasty cycle all over again.

No, I don’t know why my wife thinks I’m insane.

What I like is that now we’re talking about spending less money instead of adding paid services.

One drawback is that I’d have to carry more devices. But I bet I could just slip the MiFi into a pants pocket, and I spend very little time making phone calls, so I wouldn’t be dealing the with phone much. A bigger drawback is that I’d lose the easy archiving of my SMS conversations that I currently get when I sync the iPhone. Lately I’ve been having some important SMS conversations about family matters that I feel it’s important to archive.

Who knows, maybe Apple will announce AT&T tethering at the iPhone 4.0 presentation tomorrow. That would simplify a lot of this decision making.

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