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iPad buyers forced to spend big

Published:Sunday | May 2, 2010 | 12:00 AM

US$499 for iPad: Done. But wait, you aren't done spending yet!

For US$499, consumers can buy Apple's iPad, a power adapter, a cable for connecting to a computer and not much else - other than an overwhelming urge to spend at least US$200 more.

The advertised price for the least expensive iPad might help entice more than just the well-to-do geek elite, but the cost of owning one usually turns out to be higher. Apple postponed the US launch of the product from March to April 3, and delayed plans for the international launch until late in April.

To protect this sparkling gem of a gadget, one might pick out a US$39 neoprene cover. Using the iPad more like a laptop and type on keys rather than a touch screen, a person will need a US$69 keyboard dock.

The iPad comes with basic applications, including a Web browser, email programme, YouTube video player and a mapping programme, but consumers are likely to want other apps that cost a few bucks each, plus songs, videos and e-books.

Consumers inclined to investing that much might spend US$99 more to double the length of the iPad's warranty to two years.

For most products, it is not worth buying the extended warranty. But it could be wise on the iPad because no one yet knows how long the battery or other parts will last with everyday use. Replacing a dying battery after the warranty expires, which Apple Inc prohibits iPad owners from doing themselves, would cost about US$106.

Jolie Monea accidentally broke the screen on her iPhone, so she was sure to get the neoprene cover that zips around her US$499 iPad for storage or travel. But removing the iPad from the cover to play with it made her nervous, so she returned to an Apple store to buy one that doesn't hide the device's screen but still can protect the iPad when it's in use.

She also got the US$99 AppleCare extended warranty and was considering the keyboard dock. That adds up to more than US$800 - before Washington state's 9.5 per cent sales tax, and before spending on downloadable apps.

Monea says she looks for fresh iPhone apps about twice a week, and spends US$5 to US$10 on new ones every week. In a year, if her habit is the same for the iPad, that's another US$250 to US$500, bringing her total to well over US$1,000.

Josie Liming, a photographer, wasn't sure she'd need a cover for her iPad, but decided after a few days that the answer was yes.

"It's so small, I can fit it in my bag that I carry every day with me," she said. "I'm just scared to death it's going to get scratched up with keys."

Buying an Apple gadget is never the end of the story, said Kenji Obata, who runs a technology startup called Spoon.

He knew when he bought the US$599 version of the iPad, which has twice as much data storage space as the US$499 model, that he would want more accessories.

"With Apple, you know it's coming," he said.

The University Village Apple store in Seattle is having a hard time keeping the Apple-brand protective covers in stock. The slim black covers, which double as prop-up stands, have sold out at least twice since the iPad went on sale April 3, employees said.

NLU Products LLC makes scratch-resistant films that people can buy for US$19.95 and apply to their iPad screens. The company said sales have been 20 per cent to 30 per cent higher since the iPad's launch.

Not everyone who buys an iPad is ready to swallow all these extra costs, of course.

Joseph Holmes, a fine-art photographer, turned down the extended warranty because his credit card company already doubles the warranty protection for consumer electronics.

He also isn't sure about paying US$5 or US$10 for iPad apps, which seem more expensive than iPhone apps so far.

But there is something pristine about the iPad he wants to protect, even if he has to pay.

"I just don't want to lay the iPad down," Holmes said, "and scratch the beautiful onyx Apple logo on the back."

- AP