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Is My New iPad About to Become Obsolete?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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First generation iPad home screen

(Note: Updated below with my decision.)

My birthday comes a few weeks before the holidays. This year my wife got me an iPad. I love it. (Related: her, too.) I’ve downloaded dozens of apps and have spent most of the intervening weeks playing with it. I don’t like to be without it. And yet I am seriously considering asking her to take it back to the Apple store for a refund. I worry that in two months it will be obsolete.

For all of Apple’s famous unpredictability (unlike some of its competitors, the company refuses to announce what it is planning to announce before it announces it), its hardware releases have been disarmingly regular. The iPhone, for instance, first went on sale in June 2007. Apple released subsequent models in July 2008, June 2009 and June 2010. September is the season of iPod Nano and iPod Touch updates. As for the iPad, the first version went on sale on April 3, 2010. The iPad 2 followed 49 weeks later. As we approach March 2011, the question on my mind—and I’m willing to bet on the minds of lots of other extraordinarily good boys and girls this year—is whether the iPad 3 is mere weeks away. If so, I’d like to return mine and get the new model when it comes out. If not, I’ll keep what I have.

Rumors have been abundant, as is usual with Apple. In December the Taiwanese technology Web site Digitimes predicted that Apple would introduce a new iPad at the MacWorld Expo in late January. (Digitimes leans heavily on orders placed with Asian component suppliers for its predictions.) Yet that report has since been widely criticized, with many commentators noting that Apple hasn’t attended MacWorld since 2009.

Yesterday All Things D’s Kara Swisher wrote that Apple’s late-January event will be held in New York City—not Silicon Valley, where hardware announcements are generally made—and will focus on a “media-related announcement,” perhaps something pertaining to iBooks or Apple’s iAd advertising unit. No iPad at this party. Alexia Tsotsis at Techcrunch confirms that report.

So does that mean the new iPad isn’t coming at all? I could live without my iPad for two or three months, but a half a year will be a long time to wait for a package that’s expected to have an upgraded processor, screen and camera.

Then again, I’ve waited two years already. What’s a few months’ more for a guarantee of a year of not suffering new-gadget envy?

Readers, what would you do?

UPDATE (1/5/12): This has been a tougher decision than I thought. A number of commenters here both here and on Twitter recommended that I keep the iPad 2 then sell it when the iPad 3 comes out. iPads hold their value pretty well, and the market is large and liquid. That was a very tempting idea, but I’ve never been much of an eBay user, and recent forays onto Craigslist have left me wary of scammers and crazies. And then I calculated that if the iPad loses $200 of its value between now and the release of the iPad 3, that would work out as a $100/month rental (assuming of course the iPad 3 comes out in March), which doesn’t seem to make much economic sense. And so this morning, I turned to Settings > General > Erase all content and settings, which felt like the digital version of putting the family dog down. It’s now in a mailer back to Apple returns.

In related news, later this morning I remembered that 2nd generation Kindle screens are frustratingly difficult to read in a dark subway car.

(Image by Evan Amos on Wikimedia)

About the Author: Michael Moyer is the editor in charge of space and physics coverage at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @mmoyr.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. ronburley 7:05 pm 01/3/2012


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  2. 2. emeee 7:24 pm 01/3/2012

    Oh my, what a pickle you are in. I hope you don’t have to suffer too long with such an inferior device. It will be as obsolete in two months as the next gen will be in a year and two months. Probably the best bet is to return it now and wait until technology comes to a standstill.

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  3. 3. Mr. Natural 8:05 pm 01/3/2012

    Buy a book. They never never become obsolete and they don’t need to be upgraded.

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  4. 4. Rlynnfio 9:50 pm 01/3/2012

    I can certainly understand your concern, but technology is forever changing. Will there ever be a good time to splurge on technology? No, probably not. Because you’re right, just when you think you bought the best, rumors (or maybe truths) come out that something even bigger and better is on the horizon. Being an apple user (from the original iPod to iPad2) I don’t regret one purchase. I purchased the new iPad the day it came out and it hasn’t left my side. A bit apple obssessed? Maybe… but I’ve also owned competing products and they just don’t compare. Regardless of apple technology rumors, I say keep the iPad. And if, or should I say “when” the ipad3 comes out, you can easily sell the one you have. Apple products don’t lose value. Just look at the amount of money people will pay for a refurbished iPhone. I’m getting off track now…but I think you get my opinion. Don’t sit on the sidelines! Get in the game and enjoy your iPad! I find something new on mine everyday that is useful that I would never find if I was cruising on my MacBook, which I don’t even carry since my iPad purchase. Good luck!

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  5. 5. fredjack 10:51 pm 01/3/2012

    What Rlynnflo said. You can sell the iPad2 for a pretty good little sum, and that should take a lot of the pain out of having to purchase a new one. I have one big problem with my iPad2, which I doubt they will fix this time around but hope they will eventually. It has to do with their file/directory system. You cannot be composing an email message and then attach files to it, especially different kinds of files. You can only be within an App and email a file from within that App. That is unacceptable if you want the iPad to be your primary computer. Unless there’s something new that I haven’t heard about, because I do not use my iPad for email anymore.

