SK Babu


To upgrade or not; an info-era dilemma

Sitting on the fence for two years till Apple gave me a gentle push

I first felt the need to upgrade my iPad on Sep 13, 2016, the day iOS 10 launched. That was when I finally accepted that Apple wasn’t going to give any more OS upgrades for my iPad 3. However, the missing update by itself, didn’t seem to me a strong enough reason to upgrade to an expensive new iPad.

Firstly, my iPad and I have been together for six years now. It’s still functional albeit a bit slow, and I didn’t feel good about breaking up with it. Secondly, manufacturers always push us to upgrade, but we need to delay doing that to avoid adding to the world’s electronic junk. Thirdly, an iPad is not cheap in India where Apple products can be prohibitively expensive. (The base model of the iPhone X was launched in India for $1313, or ₹89000). So I decided to hang on to my iPad till I got a good deal on the latest iPad model.

But this turned out to be a neverending cycle. The more I waited for a price drop, the closer I got to the launch of the newer iPad model, and the more I felt like waiting a bit longer for that newer model. But new models will always cost a bit more, which brought me back to square one.

So two years and another iOS update later, I was still sitting on the fence with my iPad 3, waiting for the right moment to jump for an upgrade.

The device I didn’t want

The first time I laid hands on an iPad was when a friend got the original iPad in 2011. Seeing apps on that large screen was intriguing. But I couldn’t quite figure out how it would fit into my life. So I didn’t bother to get one. A year later, in March 2012 to be precise, Apple launched its third generation iPad with the A5X chip and the then brand new iOS 5.1. Though it was theoretically the iPad 3, Apple simply called it the ‘New iPad.’ I saw that iPad a month later, displayed next to the iPad 2 at a mall, and its picture absolutely popped in comparison (2048x1536 @ 261 ppi vs 1024x768 @ 132 ppi).

The new iPad is dead; Long live the new iPad

I was instantly sold on it, and picked it up, in what marketer’s aptly term as an ‘impulse purchase.’ In November of the same year, Apple launched the 4th generation iPad. It came with a processor that was twice as fast, and the new lightning connector. In just seven months, my just launched ‘new iPad’ had become the old iPad.

Six years later, I still feel the pain. There’s an unwritten rule in the market which states that if you pay a premium price to buy a newly launched product, then you should be allowed to savour your status of having the latest version of that gadget for a certain period of time, which is usually around a year. Fortunately, Apple seems to have finally got the memo. There has never been another Apple product with as short a life cycle as the iPad 3.

My iPad finds its place

Anyway, after I purchased my iPad 3, I realised I had been right about wondering if I really needed it. My iMac with its 21" large screen was perfect for working, while my then iPhone 4 was my portable device. There was no a place for the iPad. Beside, typing on the iPad screen is inconvenient for anything more than a few minutes. I have tried using it with a bluetooth keyboard, and the small screen and low height still make it a pain, literally.

However my iPad slowly inveigled itself into my life. It was perfect for when I had work, but was forced to be away from my Mac for some reason. Its larger screen allowed me to type much faster and more easily than on my iPhone 4’s piddly 3.5" screen. It was also much better for reading, and surfing the net. After I had got used to the screen, I slowly began to use my iPad at home too. Like at breakfast, where it began to supplement the daily newspaper, partly because it was more updated on breaking news, and partly because I could follow more links on stories that I was interested in.

I did make one mistake though. I had gone for the iPad with a cellular connectivity. That turned out to be redundant as India’s cellular networks allow hot-spotting or sharing of your phone’s data connection. So I never did use a SIM in my iPad.

6 years old, and ready to retire

I have been using my iPad for six years now, and it’s slowly inching its way into obsolescence. Apple expects people to use its devices for 2–3 years max, and then replace them as technology advances make it hard for new software to run on older hardware.

