Bruce Sterling, SF writer, has pointed out that the Gobi Desert is far more hospitable than Mars, so before we ever settle Mars we’ll have settled the Gobi Desert (i.e. not any time soon). He also points out that by the time we have the ability to terraform Mars, we’ll be doing much more interesting things.
Sterling is missing the point here. People don’t want to settle Mars just because it happens to exist, they want to settle it because it happens to be very interesting. The Gobi Desert is not that interesting and it does not require settlement to find out whatever little that is interesting about it. However, Mars is a giant world-sized sandbox of possibilities that could tell us about the origin of the solar system, the formation of planets and perhaps life in the universe. There is no more closer or easily-reached place than Mars for finding those things out. Robots and other kinds of unmanned exploration can find out a lot from Mars, but scientists are agreed that humans beat the pants off robots when it comes to science and discovery, and that they will probably continue to do so for the next few decades.
Given that we may want to explore Mars and that using humans may be a very good way to do it, a permanent human settlement makes sense where the settlement of the Gobi Desert does not. The terraformation and material exploitation of Mars, however, is a completely different issue.