Thursday, March 8, 2012

Buyer's Remorse

Apple unveiled its newest iPad yesterday, yet in under 24 hours, I've already developed buyer's remorse. I don't have the iPad yet - I pre-ordered for delivery next Friday - but I'm already leaning more toward returning the iPad than keeping it. This is just the latest edition of purchasing indecision for me: in college, it took me 2 1/2 years and 13 jackets before I settled on one.

This iPad situation is different, however, because the machine has everything I wanted: a crazy high resolution display that looks as good as print, 4G LTE data connectivity, and a 10 hour battery life. The entry level version replaces the old model at the same $499 price point. Why then am I agonizing over buying it?

For the past 8 years, my computer usage profile has simply been a full-featured 15" laptop. In 2009, I added an iPhone, and in 2011, I received a decent laptop/desktop setup at work, but in the end, whether I'm in bed or on the couch or at the airport, I'm using my 15" laptop. My desire to purchase an iPad was motivated, in part, by being unable to replace my 4 1/2-year-old laptop while Intel continually delays the release of Ivy Bridge, their new processor and platform, but also because I thought it would be nice to be able to make digital annotations on the academic papers I read. Unlike making annotations on printed papers, I wouldn't have to keep track of the physical copies, and the digital annotations would even be searchable. The rest of the iPad's capabilities are nice if somewhat redundant in my usage profile, so when the new iPad was announced, I immediately placed my pre-order.

Later in the day, someone threw out the suggestion that with an iPad, I could replace my laptop with a cheaper, more powerful desktop. I haven't owned one in many years, but my work setup was growing on me, so I started to seriously consider the notion. Then this morning, everything fell apart.

I was sitting on my couch with CNBC on the TV, watching The Daily Show on Hulu, when I remembered that Hulu doesn't allow mobile devices to access its content without first subscribing to Hulu Plus. I could avoid Hulu by just downloading the shows, but I'd still have to transfer them from the downloading computer to my iPad, a nontrivial inconvenience. Furthermore, I was simultaneously chatting with friends and reading news articles, a level of multitasking that cannot be done on any device short of a laptop. And so I came to the harsh realization that iPad + desktop was a non-starter.

What about iPad + laptop? Surely that's a reasonable setup, and indeed, that was my intent all along, to buy an iPad upon release and replace my laptop upon Ivy Bridge's release. But then I started thinking to myself, is $500 really a good use of money for a half-internet device to read papers on? Aggravating my reluctance was an alluring pair of Harry's of London brown wingtips on Gilt for $199, down from $575 MSRP. I didn't end up buying the wingtips, but they did make me reconsider what might be my optimal purchasing strategy.

It seems inevitable that I will return my iPad and just buy a replacement laptop, but saving the $500 may not be as meaningful as staving off possession bloat. I would like to link this to some part of the economics literature dealing with consumer choice, but honestly, I'm so neurotic when it comes to these things that I surely do not show up in any general model and only might be interesting as a case study. I can offer one useful thought: as the economy recovers and we have more discretionary income to spend, perhaps we should be asking ourselves not what to buy but whether to buy at all.

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