Why does the iPad 2 still exist?

The iPad 2One of the big surprises at Apple’s recent iPad event wasn’t the announcement of the all-new iPad Air, it was Apple’s decision to keep the iPad 2 going. This sparked a variety of interesting discussions on various tech sites and podcasts, with each one trying to figure out Apple’s decision for this.

There’s likely a number of factors contributing to the longevity of the iPad 2, not just one.

Education

Apple is no stranger to offering a cut-price product for the sole purpose of being picked up by the education market en-masse, currently they offer a 21.5″ i3 iMac that is available exclusively to educational markets at just $1,099.

While a price difference of $200 when compared to the standard entry-level iMac may not seem like much, and the specs are inferior in many ways (the base iMac offers a 2.7GHz i5 with 8GB RAM, whereas the EDU iMac uses a 3.3GHz i3 and only 4GB RAM), when you’re buying them in their hundreds or thousands, that small saving adds up.

The same principal applies to the iPad 2. At $399, it’s cheaper than the iPad Air by $100 and offers the same alternative to the full-size iPad as the iPad mini does to the new iPad mini with retina display. For interactive textbooks created using iBooks Author or, indeed, any reading material that students require, the iPad 2 is more than powerful enough to meet those needs whilst offering a large screen size when compared to the iPad mini.

This does beg the question: Why not simply use the iPad mini? The iPad mini has only been out for just over a year, having been released on 23rd October 2012, meaning it has probably not yet been approved for purchase by some educational boards and institutions. While I expect many institutions will no doubt be looking towards the iPad mini in the future, and a Chicago school board already has, purchases on this scale take time to process and usually become part of multi-year contracts.

By keeping the iPad 2 around, Apple is still able to fulfil all of those orders and, at the same time, these educational boards that are ordering iPad 2s aren’t being told they need to start over.

Backwards Compatibility

The iPad 2, along with the iPhone 4S, now represent the only products Apple still sells that feature the ageing 30-pin dock connector. In the medical and scientific sectors, there are many devices and accessories designed for the 30-pin dock connector that may or may not function with the Lightning adapter.

Apple's Lightning Adapter doesn't support all features of the 30-pin dock connector

From the Apple Store, the description of the Lightning to 30-pin Adapter reads as follows:

This adaptor lets you connect devices with a Lightning connector to many of your 30-pin accessories.* Supports analogue audio output, USB audio, as well as syncing and charging. Video output not supported.

The biggest issue with the Lightning adapter is the lack of video output, meaning that many AV systems reliant on the 30-pin dock connector will simply cease working. The 30-pin dock connector supports both composite and component video output, something Lightning does not. In developing countries and/or education where the iPad is becoming something of an indispensable tool, the lack of analog video output will be a big deal.

While the many schools in developed countries will have easy access to LCD TVs and projectors, many developing countries will still use older CRT displays or early LCD TVs that only support composite or component. If you don’t think this is a big deal, it’s why the Raspberry Pi still includes both HDMI and Composite video outputs to make them as accessible as possible.

Custom Accessories

Back at the launch of iPhone OS 3.0, Apple introduced a number of abilities that developers could take advantage of to directly communicate with hardware attached to the iPhone’s dock connector. From Apple’s PR library:

Another key developer feature in the iPhone OS 3.0 beta software is the ability for apps to interface with hardware accessories, creating a whole new element of control for iPhone and iPod touch accessory developers as well as a new ecosystem of solutions for customers. Developers will also be able to use Apple’s new Maps API to integrate Google Mobile Maps services within their apps which will offer Google Map tiles, current location, custom annotations and geocoding. The iPhone OS 3.0 beta software includes the Apple Push Notification service which provides developers with a mechanism to alert users with sounds, text or a badge.

Devices such as the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor or The iBGStar Blood Glucose Meter still exist and are available for sale today; still using the 30-pin dock connector. Doctors working in remote areas with access to no advanced medical equipment use these types of devices to provide healthcare to those who would, otherwise, not receive it.

After Apple opened up access to direct access of the dock connector for apps, devices like this were able to exist

Even closer to home, many practitioners use these types of accessories that can connect to the 30-pin dock connector to provide diagnostic information regarding patients, helping doctors provide effective treatment.

While Apple can’t continue to offer the iPad 2 indefinitely and, at some point, there will no longer be a 30-pin dock connector device available, the company is prolonging it as long as it can so that developers and consumers can effectively move towards alternatives as and when needed. It’s little wonder that Apple is often touting the wireless capabilities of their devices, with Bluetooth 4.0 LE being an effective replacement for the dock connector to remove the physical attachment of devices.

It’s still better than the competition

Marco Arment raises a good point on this:

Rather than asking how Apple can keep selling the relatively ancient iPad 2 at just 20% less than its original price, maybe we should be asking why all tablets aren’t expected to be fully useful for over three years after their launch.

If Apple is selling enough of these to consumers to warrant keeping it around for another cycle, what does that say about the rest of the market? The iPad 2 certainly isn’t cheap, it’s more expensive than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 at $359, yet it is still enough of a performer that people are eschewing cheaper Android tablets for it.

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