Still got a first-gen iPad? Don't ditch it yet
Even a three-year-old iPad still has a lot to offer
In the life of every device, there's a moment when you start to wonder whether it's still useful. Everything becomes old, and obsolescence is all but assured in the world of technology. But "old" is not the same as "obsolete."
It's been more than three years since Apple debuted the original 9.7-in. iPad, the first tablet to go mainstream and the one that opened the floodgates to all the tablets that have followed. Then in March 2011, Apple discontinued the iPad, replacing it with the thinner, faster iPad 2 -- the same model that Apple still sells for $399.
An original iPad (top) is bigger, heavier and slower than the iPad Air -- and is still great to have around the house.
With the arrival last month of the ultra-slim one-pound iPad Air, and the rollout this week of the new iPad mini with Retina display, it looks as if time has passed the original iPad by. In fact, since it arrived, there have been four major updates, each iteration offering better specs than the model before it.
Perhaps the most damning change -- at least as far as the iPad's longevity is concerned -- was the move away from the decade-old 30-pin connector to the new 8-pin Lightning plug. Just like that, accessories built for the new models were instantly incompatible with older iPads, unless you bought an adapter.
Almost as important, OS support for the original iPad stalled with iOS 5.1.1; Meanwhile, iOS is now up to version 7, features a new interface design and has higher hardware requirements. Adding to the iPad's woes: Its built-in RAM is limited to 256MB, which means switching between modern-day apps can be laggy and slow -- especially frustrating on touch-based devices, which need to be responsive -- and many of the latest games require more recent hardware.
If you're an original iPad owner, it's easy to conclude that the first-generation iPad has moved well beyond obsolescence, straight past the Hanging Gardens of Babylon: In short, it's ancient history.
But has the original iPad really outlived its usefulness? Absolutely not. There are still a plethora of uses for the iPad, including the sacrifice play. At the very least, you can usually trade in an old iPad -- even the first model -- for savings on a new one. Numerous retailers now offer bounties for older iPads. Places like Walmart, Target, and Amazon are offering money or gift cards for tablets in good, working condition. Amazon and T-Mobile also offer trade-ins for credit and T-Mobile even offers a free 200MB data plan for all customers in an effort to push iPad Air purchases.
Even if you've got a newer iPad at home, keeping the original may be a better idea than getting rid of it -- especially if your household has more than one computer user or you have tech-savvy friends.
It's a fact that iOS users are pretty quick to update to the latest version of iOS, with 71% of the entire base moving to iOS 7 within the first month of release. Apps get updated continuously, and it's been my experience that they generally have a remarkable life span, even after several iOS updates. And that doesn't even include the apps that shipped with the first iPad. They may be older versions, but they're still more than usable. And useful. The well-stocked App Store means there are a vast array of apps that still work well on the original iPad.
A coffee table iPad
Without a doubt, a first-generation iPad makes a perfect guest or coffee table computer. Thanks to Apple's stubborn push for HTML5 support in general, and web standards that do not rely on third-party plug-ins in particular, my old 64GB iPad is still perfect for impromptu bursts of web browsing. It's instant-on nature, long battery life and longevity while in standby/sleep makes it easier to maintain than a traditional Windows PC, and having online information at your fingertips is a boon for guests, young and old. By now, almost everyone knows how to use an iPad.
The iPad may not be a snappy as the Air, but it still wakes from sleep quickly, which is exactly what you want from a communal computer. One tap brings up Safari, and in concert with apps in the App Store, you can use it to look up just about anything: answers to trivia, movie information, the name of that song you can't remember or anything else on the web.
The white iPad (on top of the original iPad in this image) weighs a half pound less than its ancestor and has a better screen, a faster chip and, of course, two cameras. But that doesn't make the first iPad obsolete.
The iPad is also well suited for use as a stationary screen, fixed in place for quick access when needed. There are myriad docks, mounts and stands available, many of them useful for technicians and mechanics referencing take-apart guides; for cooking in the kitchen; for musicians who need sheet music displayed; or for power users who need an extra screen.
Netflix works just fine on the old iPad (though you don't get the Retina display newer models offer).