My iPad 3 is a 32-bit device, and a lot of the 64-bit iOS and app features will not work on it. In fact, I heard Apple is discontinuing all 32-bit apps (or maybe has already discontinued them). So apps on my iPad 3 are often outdated and sometimes don’t exist. Besides newer OSes are designed for new hardware, and many features don’t work well or don’t work at all, on older hardware.

Like when iOS 9 was launched in September 2015, I happily installed it on my iPad. But to my horror, the new OS made my iPad sluggish. Like if I typed in a sentence, there would be a distinct lag before the typing appeared on screen. Or when I restarted my iPad, the screen would be visible, but take another minute or so before it would respond to my touch.

My solution was to erase the iPad, do a clean install of iOS 9, and put in only the basic apps. Safari and Mail are built in apps, and I use them often. I also downloaded Pages for writing, a couple of news apps, Skype, YouTube, VLC and a few other apps including the Medium app. With just these apps, the iPad seemed to run a bit smoother, though the lag in response remained.

Apple decides I need a gentle push

What made my iPad issues so obvious is that I own an iPhone 6S Plus, running iOS 11. My iPad on iOS 9 is not just slow but also misses a lot of the iOS 11 goodies. Things like live photos, ‘Airdrop,’ ‘Handover,’ the new notification and control centres, the night reading mode (Apple had removed Flux from the App Store even though it enabled night reading on older Apple devices, which was not a nice thing to do).

But what really made me decide that it was time to upgrade was this set of well-made videos by Apple. (Be warned, some apps shown are paid apps). Links to the other videos of this series can be found on the same page.

It made me realise what I was missing out by not upgrading, and also that the iPad 6 can do stuff my phone can’t. So when the 6th generation iPad was launched, I was definitely interested.

Is my iPad’s battery about to die?

That’s straight from the horse’s mouth

There was one other factor that contributed to my decision to make the jump for a new iPad. From the above, it would seem Apple recommends replacing batteries which charge only up to 80% of their original capacity. After that, I assume battery performance will degrade and not be very predictable.

I used a free app called Battery Life (there are ads at the bottom) to check my iPad battery’s health. I had installed the app while doing a previous story on the right way to charge phone batteries.

20% wear level at 492 charge cycles — my battery performance may start degrading fast

It would seem my iPad’s battery health is down to the danger level of 80% wear though it hasn’t yet touched 500 cycles. I assume the age of the iPad (6 years) has added to its wear level. Basically, from this point on, any additional time I get on my iPad is a bonus, and not guaranteed by Apple. Yup, time to move on.

Hobby horse vs Workhorse

We would all like to own Ferraris but end up with cars within our budget. My iPad was no different. I wanted the 12" iPad Pro but was it overkill for my needs? I’m no artist and my iPad will be mostly used for surfing and viewing media and a bit of writing. In fact, I usually do most work related stuff, including this post, on my Mac. So a bit of research seemed in order.

The above reviewer made a lot of sense to me. He’s an artist who owns an iPad Pro, which he uses as a work horse. His earnings from work done on his iPad Pro is several times more than what he spent on it, which was around $1400. He believes the iPad 6 is Apple’s best ever value-for-money device, and more than enough for student artists who may not yet be generating much of an income. As my use of an iPad will be even less than that of a student artist, this argument definitely applies to me. So I finalised on the iPad 6, and decided to hold off on Apple Pencil. And yes, I’m aware its Retina Display is the same as my six year old iPad 3. The only thing left was to look out for the right time to buy it. This would basically be when the big online retailers had a sale going.

Price Surprises

Price is an issue in India as Apple products are generally prohibitively expensive here. That’s because the Indian government imposes heavy taxes on products made outside India. This is in order to encourage local investment by those foreign companies. For instance, the 6th generation iPad costs $329 (₹22,375) in the US Apple store, but was selling for $412 (₹28,000) in Amazon India (Apple Stores are not present in India).

