New iPads: What we want vs. what we need vs. what we ordered

After waiting months for new iPads, David Gewirtz and his wife have decided on what they're going to buy. No, it's not what you might expect. Here's why.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

My anticipation of last week's 2021 Spring iPad event probably came as no surprise to anyone following my announcement prediction articles. I have work projects that desperately needed an iPad infusion, and my wife needs one for her projects as well.

But what you want and what you get are often very different. In this article, I'm going to show you why I'm looking at new iPads, differentiate between want and need, and let you know my decisions (at least, for now).

What we have

Back in the first few years of the iPad, my family bought quite a few. Over time, they became incompatible with current iOS versions. They eventually went to the Apple Park in the sky.

Prior to last Tuesday's announcement, we had only two iPads: A sixth-generation base iPad from 2018, and an obsolete iPad mini from somewhere in the middle of the last decade.

I use the sixth-generation iPad almost every day, but the iPad mini has languished because fewer and fewer of the apps we need will actually still run on it.

What we need

I need at least two modern iPads for video production alone. When filming in the workshop, I can't tell you how many times I filmed an entire segment, only to discover I was fully or partially out of frame. Last year, I decided enough was enough and set up a preview monitor using my 2018 iPad.

The problem is, I've also been using that same iPad for my workshop teleprompter. I have had a few situations where I did a full stand-up segment with the prompter, only to find out later that the camera had moved, and I had to do the take all over again. So in the workshop, I actually need to use two iPads at once -- one for the preview monitor and one for the prompter.

Image: David Gewirtz

Upstairs, in my talking head studio, I have another teleprompter, with which I also use my trusty 2018 iPad. The upstairs studio setup also necessitates a second iPad to control the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K that's at the heart of the studio. Using that second iPad, I can control white balance, ISO, and start and stop recording, all without having to leave the frame to push a button on the camera.

Image: David Gewirtz

My wife needs a big iPad, the bigger the better. She is very active as a doll clothing sewist and a fiber artist.

She wants an iPad to view all her documents and -- especially -- her sewing patterns and knitting and sewing magazines. Some of these patterns come with 50 or 60 pages of instructions, and that's a lot to print out for every project. She also wants to be able to handle video production and photo editing.

She has been holding out on buying a 12.9-inch iPad for years now because she hasn't wanted to spend on it. Some time around the beginning of the year, she decided she can no longer get by without one. She has been (somewhat) patiently following my advice about waiting for this Spring's announcement.

Finding the right balance

I've written many articles here on ZDNet about how it's important to understand your own personal use case when you choose hardware. You don't want to spend too much, but you also don't want to buy something that's too weak just to save money.

I made this mistake back in 2015. When I bought my MacBook Pro, I intended it mostly for out-and-about writing. So I didn't foresee the need for super performance. I never expected to live off it as my sole computer for months while evacuating from a hurricane. I never expected to want to use it in video production. I also never expected Apple to nerf the MacBook Pro line, removing a card reader and many of the ports.

As a result, I bought a model with the i5 processor in it instead of maxing it out with an i7. About half the time, that machine just won't do what I need. Had I maxed it out, not only would I have been able to use it more, I'd have all the lovely ports we are now missing since Apple decided in 2016 that users should live with dongles, just to make the machine a bit sleeker and a bit less costly to produce. I still regret cheaping out on that particular purchase.

On the other hand, when I bought my then-new 2018 Mac mini, I tricked it out. While I'm super-impressed with the speed of the new M1 Mac mini, the 16GB RAM footprint and reduced port selection would constrain me. At last count, I had something like 25 devices connected to my trusty Intel Mac mini. The M1 can't handle that selection.

That need to balance what we need with what we want brings us to our potential iPad purchases.

What we want

My wife is very clear. She wants the 12.9-inch iPad maxed out to the fullest possible extent. She wants to be able to store the hundreds of books she has painstakingly scanned in with her Fujitsu ScanSnap on her iPad, so even if there's no internet or no internal network, she can access her cherished collection. She also wants to do her video production and graphics work using this, perhaps making it her primary creative production machine. After all, it does have an M1.

I can't really decide if I want a new 11-inch iPad Pro or a 12.9-inch one. I really want to be able to use all that M1 power and -- finally -- get a stylus to go with it. And I'd like to have an iPad for design work that's capable of more than studio display and control surface use. But there are some issues to these choices, not the least of which is that I use my iPads in a shop and studio over a concrete floor.

