As rumors and reports swirl about the ever-more-likely possibility that Apple will soon make an iPhone model compatible with and available from Verizon Wireless, official word has come down that the cellular carrier will sell the iPhone's big sibling, the iPad, in its phone stores by the end of October.
Starting on 28 October 2010, you can buy a Wi-Fi iPad at over 2,000 Verizon Wireless stores in the United States by itself or bundled with the MiFi, a cellular router. The base price for iPads is a very slight markup from the Apple Store price - less than a dollar. The 16 GB iPad sells for $499.99, the 32 GB model for $599.99, and the 64 GB model for $699.99.
The 3G model of the iPad works in the United States only over GSM networks, and works only at 3G speeds on AT&T's network. Verizon and Apple did an end-run about this network compatibility problem. For 3G access on Verizon's CDMA network, you pony up another $130 for a MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot. That $130 is the same difference between the Wi-Fi and 3G iPad models that Apple and its retail partners charge. (Verizon's network operates at a raw downstream rate of about 3 Mbps; AT&T's current network tops out at about 3.6 Mbps, but a 7.2 Mbps update is rolling out, and is currently active in limited cities. The 3G iPad can use that higher downstream rate when it's live, just like the iPhone 3GS and 4.)
The pocket-sized MiFi connects to Verizon's cellular data network and shares that connection with up to five Wi-Fi devices. (Discerning readers will note that one could buy a single iPad-MiFi bundle and share its mobile broadband connection with up to four other Wi-Fi-enabled devices.) The MiFi 2200 has a rechargeable battery that can provide 4 hours of active use and 40 hours of standby time before it needs to be recharged. Purchasers of the bundle need to activate the MiFi by syncing it with a Mac or PC, after which it can be used without accessing the computer again.
Verizon will offer three unique monthly data plans for the MiFi bundle: $20 for 1 GB (and $20 for each additional GB), $35 for 3 GB, or $50 for 5 GB ($10 per extra GB). No other data device from Verizon comes with similar plans.
Although purchasers will have to sign a service agreement with Verizon, the data plans themselves are on a month-to-month basis, and can be changed or cancelled at any time with no termination fee. The MiFi can be purchased separately, but then must be used with a two-year, $60-per-month plan limited to 5 GB with per-megabyte overage fees, as well as cancellation penalties.
(Discerning readers will also note that you could buy the bundle, then resell your Wi-Fi iPad in its original box and just keep the MiFi.)
If Verizon is not your cup of connectivity, Virgin Mobile also offers the MiFi with an unlimited service plan - $40 for 30 days - as Glenn Fleishman reported a few months ago. See "Virgin Mobile Offers MiFi Mobile Hotspot without Contract" (28 June 2010).
The Verizon deal was not the only iPad announcement of the day. Apple also announced that both Wi-Fi and 3G iPads would be coming to over 2,200 AT&T stores in the United States, also on 28 October 2010. Prices for the devices will be the same as at the Apple Store. iPad data plans from AT&T currently cost $14.99 per month for 250 MB and $25 per month for 2 GB, and require no long-term contract; you can cancel at any time.
With the news that iPads are now available in China, as well as the recent addition of the magic slab to 1,743 Target stores and several thousand Wal-Mart stores (joining Best Buy and Micro Center in the United States), the iPad seems poised to give Apple a very merry holiday season, indeed!
That's especially relevant in the face of upcoming tablets based on Android or Windows 7. Although much will be made of these tablets among the drama-addicted press, it seems unlikely that any of these tablets will be able to mount a significant challenge to the iPad in the near future given Apple's dominant market position, backed up as it is by this significant distribution network.