The iPad’s Expiration Date Is in the Software

Apple has always driven its hardware and software to follow innovations. This keeps the products fresh and in demand. The downside is the need to constantly upgrade one or both to stay on the cutting edge.

Reports have portrayed the iPad as slowing in demand, because once you get one, you do not need to buy the next model. It has been compared to buying a computer that will last four or more years instead of a phone, where you buy a new one every two years.

Since no computer, phone, or tablet comes with a freshness date, how do we know how long they are expected to last? I think the answer can be found on the software side.

4g-ipod-touchI recently* did two new things. I got a fourth generation iPod touch, and I opened a new iTunes/App Store account. This led me to a discovery that I had not seen reported before.

The fourth generation iPod touch is only one revision back from what is currently available. I thought I could get a larger storage capacity (32-64 GB) without paying a premium. The prices were much lower for this model, especially for the higher capacity versions.

The kicker is that the device only supports up to iOS 6.1.6. That also sounded okay. I have a first generation iPad that only goes up to iOS 5.1.1. The iPod touch is slightly newer, so it should work as well, if not better.

My goal with the iPod touch was to get the same apps I had on the iPad. Since these were mostly free apps, I decided to use a new iTunes account. In the past, I had always used a shared iTunes account with the rest of the family. I wanted this device to be separate for use as a business tool.

To save time, I used my Mac to search for and download the apps I wanted. Then I synced the iPod touch after everything was installed. This was a disaster. The process only downloaded the latest apps, many required iOS 7 or 8 to work. The iPod is limited to iOS 6.

I felt I had been given a swift kick from Apple. Where was the “so simple it just works” that I was expecting? Granted, I had used my Mac to find the software, so I was partly to blame. But instead of the Apple software identifying the problem and checking the App Store for the correct version, it just failed with no options.

A Google search later to find out what to do, and last compatible version. Each time I got a warning message about downloading an old version, but what choice is there if you have an older device? I eventually got most of what I was looking for – but not everything.

The truth is that some software is not available on the App Store for older versions of iOS. If you have already downloaded a copy and you have it in your iTunes account, you are okay. If you search for something new – even if the app was once compatible – you can no longer have access to that app.

This issue had been partially hidden while I used my old account. Maybe the apps on my iPad were not getting updated anymore, but at least they were available. Now they were no longer available, and there was no other place to get the software.

All apps must be downloaded from the App Store; you cannot search the Internet for an old copy or buy a used copy from eBay or transfer a copy from another computer. If the App Store does not have it – even if it was once available – too bad for you. (This is excluding the unofficial jailbreak option that is not supported by Apple, and possibly the app developer.)

The Freshness Date

What does this tell us about the freshness date on iPods and iPads?

The first generation iPad came out in April 2010. The 4th generation iPod touch came out in September 2010. Neither of these support iOS 7 or iOS 8. That makes them candidates for software stagnation. Reports I found on the iPad 2 (released March 2011) do not sound positive for upgrading to iOS 8. [Update: It runs iOS 8 just fine.] That means they are mostly on the obsolete list.

Thanks to the lock-in of the App Store, your older device is not only incompatible with Apple’s latest iOS; you will also be limited on what popular apps are available that you have not already downloaded.

This gives a “best used by” date of three years based on the iPad 2, or an obsolete date of four years based on the 4th generation iPod touch.

This may be slightly longer than phones, but it is less than computers. New adopters will be the most affected, but eventually all new software will be out of reach for older iPads.

* Frank Fox sent this in in Late 2014, at which time we didn’t realize the extent of problems with older iOS devices. That has become more clear, as I will discuss in a separate articleDan Knight, publisher, Low End Mac

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