What we decided on

Let's talk about that concrete floor for a moment. I'm constantly taking my iPad out of its case to put it in various rigs needed for video production. I'm moving around an environment that's active and even sometimes dangerous.

Nothing about my studio production filming process requires an iPad Pro. All it requires is an iPad able to run current applications. Just to be clear, I'm not talking about editing video. I'm talking about using these iPads as appliances that control and support the video filming process.

That's in fact why I bought the original $329 sixth-generation iPad a few years ago. It's a production tool, not a productivity tool. I figured that if, while fumbling with studio rigs while documenting my use of toxic chemicals or spinning killer blades, I dropped a $329 device on the concrete studio floor, it would suck -- but not nearly as much as if I broke a thousand-dollar device.

So, on Tuesday, right after the Apple event, I shopped around a bit and found a discounted eight-generation iPad (32GB Wi-Fi) available from Walmart for $299. I ordered it, got it early Friday, and have been using it with my other inexpensive iPad for a production project this weekend. 

Finally, I have the two working iPads required for my various studio setups. Yay!

The free year of Apple TV+ which came with buying the iPad was an unexpected bonus. I was planning on signing up for Apple TV+ this year anyway in order to see Foundation (Isaac Asimov is almost a religious deity to me). We also got three free months of Apple Arcade, something we already spend on now. So, deducting the $5 per month for AppleTV+ I was going to spend anyway and the $15 from Apple Arcade I'm already spending, I effectively got the iPad for about $224. Not a bad expense to solve a burning production problem.

The alternative would have been a thousand-dollar-plus machine (what with added storage), plus $150 for Apple Care (because if you drop a thousand-dollar machine, you want it replaced for $50). All told, just insurance and replacement fees would have cost almost as much as the base iPad I bought.

And, yes, my new iPad costs less than Apple's ludicrously overpriced iPad Magic Keyboard. Mind boggled.

I still want an iPad Pro for design and productivity work, but now I can choose between the 11-inch and 12.9-inch. Had I skipped the base model and gone all-in for my studio needs, I would have been locked into the smaller model because only the 11-inch model will fit my rigs.

But I'm waiting on purchasing my design work iPad Pro. I want to see how much Denise likes her 12.9-inch, and whether it's perfect for her needs or too big. I don't critically need an iPad Pro. I absolutely critically needed a cheap iPad for production projects.

As for the big iPad Pro for Denise, we're not getting the 5G cellular model, so that reduces our cost by about $200. After all, if she wants to connect it to the internet, she can hotspot it through her phone.

The issue is storage. Apple charges a steep rate for storage. The base 12.9-inch model with 128GB is $1,099. Taking that to 1TB brings it to $1,799. Doubling that to 2TB is another $400 jump, to $2,199.

I did a careful scan of server usage. Our bookshelf server is storing 84GB. Yes, we have something above 90TB of storage on that server, but most of it is used by video, audio, virtual machines, large data buckets, and photos, not PDFs. But if she's going to also be using this as her primary video production machine, she is absolutely going to need all the storage available. I'm recommending she go with the $2,199 2TB model and that's probably what we're going to order as soon as Apple lets us.

What we want vs what we need vs what we ordered

I want a new iPad Pro and Denise wants a big iPad Pro. I needed a base model iPad and Denise needs a well-equipped, large-screen iPad. What we've ordered so far is just that one discounted base iPad (which is perfect for my urgent needs). What we will order when Apple opens up for new model orders will be a big iPad Pro with 2TB for Denise.

Sometimes it's right to buy the least expensive model if what you need is only a special-purpose appliance for a specific kind of job. Other times, it's wisest to buy a fully equipped machine that can last you for years. Sometimes, you know exactly what you need. Other times, you don't know how far you're going to go with your gear, but you want it to be able to grow with you. The challenge is knowing when to spend what for which scenario.

Later, we'll probably order a smaller or larger iPad Pro with Pencil for me, but I want to see how the bigger iPad feels to use. Stay tuned.

What about you? What are you buying from Apple's announcement? Are you picking up a set of AirTags? Are you going for the purple iPhone? Will you snag one of those colorful iMacs? Or will you buy a brain-numbingly expensive iPad -- or a cheap one from Walmart? Let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

Editorial standards