Why Apple’s heading toward a ‘zombie iPad’ apocalypse

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This is the source of the iPad's zombie problem. Photo: Apple

Yesterday, Apple unveiled the iPad mini 3, a slightly updated version of the second-gen iPad mini with Retina display. But even though it’s two generations old at this point, Apple still sells the original iPad mini for $249. That makes it the cheapest iPad yet, albeit for good reason: It packs the same A5 chip and other silicon guts that the iPad 2 did way back in March 2011.

That might actually seem like a good deal for consumers, but it’s turning out to be a nightmare for developers who will likely have to support the iPad mini until 2017.

Here’s the problem, as laid out in an excellent post by Allen Pike. The iPad 2 seemed cutting-edge at the time, but its performance is simply blown out of the water by the last three generations of iPad: the iPad 4, iPad Air and iPad Air 2. In fact, the iPad Air 2 is over 100 times faster when it comes to graphics performance than the iPad 2.

That’s causing serious problems for developers of games and other graphics-intensive apps. When BioShock was released on the App Store, for example, it did not officially support the iPad mini or iPad 2, but the only way for 2K Games to signal that was as part of the app’s description text, leading to numerous complaints.

The only foolproof way a developer can cut off support for an older device is by making sure that the app doesn’t run on older versions of iOS, but that only works if Apple isn’t still supporting older devices in the most current version of the operating system. And since Apple intends on continuing to sell the original iPad mini for the next year, that means iOS 9 will likely support A5 chips. Pike spells it out clearly:

The only thing we can do as developers to disavow support for these devices is require a version of iOS that won’t run on them. Unfortunately, Apple will surely continue support for the A5 in iOS 9. If they do so, we won’t have a mechanism to cut off support for these old iPads mini and iPods touch until iOS 10 has reached wide adoption, likely in early 2017.

2017.

Pike calls these shambling, lumbering iPads “iPad Zombies” and he’s right — they’re a huge problem for developers. But what can be done? One suggestion: Apple could start allowing developers to choose to support individual generations of devices, instead of just supporting versions of iOS. But it’s possible that would just cause further problems, and fragment the App Store.

Source: Allen Pike