In mid April, Amazon had a sale, and I managed to get the iPad for $360 (₹24,499) by buying it then. An offer on my credit card knocked ₹1500 off the sale price of ₹25,999. But it still cost $30 (₹2,040) more than in the US.

An offer on my credit card knocked a further ₹1500 off but it’s stil $30 more than the US price

If I had waited a few months, I may have probably got a better deal, but like I said, it’s a neverending cycle of price drop vs latest tech. So I went ahead and ordered the iPad 6. I recall spending $397 (₹27000) for my iPad 3 six years ago, but that’s not too surprising as prices drop when technology advances.

India may have the world’s least expensive iPhone

There’s another angle to prices in India. When Apple finally accepted that India is a price sensitive market, they decided to test things by assembling the iPhone SE locally. This got around the tax issue, and the difference is startling. The made-in-India iPhone SE can be bought in India for $279 (₹19000), while it costs $349 (₹23,735) in the US. That’s substantially cheaper.

Unfortunately, Apple has not yet been able to do this for other iPhone models or iPads. Also, there is a very limited demand for 4" screen phones in the Indian market where 5.5" screens is the standard in the iPhone SE’s price range. My wife is one of those who opted for this phone, probably because she was upgrading from a 3.5" iPhone 4. If you are okay with the screen size, I can confirm the iPhone SE is a real bargain. It has the same internal hardware as my iPhone 6S series and runs the latest iOS 11 as fast and as smooth as on my far more expensive iPhone 6S Plus. In fact, you can get it for ₹17000 ($249) if you plan your buy like I did during a sale by the giant online retailers.

That‘s $279, or $70 less than the US Apple Store price of $349 — you can get it for even less.

Old is Gold

I just about buy into Apple’s 3-year product replacement cycle on phones. But it’s hard to accept that argument for my iPad, which I use for barely an hour a day. Or my iMac which I feel should last much longer, especially if it’s used mainly for basic writing and surfing, and not for serious photo or video editing. So I have upgraded my phone but keep pushing the envelope on my other devices. My iMac is a 2011 model, and still running smoothly on Mac OS High Sierra though many newer features like Airdrop don’t work on it.

Surprisingly I do have a functional 2008 MacBook Pro, a 17” dinosaur, though it’s running an older OS (I think it’s Mavericks or Mac OS 10.9). I had its battery replaced once. But when the replacement battery ‘bulged’, I just got rid of the thing, effectively converting the MacBook into a laptop. It’s perfectly functional for basic typing and surfing. I often leave it behind at my mother’s place. This way, I have a working large screen machine to use whenever I drop in for a visit. The machine also has some ports that my newer iMac doesn't, which allows me to use it to grab video from my old DV tapes. In short, the old warhorse is still pulling its weight.

The MacBook Pro battery that bulged (my iPad is acting as a table for it!)

Live fast and die young

As far as my phone goes, it puts in many more hours of work everyday as compared to my iPad. So I don’t seem to be able to extract as much life as I can from my larger devices. When I picked up my iPad 3, I was using the iPhone 4, which I bought around 2010. By 2013, its battery had begun running out fast. I had the battery replaced, but the phone’s ear piece lost power, and I could barely hear calls if I was in a noisy environment like a mall. So when I got a chance for an inexpensive upgrade to a refurbished iPhone 5, I did so. That phone lasted two years till one morning, when its display refused to turn on.

Upset with Apple, I switched to Android. However knowing my love for all things Apple, my wife gifted me an iPhone 6S Plus a couple of months later. I was weary of Android by then, and gladly switched back. That was in December 2015. My iPhone is now in its third year, and isn’t yet obsolete. It does miss features like the back twin camera, and of course, Face ID. But I plan to get a new battery before the year is out (by taking advantage of Apple’s discounted battery replacement program, a response to the phone throttling disaster), and should be able to extract another year from my phone. If I can do that, I will be able to move in directly into the second generation of Face ID phones. I did hear rumours of a larger 6" iPhone, and I may go for that. It will be interesting to see if that reduces my iPad usage.

