Last weekend we made the great pilgrimage across the border so that we could get iPads on the day of their release. The iPad won’t be available in Canada until the end of the month, and it seemed unfathomable to wait 20 days for a product that actually describes itself as “magical”.

As we cruise around iPad-bereft Vancouver with our his-and-hers iPads, many people have stopped us to ask what we think of our new toys. The implicit question behind the question is, of course: should I get one?  With ten days of usage now under my belt, I’m prepared to offer the following assessment of who should and should not get a first-gen, Wifi-only iPad:

Consider buying the new iPad if….

  • You want a home computer for very purely recreational use. The iPad is the first computer that doesn’t feel like it’s primarily designed for the office.  If you want a home computer for things like checking Facebook, gaming, organizing photos or looking up recipes, it’s perfect.
  • You want a computer for your kids. The iPad may be the perfect kid computer. It’s kid scale, easy and intuitive to use, and doesn’t require them to coordinate a physical mouse with an on-screen pointer. The eBook reader kicks Kindle’s ass when it comes to reading picture books, and it’s already got a decent assortment of kid-friendly educational (and not-so educational) games (which will surely grow). In particular I like how games like Labyrinth and Super Monkey Ball use the iPad’s tilt feature so that kids improve their small motor coordination and balance.
  • You want to know where computing is going. The all play and no work feel of the iPad offers a new perspective on how computers fit in our lives. While gaming, Facebook, YouTube, photo sharing and other recreational uses for computers have taken off, the computer itself has remained primarily defined by its business functions. But if you said, “hey, let’s build a computer that doesn’t need to help you get work done”, you might well come up with the iPad. That opens up a whole bunch of new possibilities for how computers can fit into our lives. If you need to start thinking about those possibilities — probably because you’re in the tech sector — then no, you don’t want to wait a month to get started.
  • You’re dependent on the office I.T. guy. If you’re the kind of person who relies on the office I.T. guy to troubleshoot any problems that come up on your office computer, you’ll probably enjoy having a home computer that limits the possibilities for things to go wrong. The iPad is what it is, for better and for worse: if you’re the kind of person who likes to tinker, your options are very limited — but if you’re the kind of person who want a machine that just works, and won’t go sideways on you, this is your machine.
  • You’re rich. If money is no object, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t buy an iPad now. Buy a few now, and give them to the kids once the 3G version comes out. Also, buy a pony.

Don’t get an iPad now if…

  • You’re looking for a machine that will help you get work done. This is not a work computer. Period.
  • You spend a lot of time out of Wifi range. I didn’t  want to cough up the cash for yet another monthly data plan, and I didn’t think I would miss the 3G access. I was wrong: the iPad is a device that is primarily compelling for its connectivity, and it’s incredibly frustrating to have your iPad out of Wifi range and be unable to look at a blog or download a new app until you get back to Wifi. My new game plan is to jailbreak my iPhone so that I can tether the iPad to the iPhone and get 3G that way; while that could save me from buying yet another data plan, I suspect that I’d prefer to pay for an extra data plan and skip the hassle.
  • You’re considering it as a netbook alternative. I thought the iPad could take the place of my hackintosh netbook, if I used an external keyboard. But the iPad doesn’t support a mouse, so even with an external keyboard you’ll need to constantly reach over the keyboard to move your pointer around by touching the screen. Since I use my netbook primarily as a lightweight writing computer, going without a mouse isn’t an appealing prospect.
  • You aren’t going to buy AppleCare. Apple runs a fantastic warranty program, and I always urge people to invest the extra money to ensure that they have bullet-proof support if something goes wrong with their Apple product, especially if it’s something portable. For $99, AppleCare is your best protection against some unforeseen problem (like the fingernail scratch that is already marring my iPad screen, and which Apple has agreed to fix) — especially key if you’re buying a first generation product.
  • You can only afford one, but are married to/cohabiting with a fellow geek. It’s just a recipe for trouble. Either you’ll end up fighting over who can finish their eBook, or you’ll buy one and hoard it — but have your relationship slowly eroded by resentment.
  • You want to be a role model for young hackers. As Cory Doctorow pointed out in his widely-discussed blog post, the iPad is the antithesis of the hackable machine that encourages creative engagement with technology. If you buy an iPad, you are being co-opted by The Man, and you’re being a bad role model for all the kids who just want to make their own software, goddamn you. And you’ll make Cory cry.