Apple's iOS 6 leaves original iPad out in the cold

One of the surprising things about Apple’s new iOS 6, which I reviewed in my column today, is that owners of the original iPad can’t install it.

Apple released the iPad about two-and-a-half years ago. At the time, the company touted the device’s fast processor and slick operation. Yet now the company has essentially declared the device to be obsolete.

If you were one of those who jumped on the iPad bandwagon right away — and paid $500 or more for your device — you have every right to feel duped now.

It’s not that the iPad will suddenly become unusable. But it won’t become much more useful than it already is. The new functions that Apple is adding to iOS, such as Siri or the ability to stream photos to your friends, will never make it to the original iPad. And it’s likely that developers will sooner or later stop writing apps that will run on it, in part because the new features that they can access on other iOS devices won’t run on the old iPad.

But the bigger problem is one of security and stability. Once Apple puts out a new version of iOS, it has traditionally stopped updating older versions. Any new bugs and security holes that are subsequently discovered are left unfixed.

To be sure, it’s not surprising that Apple has decreed that certain devices won’t get the update. With each new version of iOS or Mac OS, they company usually leaves some devices out in the cold. Apple didn’t make a version of iOS 5 for my iPhone 3G. And with iOS 6, Apple is leaving behind the third-generation iPod touch in addition to the original iPad.

Apple’s seeming rationale for leaving behind certain devices is that it allows the company to improve the software without feeling like it has to be held back by the oldest, slowest devices. The policy also, obviously, encourages new device sales; if you want to get the latest, greatest features — or even an up-to-date copy of the operating system — you have to upgrade to a new device.

From a consumer perspective, that policy is somewhat understandable when it comes to the iPhone. American consumers tend to replace their cell phones every two years, and Apple’s iOS updates usually have been applicable to phones that are more than two years old. For example, the iPhone 3GS, which is now more than three years old, will get a version of iOS 6.

And the update situation for iPhone owners is worlds better than that faced by owners of most Android devices. For them, it’s seldom clear if or when they will get an operating system update; some have had to wait nine months to get the latest version of Android. With iOS, all iPhone owners who have an eligible device can upgrade to the latest version of the software right away.

But Apple’s policy of leaving older devices out in the cold seems remarkably unfair to owners of the original iPad — and a worrisome indicator of Apple’s attitude toward tablet buyers.

Consumers may expect to replace a phone every two years or so, but they don’t generally expect to replace a computer that often. With a computer, you often shell out a larger amount of money (at least up-front) than you would with a phone, and you expect the device to last proportionally longer. The conventional wisdom is that it should last for three to five years. But Apple seems to be suggesting that we ought to replace our iPads ever two years or so — just like the iPhone.

Five hundred dollars (or more) seems a lot to shell out every two years or so for a device that’s being pitched as a new-age PC replacement. Just remember that the next time you consider buying one.

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (255 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.