Reincarnating my iPad

I didn’t like the idea of parting with my iPad as it’s a pretty impressive device despite its age. However its battery condition meant it could drop dead anytime so I had to be practical. Amazon did have an exchange offer for my iPad 3 whilst buying the iPad 6. They were willing to give me ₹1805 ($27) to take it off my hands. Maybe I would get a bit more if I listed it on Quikr or Olx (ebay equivalents in India).

Whatever! It’s still peanuts, and I think my iPad 3 is worth lot more. I mean if my iPad 3 was a non-functional piece of electronic junk, that would have made sense from an environmental pollution point of view.

But this is a functioning iPad that can be used for surfing, viewing media, email, or listening to music. It may be slow but it’s an equivalent of a portable PC and video/music player combined. Besides it comes with an all day battery, and a touchscreen, which makes it handy, and easy to use (except for the lack of USB to access pendrives). This thing can easily run a couple of years if you don’t have too many expectations of it in terms of speed.

The post PC world has arrived

PCs may still be very much alive in offices, but they are going out of fashion on the home front. My mother doesn’t use her old PC anymore as her smartphone serves all her needs. So when it conked off, it didn’t seem worth repairing and I got rid of it, along with whole bunch of accessories and wires. It’s surprising how clean my old desk at home looks with just an old Macbook on it.

My wife too recently gifted away her laptop. She had lent it to one of her friends who seemed to have more use for it. As of now, my wife’s phone meets all her computer and internet needs. Besides, she still has access to a laptop, as her office insists she carry one. The thing is after sitting in front of a screen all day, she dislikes doing the same at home. She’s also a bit of a technophobe, which makes her a perfect target for my recycled iPad.

She herself realised this, and asked me to pass on my old iPad. She feels it will meet all her needs at home, which is basically watching a few videos on a bigger screen, listening to music, and checking the odd email. Though my iPad is slow, it should be fine for her. In fact if I get a new case, it’ll look as good as new as it’s virtually scratch-free.

Anyway, it’s quite a relief to know the old chap will not be leaving us. Of course, that 20% wear on the battery means that I might have to replace the battery if its performance drops sharply and the iPad becomes unusable.

I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

Getting to know my iPad 6

It’s now more than a week since I got my iPad 6, and I still haven’t really started using it. One reason is there’s a bit of learning curve with it. I’m looking forward to going through some of the Apple videos I earlier mentioned (though a few features may be iPad Pro only), and learning how to use my new toy. But somehow, I haven’t got around to doing it.

As someone said, the best time is right now. Fine, I will start today with the Apple video on using Pixelmator to erase stuff. It’s a paid app but I seem to own it, so I might as well use it. Here we go.

Before and after touching up the image using Pixelmator

To be honest, the grainy feel of the lines separating the tiles make the original photo far more interesting. Besides, my crude attempts at touch-up might lead to my arty friends disowning me. But the thing is if I want to, I can do this on my iPad itself. I’m sure most basic imaging apps can do this, including the Apple’s built in Photos. However it was still impressive to me, as I usually don’t attempt tweaking images on the smaller screens of my iPhone or iPad (that does not include Snapseed, which is an honorable exception).

Next, I tried using the split screen to run two apps at a time, as I can’t do this on my iPhone. Looks like it can be being pretty useful when I am in one app and need to view or use something from another app. Let me give it a go.

Split view on the iPad makes it easier to work with multiple apps

That whole operation was pretty smooth. Which was when it struck me that this iPad has a A10 Fusion chip as against my iPhone 6S Plus’ A9 chip. Hmm, it’s first for my iPad to be more powerful than my iPhone (and also better at conserving battery power). Let’s get a little geeky about it. Ooooh!

iPad 6 vs iPhone 6S Plus

Looks like I’m going to have fun discovering the capabilities of my new iPad.

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