iOS 10: Will it be the rebirth or the death of the iPad?

iOS 10 is set to make a lot of iPads obsolete. Will this be the catalyst for a wave of upgrades, or will it be the beginning of the end for the iPad?
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Do you own an iPad? Did you buy it a few years ago? If it's one of these iPads, then as soon as iOS 10 hits, that will be the end of the line for your iPad. It will no longer receive security updates and will effectively become obsolete.

But here's the question: if you're an owner of an obsolete iPad, will you be upgrading your hardware?

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Rather than take stabs in the dark, let's look at some data.

First off, how many iPads will iOS 10 send to the recycling center?

Well, according to data compiled back in March 2016 by mobile engagement platform Localytics, it could mean that around 40 percent of all iPads currently in use will become obsolete, because they will no longer receive security updates and patches.

The iPad 2 is a very popular device (this tablet was on sale between March 2011 and March 2014). It is only one percentage point behind the iPad Air (18 percent share, compared to 17 percent).

It's possible these numbers have changed a bit since the data was compiled in March, as Apple has obviously sold more iPads, but given that it only sells about 10 million a quarter (cumulatively, some 320 million iPads have been sold in total), whatever was sold after March isn't going to shift the needle by much.

No matter how we break down this data, it's clear that iOS 10 will make a lot of iPads obsolete.

Next, let's look at iPad sales. Here's the current situation.

Will iOS 10 be the rebirth or the death of the iPad?

Apple's iPad sales grew, then they hit a peak, and sales declined. Another Apple product went through a similar pattern: the iPod.

Will iOS 10 be the rebirth or the death of the iPad?

No matter what Apple did, after iPod sales hit a peak in the first quarter of 2009, it couldn't pull the iPod out of its decline.

Now, it could be said that by the time the iPod started to decline, Apple was focused on the iPhone and happy to just let the iPod get kicked into the long grass. But history tells us that once sales of a product start to decline, it's hard for a company to pull up from the nosedive (think BlackBerry, Microsoft Zune -- or for that matter, the entire PC industry).

It's clear that Apple isn't ready to kick the iPad into the long grass just yet, but it's also clear from sales data that the iPad Pro hasn't really shifted the needle.

It's hard to shift the needle.

Another factor to bear in mind is how obsolete iPads will become. It's not as though millions of iPad users are going to get a message telling them their iPad is no longer going to receive updates and it's time to exchange legal tender for shiny new Apple stuff (well, I'm assuming Apple won't nag users, although given how naggy -- or is it desperate? -- tech companies have become, it wouldn't surprise me).

Rather than die outright, old iPads will become zombies.

The living dead.

Old iPads aren't going to stop working once iOS 10 is out. They'll still function as before. It's just they will build up vulnerabilities. Over time, these iPads will fall out of service from letting the magic smoke out -- or as app developers withdraw support for the old operating system.

Either way, it's a slow death for sure, and come fall when iOS 10 lands, there's going to be little to persuade people in the short term to part with their cash for new iPads.

All this brings us to the ultimate question: will people upgrade their old iPads?

So far, the iPad upgrade cycle has defied explanation. It's not like the smartphone upgrade cycle, and it's not like the PC upgrade cycle. It seems more like people buy an iPad once and then run them into the ground rather than upgrade (hence all the old iPads out there).

If owners of obsolete iPads decide to upgrade then this could represent a huge wave of upgrades for Apple, and a strengthening of sales. However, if people decide the iPad isn't for them anymore, it could mean a massive decline in iPad market share within the tablet ecosystem, and with it, a waning in its importance.

For consumers, this represents an investment of a few hundred dollars, but for enterprises and schools and other organizations using iPads, upgrading old hardware will represent a lot more money. And there undoubtedly will be a lot of questions asked as to whether iPads are the right way forward. The hardware landscape was a lot different a few years ago, and there are a lot more hardware choices now. Apple's iPads might not be the best choice any more.

Pulling the rug from under a whole raft of iPads seems like quite a gamble on Apple's part.

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