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  6. 6. podstawek 12:56 am 01/4/2012

    fredjack, you can use AirSharing. It is precisely what you are missing: a filesystem on iPhone/iPad. You can attach any file to an e-mail from that App.

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  7. 7. xristy 6:45 am 01/4/2012

    What does this have to do with Scientific American? A study a slow news?

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  8. 8. bokertov 7:46 am 01/4/2012

    I plan to give my iPad 2 to my parents and get an iPad 3 once it is out.

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  9. 9. maureenogle 8:38 am 01/4/2012

    But but but. Isn’t your basic assumption incorrect? Your iPad isn’t obsolete, nor will it be when iPad3 hits the stores. Your iPad 2 will still work just fine.

    What you really mean is that you want one with more bells, whistles, and grooviness, right?

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  10. 10. bobpowell_google_me 9:20 am 01/4/2012

    Apple’s reputation for keeping customers satisfied is second to none. I have most Apple devices and even my old 3G iPhone works with IOS 5, iCloud and everything else. Ok, my 4S is faster and Siri is ultra cool but your idea that because a new version is available your old device become obsolete is purest nonsense.
    Change is expected in the tech industry and Apple handle change for their customers better than anyone else. Apple fans may feel obliged to buy the new device in the same way that they may buy the latest Nike shoes, I’ll probably buy one so I can keep up with the development side of it but every one of my iDevices keeps on being useful (except the phone I busted by dismantling it)

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  11. 11. Michael Moyer 9:33 am 01/4/2012

    Thanks everyone, you make some great points. My worry is that the leap from iPad 2 to 3 will be like the one from the iPhone 3GS to 4. The display and processor are just so much better on the new one. (Though I admit my wife still happily uses her 3GS.) And I hadn’t really considered selling it, but that could be a good solution. I’m not a big Ebay seller, though, and the recent times I’ve used Craigslist I’ve found that scammers tend to outweigh real buyers 10:1 (this is in NYC). I admit I was heavily leaning towards taking it back, but this all makes me reconsider.

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  12. 12. Michael Moyer 9:34 am 01/4/2012

    And emeee, you’re totally right: This is a first-world problem par excellence.

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  13. 13. Cogitari 12:24 pm 01/4/2012

    I think the author may be the victim of marketing science. Advertisers have gotten very good at making each new product seem like a must-have item when the improvements are actually pretty minor. The antidote is psychological science, which tells us that, after we have our basic needs, the most happiness comes from experiences rather than things. So instead of trading up, perhaps the money would be better spent on doing something special with the one who gave it?

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  14. 14. jd1007 6:21 pm 01/4/2012

    The iPad 2 won’t be obsolete. In fact the iPad 1 isn’t even obsolete. They also hold their resale value much better than Android tablets due to the fact that the iPad is the leader of tablets.

    The new iPad 3 retina display is not needed either. And in my opinion is just a marketing gimmick. Such a high resolution on a tiny screen in just insane, even my 25″ LED computer monitor does not have that high a resolution, because it doesn’t need it.

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  15. 15. Jerzy New 6:38 am 01/5/2012

    Apple users need to be less obsessed by their gadgets.

    As long as Apple has fan-like following among users, no wonder it does various tricks to get as much money from them as possible.

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  16. 16. EyesWideOpen 2:41 pm 01/5/2012

    I hate to condone your shameless, self-serving return (and brazenly telling the world about it here) but rumors are strong there will be an iPad 3 in the next few months, that it’s in the pipeline as I type. Rumor also has it this iPad will eclipse any Apple product ever released, perhaps as a final 21-gun salute to its late founder. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the Blue Angels fly in formation over Apple headquarters in Cupertino on the day of its release.)

    Yes, I predict you will cry and get down on your hands and knees thanking the Lord for giving you such prescience and foresight to returning your soon to be Smithsonian Institute antiquity.

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  17. 17. HubertB 3:17 pm 01/5/2012

    Yes. The new iPad 3 will come out. Then we will read articles like this one asking the question if enough difference exists between it and the iPad 2 to make it worth someone’s time and money to upgrade. Other articles will ask if the change really is an upgrade.
    Remember, you saw it here first!

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  18. 18. uconnron 3:31 pm 01/5/2012

    Save some money; get a Kindle Fire and stay out of dark subway cars…

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  19. 19. Michael Moyer 4:34 pm 01/5/2012

    Indeed, EyesWideOpen, I hope it’s not so glorious that it doesn’t trigger the rapture! Barely missed that bullet in 2011; wouldn’t we feel silly if the only ingredient that was missing was a nine-inch retina display?

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  20. 20. zbeast 4:37 pm 01/10/2012

    The ipad is not the be all end all of pad devices.
    there are lot’s of things it can’t do.
    you can’t drag and drop movies or music to it.
    You have to use… ick…Itunes sync feature.
    You can’t watch streaming video..that uses flash.
    You can’t easily add books to it. well unless you want to buy all your content from itunes.

    Also it’s really not a replacement for a good laptop writing story’s or sending mail with attachments is just something that’s not going to happen.

    Maybe with the ipad 3 Apple will lower the walled garden a little. Letting people really use there pad’s with out having to fight with there pads.

    I’m on my second ipad2…I broke my first one in the first 3 day’s of owning it.. the pad dropped 2ft to the ground and the display shattered.

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