The Original iPad Can Be a Poor Value

My wife had been wanting an iPad, so now and again I’d scan Craigslist for local deals. This past winter I found a pretty good price on the original iPad that I could just afford with the cash I’d been setting aside. It even had a case and dock cable, although no power adapter.

Clash of Clans startup screenBest of all, the guy I was buying it from had been playing Clash of Clans on it that day, so it was compatible with a game I’ve been playing for some months now. Not that I’d get the chance to play it on her iPad, but….

The seller was an Android fan who wanted to get a feel for iOS, decided he still preferred Google’s mobile platform, and wiped the iPad with a fresh installation of iOS 5.1.1.

Little did I realize how limiting that would be! After all, Apple has been supporting “last compatible versions” of iOS apps since late 2013. It should have been no problem to replicate most of what was on her iPhone 4S.

Should have been – but wasn’t.

A Catastrophic Failure

original iPad

I set up the iPad using her iTunes account and restored most of what was on her iPhone 4S. It was a disaster. Most of those apps were too new, and because we use my iTunes account for most of our downloads, she didn’t even have access to last compatible versions of those apps – they’d been installed from my account.

Then it struck me that I would have to wipe the iPad anew, set it up using my iTunes account, and then restore things from her iPhone 4S backup to the new-to-us iPad.

A Big Step Forward

That worked a whole lot better. We now had last compatible version access to many of the apps she was already using – but only ones where there had been an iOS 5 compatible version. That eliminated quite a few of her apps.

The last compatible version of Safari is a buggy thing that quits on a whim. It’s driving her crazy. But Apple doesn’t care. iOS and Safari left those versions behind long ago. There’s no need to keep old hardware stable when Apple can sell you a new version.

Anyone who has used the Facebook app over the years knows how unstable older versions were. That includes the one on her iPad with iOS 5.1.1.

Some of the apps she uses come in separate iPhone and iPad versions, and since we only had the iPhone versions, she can only download the last compatible iPhone versions. Unless we get a newer iPad, she won’t have access to the iPad-only versions of these apps.

To add insult to injury, until April 2015 you could view all YouTube content on the last compatible version of the YouTube app. Newly updated content is not compatible with iOS 6 and earlier (or smart TVs without HTML 5 support – Google has a list). My grandson is into all things Transformers and can still watch most Transformer-related content on the iPad, but it’s going to be an issue going forward.

Give Us a Break, Apple

Being able to download the last compatible version of an app is a huge blessing compared to Apple’s policy prior to October 2013, when older versions pretty much vanished from availability. If your iDevice had too old a version of iOS for the current version of an app, you couldn’t use it.

But the way Apple set up its last compatible version policy is kind of odd. You can download an older version of an app on your older iDevice with an older version of iOS only if you have installed that version or a more recent one in the past. In other words, if you never downloaded an app and now want an older version of it, you’re out of luck.

Not a problem for iOS users who keep fairly up-to-date. My wife and I each have an iPhone 4S, and before that we each had an iPhone 3GS, so we’ve got plenty of apps we’ve downloaded over the years, so a lot of those apps can be easily loaded onto this iPad and run – albeit almost always in an older, somewhat outdated version.

One problem arises when there are separate iPhone and iPad versions of an app. Since we had not owned an iPad prior to this, we were unable to install the iPad versions of anything on our iPhones. If there’s a newer version incompatible with iOS 5, we can’t get the older version unless we obtain an iPad with a newer, compatible version of iOS.

It’s a real catch 22 for anyone who wants to buy an older iPad, but most especially the original iPad from 2010 that’s limited to iOS 5.1.1. This is especially frustrating because every iPad released since then is compatible with iOS 8.3, which is the current version. Only the original is left with a version three revisions old.

The Original iPad Is Not Alone

The 3G iPod touch is also limited to iOS 5.1.1. The iPhone 3G and 2G iPod touch are limited to iOS 4.2.1. And the original iPhone and iPod touch are both limited to iPhone OS 3.1.3, so a few devices are even more limited than the original iPad in terms of OS and software.

The 2009 iPhone 3GS and 4G iPod touch can both run iOS 6.1.6, which is very modern by comparison to 5.1.1 and has a much richer range of available software. As the owner of an iPhone 3GS and a 4G iPod touch, I can attest to that.

Every iPad introduced from 2012 to the present can run iOS 8.3, as do the 2012 5G iPod touch and the 2011 iPhone 4S and every iPhone since. And only a single iDevice, the iPhone 4, is limited to iOS 7.1.2.

A Better Compatible App Policy

Apple still sells old apps in the iTunes Store that are not even compatible with iOS 8 – but you won’t find that out until you buy them and discover that they won’t run. But are you going to fight Apple over 99¢? Probably not. And if you have an older iDevice, you may find that app does with with iOS 5, 6, or 7.

Here’s my suggestion to Apple:

  • If your iDevice and your installed version of iOS cannot support the current version of an app but a previous version was compatible, let the user obtain that version on their device regardless of whether they have ever had a newer version associated with their iTunes Store account.
  • If an app is not compatible with the version of iOS installed on your iDevice, do not allow the customer to download it on that device. Stop selling obsolete, outdated, or just old software with no warning that it may not be compatible with the device a customer is using to access the App Store.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

What of the 1G iPad?

Without such a policy, older iDevices will become less useful every time they change hands.

With Macs, we’ve always prided ourselves as Mac owners that the machines we bought would always be more useful over time as the OS and software moved forward, even if it sometimes required a memory upgrade or bigger hard drive. With iDevices, the same is true to a far more limited extend, because the App Store is our only legitimate software source.

We don’t expect the original iPhone or iPod touch to be anywhere close to supported after all these years. We can understand the iPhone 3G, 3GS, and 4 being left behind. Ditto for the 2G, 3G, and 4G iPod touch. Then again, there are still quite a few current apps supporting iOS 6, and a lot more that work with iOS 7.

But without any changes to Apple’s previous version policy, anyone buying a 1G iPad as their first iDevice is in for a rude awakening. There’s just too little software available if you don’t already have a newer iDevice so you can have access to previous versions compatible with iOS 5.

Why Not to Buy a 1G iPad

Here are the reasons I would not buy another 1G iPad:

  • Very limited access to previous versions of apps, even if you do have a newer iDevice.
  • No cameras. Not on the back. Not on the front. Every iPad since has both.
  • Only iPad with a single-core CPU, and with only 256 MB of RAM at that.

The 2G iPad has a dual-core CPU and twice as much RAM for far better performance – not to mention being able to run iOS 8.3 for huge access to up-to-date apps.

Why to Buy a 1G iPad

I can think of just a few reasons to choose a 1G iPad:

  • You know it runs the apps you want and that they are readily available. Clash of Clans, for instance.
  • You want to use it to listen to music. It has pretty impressive speakers, especially compared to an iPhone.
  • You really have no use for a built-in camera.
  • It’s the least expensive way to get that gorgeous 1024 x 768 pixel display. pegs the value of a 16 GB 1G iPad with WiFi at $30 and 32 GB at $50. The 16 GB iPad 2 is worth $60, and the 32 GB version $80. You’ll get less trading it in, pay a lot more when buying from a dealer, and can probably do a bit better than this selling directly. For the one I bought, it should easily command $50 and could go as high as $100 depending on condition and accessories.

For my money, I should have waited for an iPad 2. The ability to run iOS 8, the cameras, and the extra processing power make it the one to buy unless absolute price is your biggest concern.

Caveat emptor – buyer beware.

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