An astute friend of mine once satirically defined our age of seemingly instant obsolescence: just buy and thro-o-o-ow it away. At first blush, it's funny because it can't be true — you don't buy something and then just throw it away. But after Apple's iPad press event Tuesday I'm not so sure.
Seven months ago, Apple unveiled the most advanced tablet PC extant, featuring its most advanced processor and the highest resolution screen on any device of any kind ever. But in less time than it took to complete a baseball season, iPad 3 is now not only old news, but it soon will disappear as if it never existed.
And now Apple is telling people who just bought an iPad 3 that they can essentially just thro-o-o-ow it away.
Anyone paying a modicum of attention knew Apple was going to drop the iPad mini on us on Tuesday and what its general specs would be. The only questions were about specifics.
An argument can be made that the iPad mini makes sense (although that stupid lower case "m" is giving headline writers and copy editors fits). Even though Steve Jobs pooh-poohed the idea of a 7-inch tablet, it looks as if Apple improved somewhat on its 7-inch competitors.
To me, the iPad mini's most remarkable achievement is its form factor. It is thinner and lighter than any 7-inch tablet, even though the mini is encased in aluminum and glass rather than plastic, and its screen is still nearly an inch larger.
Bigger, yet smaller. Just like the ads say.
Apple's Blue Plate Special
But the usually tech-superior Apple has baffled me on three specs.
First, iPad mini's 1024 x 768 screen lags behind its 7-inch competition, which offers mostly 1280-by-800 (and Nook HD's 1440-by-900) displays.
Then, the maker of the vaunted Retina screen foists on the mini a screen with just 163 pixels per inch, while tablet-come-lately Barnes & Noble has ennobled its Nook HD with 243 ppi. Even the Kobo Arc is imbued with a respectable 215 ppi.
Finally, Apple has skimped on mini's processor, equipping it with its two-generations-old A5 chip, the one found in the iPad 2. A5 is believed to be a dual core chip with, at best, a 1 GHz clock speed. Meantime, Kindle Fire HD, Nook HD and Kobo Arc are powered by dual core 1.2 GHz, 1.3 GHz and 1.5 GHz engines, respectively.
So, Apple offers less resolution than its e-reader tablet rivals, fewer pixels per inch and less processing — but charges anywhere from $70 to $130 more than its rivals. That's the very definition of cajones.
Perhaps Apple is following Groucho's advice. In Animal Crackers, the great comic reasoned he could provide restaurant customers a 75-cent meal that would knock their eyes out. Once he knocked their eyes out (metaphorically mini's size and weight), he could charge anything he wanted.
Buy iPad 3, Throw It Away
Despite its cynical specs and pricing, the iPad mini is the right idea for Apple. But for the life of me, I cannot fathom why Apple felt compelled to replace the iPad 3 so soon.
It's not as if other tablet makers were catching up with the 3, despite Microsoft's now-debunked Surface superior tablet resolution claims.
And it's not as if iPad 3 wasn't selling.
At the iPad unveiling earlier this week, CEO Tim Cook noted Apple sold more iPads in its last quarter than any other PC maker sold of their entire PC lineup, and most of those have to be iPad 3s. Two weeks ago, the company sold its 100 millionth iPad, building on its record as the fastest-adopted new product ever.
So what's the big advance Apple couldn't wait to get into our grubby geek grip?
Could be the improved processor? Yes, Apple claims the A6X chip makes iPad 4 twice as fast as iPad 3.
But it's not as if iPad 3 is a mule pulling a plow compared to iPad 4's Secretariat. There wasn't any complaining about how clunky iPad 3 performed — in fact, the exact opposite is the case. Complaining about Maps, yes. Wi-Fi, yes.
Performance? Not in this dimension.
Throw It Away
Despite there being absolutely no reason why we needed a new iPad right now, certainly not one with so few tangible improvements, Apple nevertheless stomped all over its iPad mini, iMac, 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac Mini news by announcing it.
Apple has recognized some folks may have just bought an iPad 3. The company has a two-week return program, so if you bought an iPad 3 in the last 14 days, I'd run to an Apple Store and negotiate a swap for the 4 (I didn't' say it wasn't any good).
And there are reports that some stores — it's not clear if it's official Apple Store policy — are extending the trade-in to iPad 3 purchases made in the last 30 days.
But what about us loyal Apple fan boys who assumed we'd be good for, oh, I don't know, a year? I'd consider a pro-rated price to upgrade. I wouldn't be happy — and I'd want a guarantee there won't be a 5th gen iPad until at least next Thanksgiving — but I'd consider it.
Given iPad mini's specification short-sheeting, I'd be afraid to opt in right now at Apple's inflated price. Since Apple has seen fit to needlessly and prematurely upgrade its full-sized iPad, a newer and improved mini at the same price may be available before I have a chance to order the first one.
One thing I know won't be obsolete and won't throw out: the iPad's box.