When Apple announced the latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 6, it also raised an interesting question: what’s the expected useful life of an iPad?
I ask this because iOS 6 will not work on the first-generation iPad, which debuted a little more than two years ago and was the only iPad customers could buy as recently as March 2011, just 15 months ago. While consumers have gotten used to getting new phones every couple of years, even high-end phones only run a few hundred bucks once we sign a new phone contract.
Laptops, which iPads often seem to be replacing, don’t benefit from carrier subsidy, and users who upgrade every couple of years seem extravagant. But a five-year-old PC seems, to me, a little long in the tooth.
Doesn’t it seems reasonable for an iPad’s useful life to be somewhere in the middle? At $500 for the low-end iPad, it costs more than a subsidized phone, and is cheaper, in most reasonable cases, than a laptop.
I could reasonably, I think, expect a new iPad to be kept up-to-date for three years. By cutting the original iPad out of iOS 6, Apple seems to have decided that less than a year and a half is enough.
I don’t know Apple’s reasons, and I don’t know what the technical limitations of iOS 6 are. It could be that the original iPad can’t handle the new software. I do know that, until last week, I was plodding along on an OG iPad, and, despite my complaints about the time the device took to swtich apps, and the lagginess when a notification would come in while I was playing a graphically intense game, it was a perfectly functional computer. It handled e-mail, writing and Internet browsing just fine. My 6-year-old, now the owner of a gently used first-generation iPad, chides me for ever complaining about it’s lack of snappiness.
To put it another way: my first-gerneration iPad was still an adequate post-PC device.
Maybe most people won’t care if their iPad is on iOS version 5.1.1 or 6.0. But Apple did just get done mocking Android for seeing so many users stuck on old versions of Google’s OS. It did a some chestbeating about how quickly OS X Lion was adopted. What would the reaction be if Apple or Microsoft didn’t offer an upgrade path to a two-year-old PC? I don’t know, but I don’t expect it would be positive.
The tablet market will, I have no doubt, be larger than the PC market ever was. That’s why Apple cutting off relatively new hardware from software upgrades makes me a little uncomfortable.