A closer look at Apple’s tablet strategy: Why is the iPad 2 still on sale?

Last week, Apple unveiled the new iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display. They cost about the same as the iPad 4 and the first iPad mini – actually, the latter saw a slight price bump – but include major upgrades to their processors, build quality, and, in the case of the iPad mini, the display. We haven't tested them in our lab yet, but on paper they're significant steps up from the previous versions.

But while the iPad Air replaces the fourth-gen iPad, Apple decided not to do away with an even older device, the iPad 2, which remains on sale for £329.

Why buy an iPad 2?

Okay, the answer to this is short and simple: Do not buy an iPad 2. It's massively overpriced for what it offers. It doesn't have a Retina Display, its processor is much slower than the iPad Air and iPad mini, and it doesn't incorporate the most recent Bluetooth standard. It doesn't even have Siri – and yet it only costs £70 less than the iPad Air.

If you already have an iPad 2 and love it, well, keep loving it. It was a top tablet when it was released back in March 2011, and it's still a functional one. But for £319 – a tenner less than the iPad 2 – you can get the slightly smaller, yet much-better-equipped iPad mini with Retina Display.

Paying £329 for a tablet with a sub-720p screen and a three-year-old CPU is simply a poor buying decision. It's not much better than if Apple continued to offer the Newton at a slightly discounted price.

It you want a cheap tablet, don't get an iPad. Apple makes premium products and knows it, which is why it can sell a small screen tablet for £120 more than similar Android models, and it's one of the reasons why Apple is still selling the iPad 2. Android is no longer a massive fragmented beast of many tablets of dubious quality. Okay, it is still pretty fragmented and many tablets are still of dubious quality, but Android now has a few flagship tablets that are worth your attention and, if you're not married to Apple, are as accessible, and can be even more functional.

Google's Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX are both 7in tablets available for £199 in 16GB versions, less than two-thirds of the price of the iPad 2 or iPad mini. They're both powerful and easy to use, and can serve all of your reading, watching, listening, and gaming needs. They're not only faster than the iPad 2, but they're sharper even with their smaller screens, with nearly quadruple the resolution of the iPad 2 at 1,920 x 1,200 (compared to 1,024 x 768). They're not as big as the iPad 2, but like the iPad mini they're better in every other way. I have a third-generation iPad, but even that's fallen by the wayside next to my Nexus 7.

Why Apple is still selling the iPad 2

There are a few possible reasons why Apple is still selling the iPad 2. I believe it is so Apple can continue making money licensing its 30-pin connector. The company is still selling the iPhone 4S (but phased out the iPhone 5 when the iPhone 5S and 5C arrived) for the same reason.

While Apple doesn't make speaker docks for the iPhone or iPad, it licenses the rights to include the 30-pin connector on those docks. That connector has been replaced by the Lightning connector, which similarly is owned by Apple and used in new devices. But keeping the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S as products that continue to be produced and sell means that other companies will still have a reason to make docks with 30-pin connectors. This is Apple ensuring it can keep making money through that connection.

Wireless audio has made massive leaps in the last few years, and while Apple has captured a good chunk of that market with AirPlay, it means there's less reason to actually dock your phone or iPad except to charge it. Why walk over to your speaker to control your music when you can keep your iPhone or iPad on your table connected to your computer or charger, and be able to easily pick it up and walk around the room with it?

Bluetooth offers similar benefits, and its speakers are much less expensive than AirPlay speakers. Companies will still make speaker docks with Lightning connectors, but wireless audio is clearly replacing the dock that was once a big part of the iDevice lifestyle. The iPad 2 and iPhone 4S can use those wireless standards (even though the iPad 2 only has Bluetooth 2.1 and not Bluetooth 4.0), but their 30-pin connectors ensure that, even if Lightning connectors don't hit the speaker dock market nearly as hard as the previous dock types, 30-pin will keep going.

Bulk education purchases

My colleague Sascha Segan has a different explanation. Apple could be keeping the iPad 2 available for bulk purchases for education and enterprise situations. At £70 less, they could be bought in great quantity compared to the current iPad, which means you could equip schools and businesses with them more easily. This makes sense, because the iOS ecosystem is large, well-established, stable, and has tons of education and business apps that can be integrated into systems.

However, Apple is selling the superior iPad mini with Retina Display for the same price (well, actually £10 less), and that approximately 2in difference in screen size can't be worth the massive drop in speed and display quality. Apple is also selling the iPhone 4S, which might still have business uses, but won't be purchased by school districts in large amounts. Neither of those things quite fit with the appeal of bulk purchases for education or business.

More importantly, again, Android offers much less expensive alternatives that can also be purchased in bulk and integrated into education or business arenas. The 10in tablet market is still neck-and-neck in price between iPad and Android, but 7in and 8in tablets are available for less, and those offerings can destroy the iPad 2 in terms of speed and sharpness.

It might be difficult for a school district or business to move from using iOS devices to Android, but if they're considering buying iPad 2s en masse, they probably haven't invested a lot in Apple yet. Best of all, with Android, you can make significant shell modifications. You could take part of the £130-a-pop you save on a Nexus 7 and use it to have your IT department or a contractor make a menu system to put over the tablets, featuring your school or company branding and the most common apps people will use.

Apple's persistence in selling the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S is puzzling, and could be explained in the ways I mentioned above, or it could be something as simple as Apple still having a glut of both products and wanting to get rid of them. The iPad 2's price doesn't make sense, but there are many good reasons why Apple might still sell it. Whatever those reasons are, though, one thing is clear: You shouldn't buy one.

For more, check out our hands-on with the iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display.

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