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Issue #82: When to upgrade 🆙

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There’s a rumor going around that Apple will release a new iPad Air in March (alongside a new iPhone SE, if you were waiting for that). It makes sense, the iPad Air is due for a spec bump. Currently, it sports the A14 Bionic chip, which is fast, but not as fast as the A15 Bionic that’s in the iPad mini 6 released last year. It also has worse cameras, and you can’t get it with 5G if that’s your jam. In other words, due for a spec bump, not a refresh, so expect the new iPad Air, which’ll be the 5th generation, to move up on par with the iPad mini.

⭐️ Read my reviews of the new iPad mini (gen 6) and the new iPad (gen 9).

Which is fine, a great deal, in fact, if you’re looking for a larger iPad, but won’t go Pro. The iPad Air is an interesting alternative, a step up from the default iPad, using the Pro form factor (albeit with that Touch ID button), but without the premium price-point. Well, I guess that’s a matter of opinion, the pricing, but when looking at, and thinking of iPads, then it’s an intriguing middle ground. A14, and A15, is more power than most need, after all.

I can see why you’d want to get an iPad Air, and I can see why a new model interests you. In fact, you might be eying for an upgrade come March, maybe?

When is it time to upgrade?

Ah, the gadget-lover’s great dilemma: When is it time to upgrade?

Or, possibly, how can I justify buying a new device on a yearly basis? Because that’s what some of us do, and as you well know, I’m one of them. New iPad Pro? Got to have that. A new iPad mini? Oh, yes. New iPhone? Yeah, I’m getting that too. Wrong size? Well, sometimes you just don’t know which size to get, better get the other one(s) too.

It’s somewhat disgusting, isn’t it? I justify this with the fact that I work with tech for a living. Others might think that getting a newer, more powerful machine will save them time, thus money. And, sure, the M1 iPad Pro of last year is a snappy beast, it really is, but most of the time, it’s not that big of a difference compared to the A12Z version released the year before. There are reasons for that, the RAM limitation discussed in Switch to iPad #62 for example, but also the fact that these are plenty powerful devices to begin with.

Or, to put it like this: There was no way I could justify picking up the 2021 M1 iPad Pro over the 2020 iPad Pro, for power alone. I could find other things, like the gorgeous screen, but that’s about it. The 2020 iPad Pro was plenty powerful for almost all the things I’ve been throwing at it during the pandemic.

So, when is it time to upgrade, if you can’t let your inner gadget-wants control your needs?

I wish my answer would be when it breaks, but it’s not, and not only because that’s boring. You see, Apple devices are a bit like cars. You buy them for a ton of money, and the moment you break the plastic and tap that glass screen, they lose a lot of value. It’s not used, not brand new with that plastic Apple box smell. However, the new value of the device will stay the same until Apple launches a newer model. Since Apple’s pricing is pretty stable, you know that the new model will be prices just about the same as the one you got. When it’s out, your device – now a generation behind – drops a bit more.

But here’s the thing, your device’s price will stay there until Apple rolls out another generation, by which time your device will be valued a little less. This is not necessarily as much less as it was when you went from being the latest generation, to the second to latest. And this, I believe, is where you should start to consider replacing your device, but only if you feel you’re taxing it at all.

Let’s stop there for a moment. Taxing it, what do I mean by that? Well, are the apps crashing? Do you feel that the things you do on your iPad isn’t as snappy as they could be? I’m writing this in Ulysses, and it honestly doesn’t matter if I have the latest iPad, or one two or three generations back because the app doesn’t need that kind of power. It’s a plain text app, after all. However, exporting 4K video from LumaFusion, or working with Procreate or any of the Affinity apps, is a different matter. Those are powerful apps, in terms of that they require power to work properly, the more, the better.

So, looking at your used iPad that’s now entering three generations old, are you taxing it?

Markets, for both new and used products, differ across the world. My unscientific studies of iPad prices for used devices where I live (Stockholm, Sweden) makes me want to share the following percentages when it comes to price drops, compared to Apple’s asking price. Mind you, you need to look around for yourself, but this is what I’m seeing.

The iPad is in the:

  1. Current generation (pristine condition): -10% price drop
  2. One generation behind (used but fair): -30% price drop
  3. Two generations behind (used but fair): -40-50% price drop
  4. Three generations behind (slightly more bruised): -60% price drop

Naturally, many things will affect the price. Wear and tear being one, the state of the battery another, and supply and demand moreover. If there are many used iPads available, prices go down, and vice versa. If there are major changes to the product line, like an actual refresh rather than just spec bumps, that matters too.

💸 Don’t take any of this as financial advice, rather use these thoughts of mine to figure out when the sweet spot to sell and upgrade is for you, and your need.

The financially inclined can get a pretty spiffy machine for 30% off, or more if you’re lucky, assuming you accept it being one generations behind. For me, and the device I’m writing this one, that’d mean the 2020 12.9” iPad Pro, which is plenty of power, as already mentioned. Then, you could flip it a year later, and get another iPad that’s one generation behind, this not losing 30%, but more in the line of 10-20%.

Or, you know, you could use the iPad until it breaks, and then get another one. That’s the way I wish it was with things like these, but all that goes out the window when the gadget wants turn into gadget needs.

One final thing, though, and it goes against a lot of what I’ve been saying above.

If the question is When is the right time to upgrade?, then the answer must be, when you can and want to. It’s easy to be clever and financially sound, waiting for a new generation to get it when it’s as new as it’ll ever be, for example, but what’s the point of that? If it truly is time to upgrade, then do that. At least then you’ll have your upgraded device.

Maybe in March, then? Or not.

Thord D. Hedengren