Just a month after the company’s U2-studded announcement of the Apple Watch and new iPhones, Apple didn’t have much real news to trot out at an event at its Cupertino, California, headquarters today.
When software updates force a functional gadget into retirement, it can be hard to say goodbye.
The updates announced to Apple’s iPads and Macs were cool but underwhelming—they all got better displays and other minor improvements—and the devices still look predictably sleek and intuitive. We also learned that Apple Pay, the company’s new card-free digital payment system, will be launched Monday. WatchKit, software which will let developers build apps for the forthcoming Apple Watch (see “The Apple Watch May Solve the Usual Smart Watch Annoyances“), will be out next month.
To make up for the lack of substance, the on stage presentation was heavy on fun, with jokes from executives and a video call between Apple software boss Craig Federighi and comedian Stephen Colbert. Despite the chuckles, sitting in my seat in Apple’s theater at 4 Infinite Loop, I felt a little bit sad.
I’ve had my first-generation iPad for about four years—it was given to me by a friend who after buying it didn’t use it much. I use it nearly every day, chiefly for streaming Netflix videos and surfing the Web. It has held up fantastically: the battery life is still great, the screen is as bright and blemish-free as the day I got it, the display’s touch capabilities haven’t diminished, and it still feels reasonably fast (though, according to Apple, the new iPad is 12 times as speedy).
Yet my beloved tablet has been forced into obsolescence because Apple’s software no longer supports it. I haven’t been able to upgrade the operating system for about two years; it was last supported by iOS 5, and we’re now up to iOS 8. As a result, I can’t upgrade the apps that I’ve got on the iPad, add new ones, or, in some cases, use existing apps. On a trip this summer, I found myself so desperate to find an alarm clock app that I had to search the App Store for ones that hadn’t been updated since 2012. I knew that if I wanted to keep using an Apple tablet, I’d have to buy a new one soon. Good for Apple, not so great for me.
On one hand, this is a silly, dumb first-world problem and I’m embarrassed to even mention it. On the other, it is an issue that I suspect will increasingly affect all of us as smartphones, tablets, smart watches, and other gadgets get more and more powerful. It seems they will all be subject to forced technology retirement, where updates to operating systems and apps require us to replace perfectly functional devices before we’re ready to do so.
Sure, you don’t want to put software on a device that can’t support it—my first-generation iPad would not be a good candidate for Apple’s latest mobile OS, and I wouldn’t expect a company to update software indefinitely to prop up an old device. And in many cases, hardware and software seem to become obsolete at a similar pace, so upgrading to a new device and software seems natural.
Like a lot of people, I don’t have a ton of money to throw around, so my technology purchases are carefully considered and I expect them to last for several years. As long as they keep working, I expect the software to do likewise. I hate the idea of wasting something physical that is in good, working order.
I will be buying a new iPad–the iPad Air 2 that was announced Thursday. And I’m excited to stream Netflix on it and check out all the features and apps I’ve been missing out on. At the same time, though, I’m reluctant to say goodbye to my current one; we’ve had a lot of good times together.
© 2014 MIT Technology Review