A mini TV
From my own perspective, the first-generation iPad is still great for watching movies and TV shows, listening to podcasts, or, if you don't mind reading on back-lit screens, perusing an ebook. There are plenty of apps on this front, from iBooks to Kindle to Nook to whatever you like.
If your iPad is like mine, you'll find that the battery still holds up really well, and the fact that video is hardware accelerated -- one of the reasons Apple execs pushed for the h.264 video codec -- means there's less drain on the main processor, and less drain on the battery. The full library of videos available online from iTunes to Netflix to Hulu and beyond means there is always something to watch. And if you're going to be away from an Internet connection, you can download movies or TV shows to the iPad and watch them wherever you are.
In concert with an Apple TV-equipped HDTV, the iPad can also stream video to your TV. Actually, I'd be less bullish on the original iPad if it didn't support AirPlay. But since it does, the ability to wirelessly transmit to an Apple TV in the home is a plus in favor of keeping the iPad around.
Hand-me down iPad
The iPad can serve as a hand-me-down device that can grow with your child; there are cases that add bulk (and protection) to the iPad in kid-friendly designs that can be updated as needed. And the wealth of kid-oriented apps in the App Store means it will serve as a learning tool for as long as it's still working.
There's more than just kiddie apps and games; the iPad still has access to content on the completely underrated iTunes U. Apple calls iTunes U "the world's largest online catalog of education content," and this collection of lectures, course materials, books, videos and other assembled materials will help you learn about any topic you choose.
An extra iPad is a godsend if you have children and are often in the car; and there are some really great car accessories, from dash to headrest mounts, that make the iPad a great traveling companion. I won't lecture you on distracted driving, but I will warn that iPad will shut itself down if it becomes too hot, so don't leave it in direct sunlight. But if you're headed out on the road, and want to keep the kids in the backseat entertained, load up the iPad with movies or shows before you leave.
iTunes U allows any iPad, even the first-generation model, to become a learning tool.
As a 1.5-pound device, the original iPad is still lightweight enough to go almost anywhere. If you have a newer iPad, and you're traveling to rugged locations, take the old one with you. Between media, apps and ebooks, the older iPad is still an iPad and if you happen to drop it on a rocky slope, well, you still have the newer one back home.
On a recent trip, I used my old iPad as a photo dump for digital pictures. Since I use my camera often, transferring photos to it cleared space on the memory card for new shots and video. I did this using the Apple Camera Connection Kit, but if you want to get fancy, there's the EyeFi memory card. With the Direct Mode feature, the EyeFi card automatically transfers photos to the iPad wirelessly. The initial setup for the EyeFi system needs some configuring, but once it's working, it's pretty handy.
The move away from the 30-pin connector hasn't changed the iPad's popularity and it didn't remove the thousands of hardware accessories already on store shelves. In fact, by phasing out the 30-pin connector, Apple engineers encouraged discounts on the existing accessories. For example, this blood pressure monitoring kit is available for $60, nearly half off list price. That's obviously a niche purchase, but there are other similar discounts available on other accessories that help keep the iPad relevant.
If the latest version of your needed apps won't run on the old iPad's OS, you can still download earlier, compatible versions.
A loaner iPad
If none of these ideas compels you to keep your original iPad, let someone borrow it. In my experience, people fall into two categories: they see the benefits of touch computing in a tablet, or they don't. If you know someone who is curious about tablets in general or the iPad in particular, pass along your iPad for them to try out. It may not sway them one way or the other, but there's nothing better than hands-on time to get a feel for what the iPad is like.
The iPad may lack the latest bells and whistles, but just because something is old, doesn't mean it gets buried. The first-generation iPad is still in many aspects as useful today as the first day it was released. Over three-plus years of ownership, my iPad has been the least problematic computing device I have ever used. Between the App Store, countless hardware accessories still on the market, the overall lack of maintenance, and its ease-of-use, that original tablet still has what it takes to be handy.
Just because it's old doesn't mean it's useless.
Michael deAgonia, a frequent contributor to Computerworld, is a writer, computer consultant and technology geek who has been working on computers since 1993. You can find him on Twitter ( @mdeagonia).
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