Tuesday, August 14, 2012

how disposable is an ipad?

as much as i love my iphone, i realize that it's basically a rip off. we used to buy appliances and expect them to last for several decades. that included telephones. i remember the same phones handsets in my house for most of my childhood

then came computers. because of moore's law, the rapid advancement of operating systems, the general fragility of hard drives (especially early generation ones), and (most importantly) the economic interest of the people who sold hardware and software, we got used to having to replace our computer ever 4-6 years. hard core computer people would upgrade even more often to keep up with the latest software (especially games). but for most people a good personal computer would last at least several years. nevertheless we, as a society, got used to computers having a shorter shelf life than just about anything else in our house that cost that much money. by the second decade of the computing age, it didn't seem strange to call a five year old computer "really old."

then cell phones came along, and (in the u.s.) the standard two year wireless service contract. under that regime phone manufacturers and cell phone providers had an incentive to make phones that would fall apart in just under two years, to coincide with the end of the user's two year service contract. just as the customer was about to be free from the contract, the user would need a new phone, which could be sold by the wireless carrier at a discount," provided the user enter into another two year contract in which the cell phone company would make up the cost of the discounted phone several times over.

this two-year life span model for cell phones continued even with the coming of smart phones. smart phones are just small computers, but we now accept that they have an even shorter life span than the already short life span of a home computer. if you think about it, there's no reason a small pocket-sized computer shouldn't last as long as a laptop computer. but because they were a "cell phone" under the same two year contract regime of their dumb phone predecessors, we accepted that our pocket-sized computers would last half as long as a full sized computer. (okay, maybe they would have a little shorter life span on average from jangling around in the user's pocket. i still think that extra wear and tear wouldn't reduce the life span by half)

now we have tablets. the ipad was the first really successful tablet. it uses the iOS operating system, the same operating system that powers the iphone. other tablets followed suit, using other operating systems originally developed for smart phones, like the android operating system.

i have an ipad. it's somewhere between a computer and smart phone, but mostly, i go to it to get on the internet without having to squint at the small screen of my iphone. which means i think of it as more like a computer than a phone. plus it feels bigger and more substantial than a phone. it doesn't have a two year contract. it doesn't jangle around in my pocket. i think i expect it to have a life expectancy more like a computer than a phone. maybe other people feel the same way, but it's hard to tell because the ipad debuted two years ago. the mass obsolescence hasn't happened yet.

but maybe it will soon. in a month or so, apple is rolling out iOS 6.0, the new operating system for iphones and ipads. iOS 6.0 isn't compatible with the first generation ipad from two years ago. which means that first gen owners will be stuck with iOS 5.x, and eventually the apps they use will update to be compatible with iOS 6 and will probably stop being as compatible with iOS 5. unless the developers take pity on the first gen people and keep their apps compatible with iOS 5, one by one they will stop working.

which will put pressure on the people with an original ipad to upgrade. and either most of them will, which will establish a standard two-year life span for ipads like we already have for iphones, or they will resist, and apple and software developers will have to take them into consideration.

i really hope it's the latter. i have an ipad 2. mine probably won't become obsolete until iOS 7 releases some time in 2013. but i don't want to feel like i have to buy a new ipad every two years to keep it doing what it already does a good job doing. it annoys me to no end that i might be forced to decide whether to drop several hundred dollars ever other year to keep up, or have an expensive device that does stuff i like, but then stops being able to do it after a couple of years just because of the self-interests of the greedy people who make the software.