Advice For First Time iPad Owners

You waited patiently. For two years, you watched as the iPad became more powerful and its software library exploded. Now the third generation iPad is here, and you finally made the leap. Given the mountain of potential accessories, apps, and additions available, we've put together a few tips for first-time iPad owners like yourself.

There are so many accessories available - where do I start?

Buying an iPad for the first time presents an interesting dilemma. It may be unclear exactly how you're going to use your tablet over time. Perhaps you expect to only consume content - watch movies, read news and emails, etc - only to find that you love using it to create digital artwork. You might buy a physical keyboard if you anticipate a lot of typing, but what if the dictation feature works wonders for you?

The iPad is an incredibly versatile device, and your expectations for use may be turned upside down after just a week of ownership. For this reason, I recommend holding off on buying highly specialized accessories, such as wall mounts, cases with built-in keyboards, and specific adapter cables.

There are a few "safe bets" to make when you first purchase. For basic protection, Apple's Smart Covers are a great start. They shield the screen, prop up the iPad with a simple fold, add minimal bulk, and pop on and off with ease. A snap-on shell (like Belkin's Snap Shield) is a sound choice for protecting the iPad's rear - just remember to find an iPad 3-compatible shell, as the dimensions vary slightly from the previous model, and these cases fit snugly. A simple sleeve can add protection in a messenger bag or backpack. I'm a particular fan of these handmade wool felt sleeves by artist Angie Davis, aka Byrd & Belle.

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These protective products are an excellent place to start. Once you've become better acquainted with your iPad, venture out and find the specialized accessories that complement your workflow. There are some truly wonderful products out there, such as Twelve South's PlugBug (which expands your MacBook power adapter to charge your iPad) and Incase's Origami Workstation (an Apple Wireless Keyboard carrying case that folds to become an iPad stand as well).

Is AppleCare worth it?

Your iPad comes with a year of hardware coverage and 90 days of phone support, both of which can be extended to two years by purchasing AppleCare. In the past, this program didn't cover accidental damage, leaving accident-prone customers with hefty repair bills. With the new iPad, however, Apple has implemented AppleCare+, an expanded service that debuted with the iPhone 4S last fall. AppleCare+ costs $99 up front, and users are covered for up to two "incidents of accidental damage", each of which is subject to a $49 service fee. While this may sound pricey, remember that without AppleCare+, consecutively replacing two accidentally-damaged tablets could run you over $1,000. If you're notoriously rough on your tech, this may be a sound investment.

AppleCare+ must be bought along with your iPad or within 30 days of purchase. To do the latter, you must make an appointment at your local Apple Store so that a Genius can inspect your iPad. This prevents folks from buying AppleCare+ after they've already damaged their device. Once your tablet passes inspection, you'll be able to buy AppleCare+, which will activate immediately.

What's the best way to charge my iPad?

One look within an iPad and you'll see that it's basically a massive battery attached to a screen. To power the updated display, beefy processor, and 4G LTE chip, Apple doubled the battery capacity over last year's model. The best way to charge your iPad is with the included 10 watt power adapter. The high-power USB ports found in some recent computers can provide a decent alternative, but the speed won't compare to the 10 watt adapter. The same goes for an iPhone power adapter - it'll work, but slowly. If you're shopping for a third-party charger, make sure it specifically mentions the iPad, as many iPhone or iPod specific chargers won't give you the juice you need for an effective charge. For more information about the iPad's battery and how to get the most out of it, check out Apple's informational page.

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Remember: More Pixels, More Megabytes

The new iPad's marquee feature is its Retina display, which boasts 3.1 million pixels - four times that of its predecessor. What you might not consider is that with such a jump in resolution comes a jump in file sizes. Every icon, texture, photo, video, illustration, and animation must be scaled appropriately, making every app larger in turn. For example, Apple's presentation app Keynote jumped from 115MB to 327MB to support the 9.7" Retina display. Graphically intense apps such as games are most likely to push the envelope.

Depending on your iPad's capacity and the kind of apps you use, this may not become an issue for you. However, if you're concerned about space when buying an app, you can check it's size in it's App Store listing, right after the version field. To learn about the apps you've already downloaded, open up the Settings app, then tap through to General > Usage, where you'll find a breakdown of your iPad's occupied memory. It's a handy way to keep track of your available space!

Images: 1. Gregory Han, 2. Twelve South & Incase, 3. iFixit