Why the once great iPad 2 is the dead man walking of tablets

November 26, 2013

Hands up if you thought the iPad 2 would still be available for sale some two-and-a-half years after release? I'll confess that I was certainly not part of that crew, and I doubt many were. What with Moore’s Law and the ever-increasing number of products brought to market by consumer electronics vendors, I thought that the tablet — introduced with iOS 4.3 no less — would have long since kicked the bucket.

However, the tablet remains on sale for prices starting at $399, which in itself doesn't look such a good deal considering the $299 starting price for the original iPad mini and the $499 opening price tag for the new iPad air. You can also buy some excellent., recently released non-Apple tablets for less than Apple's 2011 model such as Amazon's excellent 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX ($379).

Many industry observers have pondered Apple decision to keep its oldest tablet active. Tech writer Ryan Faas recently argued, and with some validation, that it makes the new iPad air more appealing to consumers while the widely recognized Apple guru John Gruber claimed that it could be positioned for the education market.

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iPad 2 is now the ugly duckling of Apple's tablet family

The trouble is though that, thanks in part to iOS 7, the tablet is now the ugly duckling of the iPad family. It's not just old and lacking in a few of the newer features — it's slow and simply not even doing half the job it once did.

[As an aside, I refuse to accept that a viable alternative would be having the tablet running the last iteration of iOS 6. Yes, you can run the last compatible version of running apps but developers are increasingly turning their attention to iOS 7-compatible or even iOS 7-only apps, meaning older apps are being left behind.]

I updated my iPad 2 to iOS 7 when the operating system update was made live in September. Initially I liked the typography, the new parallax interface, the control center and even less noticeable changes like the notifications bar, the new stock photo app and the ability for apps to auto-update in the background.

However, there’s no denying that my device has been slower at almost everything from cold-booting to loading apps ever since. The battery life is significantly weaker than it was just three months ago and up-to-date apps (as well as the Safari and Chrome browsers) crash at regular intervals. I’ve done all the things to speed up the iPad, from reducing the motion effects and freeing up storage to stopping apps refreshing content on the fly in the background. It makes little difference.

Some others have had issues when updating to iOS 7.0.3 where it can't come out of standby.

Planned obsolescence or just plain old?

There are two lines of thinking when it comes to ageing products, like the iPad 2 in focus here. The first is that old products are inevitably less usable over time – devices slow down as memory space fills up, batteries wear the effects of improper charging, and the products themselves are often dropped or subject to water, dust and other substances.

The New York Times’ Catherine Rampell recently argued a second line of thinking though; cynically suggesting that Apple deliberately slows down their products in a bid to push consumers towards newer models. It’s a strategy known as ‘planned obsolesce’, a term which dates back to the Great Depression when bankers suggested that the Government could stimulate the economy by placing expiration dates on products.

“At first, I thought it was my imagination. Around the time the iPhone 5S and 5C were released, in September, I noticed that my sad old iPhone 4 was becoming a lot more sluggish. The battery was starting to run down much faster, too. But the same thing seemed to be happening to a lot of people who, like me, swear by their Apple products.

“When I called tech analysts, they said that the new operating system (iOS 7) being pushed out to existing users was making older models unbearably slow. Apple phone batteries, which have a finite number of charges in them to begin with, were drained by the new software. So I could pay Apple $79 to replace the battery, or perhaps spend 20 bucks more for an iPhone 5C. It seemed like Apple was sending me a not-so-subtle message to upgrade.”

Gizmodo writer Brian Barrett retorted that used products are likely to degrade over time and while I agree with that, I’d concur with Rampell that Apple is sending a message here.

I mean, if it wasn’t enough that the iPad 2 only supports a handful of iOS 7 features, the tablet is priced as it is before and is one of only two Apple tablets coming minus the Retina Display. It also has the older dual-core A5 chip, basic dual-facing cameras and doesn't support Bluetooth 4.0.

So Apple is essentially, and not so subtly, advising you to upgrade, with the iPad 2 remaining nothing more than the oddly dressed manikin in the shop that makes all other goods look attractive.

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