The masses love the third-generation iPad, which was officially released on March 16 in the US, as evident by the fact Apple sold more than 3 million units within the first 72 hours.
Reviews were glowing, but on top of the much-publicized Wi-Fi and temperature issues, the tablet has original iPad and iPad 2 owners wondering if Apple’s rabid release schedule is a planned obsolescence scheme that may ultimately render earlier generation devices useless… devices that cost at least $499 just one or two years ago. But is the release of the new iPad a cunning plan orchestrated by Apple to compel users of a soon-to-be-outdated technology to double their money down for the latest and greatest offering? Or are the criticisms simply a case of sour grapes from iPad owners who should have known that a leaner, meaner technology would be here sooner rather than later?
The reality of the situation is that there are high-profile apps the original iPad, with its 256GB of RAM and single-core processor cannot run, including Photoshop Touch and iPhoto. Also, many original iPad users complained loudly of sluggish performance when the iOS 5 update rolled out earlier this year. Will iPad 2 owners face the same issue when apps designed specifically with the high-resolution Retina Display in mind ship?
Business and Innovation
Dr. Gerry Purdy, principal analyst with MobileTrax, views the situation as a combination of smart business and unprecedented speed of innovation. “It’s not that Apple builds their parts to fail in 24 months,” he says. “They build them to last. But they do take advantage of improvements and advances in technology to build products that are better. I’m sure Apple takes into account planned obsolescence by leveraging their new technology so that most people who have their older devices will want to get the new, improved unit. I call this the ‘drool factor.’ Apple, like others, is trying to establish a recurring revenue stream by creating great products that people want to buy and then re-buy in a couple of years when they bring out newer, better versions. I’m sure there will be an iPhone 5, 6, 7 … 25. And people will drool over them and eventually will upgrade to them.”
According to Stu Cameron, co-founder and managing director of Australian-based iOS app developer Tilt+Co, “Any debate about planned obsolescence is moot.” Cameron goes on to echo Purdy’s sentiments, owing much of the hullabaloo to Apple’s seeming ability to make giant leaps in short periods of time. “Apple simply couldn't build the new iPad three years ago. When it became possible to develop a large scale Retina display, they built it. The market is so utterly rapacious that Apple could launch a new tablet every two months and the market would soak it up. Importantly, consumers who bought an iPad 1 or 2 still love their Apple tablets.”
Asked his opinion of whether or not the rapid-fire release of improved generations of iPads signals a coordinated plan by Apple to bilk the tech-hungry public out of a few hundred dollars every year, Cameron added: “There is always chatter about Apple's rapid product life cycles. Three new tablets in 18 months is considered by some to be too fast. In reality, all that matters is that each product has been more successful than the last.”
No User Upgrades
On the other hand, proponents of the planned obsolescence theory remind us that although technology does march on and what was cutting edge today will very likely be archaic next year, even dinosaur notebooks are capable of being upgraded through the beefing up of RAM and the use of SSD technology – something that’s impossible with the iPad because of its closed design. Naturally, this is a point of contention that’s caused many an original iPad owner to cry foul.
So what should first- and second-generation iPad owners do? The general sentiment of the next-generation iPad reviews is that iPad 2 owners can afford to wait. The third-generation iPad features a beefed up graphics processing unit and more RAM, both in place to handle the high-resolution Retina Display, but it still has a dual-core 1GHZ CPU. As Ed Hardy wrote in his TabletPCReview new iPad review, “In most respects, the Apple A5X processor that's in this tablet is identical to the one in the iPad 2, so the performance of the two is about the same. Benchmarks and real-world experience bear this out.”
Who is Getting the Updates?
Eventually, increased development of applications that take advantage of the third-generation iPad’s super-high resolution are bound to leave early generation iPad owners out in the cold, as will future iOS updates. Original iPad owners will probably not see any more major iOS updates, while iPad 2 owners are probably safe for the time being, given Apple’s support history. It’s the same fear that was realized by iPhone 3G owners when they were left behind in early 2011, after Apple determined that the iPhone 3G would no longer receive software updates as a part of its iOS 4.3 rollout.
According to Eric Barrett, iOS app developer and owner of gammaPrima, none of this is likely to happen overnight. “On the surface, the new iPad isn’t the game-changer many people had anticipated,” he says, “but it’s a step in the right direction. There aren’t many apps that take full advantage of its graphics prowess, therefore the original iPad and the iPad 2 are safe from obsolescence for another year.”
Assuaging concerns that app developers will forget all about early generation iPad owners to focus on iPad 3 application development, Barrett says “As for gammaPrima, we need to write our code to work with the lowest common denominator, the original iPad. Given the number of original iPads out there, it would be foolish to write off millions of users.”
Where is the iPad 3?
In the end, the implications of the new iPad are both exciting and daunting, depending on where a person’s coming from and how much spending money they have set aside for Apple’s annual one-upmanships. Those with thin wallets may want to pay close attention to a detail that’s been noticed, but little commented on: the device’s name. Does the fact that Apple chose to call it “the new iPad” indicate that a bona-fide iPad 3 is just around the corner? Only time will tell.
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