Competition as a general rule is always a good thing. In the mobile space, its an incredibly good thing, it forces both hardware and software manufacturers to constantly improve to maintain market share. One of the most recent examples of this is Apple’s decision to include a Wi-Fi hotspot feature in the next revision of the iOS software. When 4.3 ships in the next couple of weeks, iPhone users will be able to turn there 3G connection into a hotspot, allowing up to 5 devices to use the data.
This feature is common in Android phones and actually beginning to effect consumer buying decisions. To stop people choosing Android-based phones over the iPhone, Apple will match the feature. I’ve been using it now for a couple of weeks and can tell you, this is a fantastic feature, something that any phone I have from now on, must have.
Wether its my Wi-Fi only iPad or laptop on the road, being connected on devices that otherwise would be offline is a massive deal. To begin, the Wi-Fi only iPad is $170 more expensive up front, then you have to pay for a 3G data plan each month. While your not in contract and can opt-in month to month, the fact is, your still paying for 2x 3G data. What competition over the years has also achieved is much higher data caps on the phone, most of which goes unused. Check your usage, how much of that 1 or 2GB data cap did you use ?
Now admittedly there may be some people who do want 3G connectivity on an iPad and don’t own a smart phone, but that’s got to be an incredibly small percentage of users.
The other big benefactors from the upcoming Wi-Fi hotspot is iPod touch users. Imagine a road trip where mum or dad enables the hotspot feature, then the kids in the back connect their iPod touches or Nintendo DS’ to the WiFi. With all of the devices getting data from the one account, it just makes sense. Naturally connection speeds will reduce the more devices you connect, as well as your location and signal strength, but hey, your online when you otherwise wouldn’t be.
You may be wondering about public Wi-Fi hotspots and why not just use them. Great idea, except they aren’t everywhere you need them and a lot are unsecured, leaving you open to exploits like Firesheep.
So my question is given this new functionality will soon be available to iPhone users everywhere, is there really much of a market for the more expensive 3G version of the iPad ?