The fanfare of Apple's (AAPL) announcement of two new iPads Tuesday quickly gave way to backlash from consumers who say the short life span of Apple products is becoming wearisome — and expensive.
Apple surprised fans by unveiling a revamped, full-size iPad, just seven months after releasing the third-generation iPad. The new, full-sized tablet was overshadowed by the star of the event — the iPad Mini — but not overlooked by owners of what had been the most up-to-date iPad. Many were irked that they had just dropped $500 on what they thought was a cutting-edge tablet, only to watch it fall to near obsolescence Tuesday.
"I bought a iPad 3 in August and definitely feel cheated," Phillip Briseno posted on this newspaper's Facebook page.
Steve Higgs said that when he bought his third-generation iPad on Sunday, Apple should have told him "that in 48 hours it would be outdated."
iPad owners in the Bay Area weren't alone in their frustration. An unscientific flash poll of about 1,400 Apple users by CouponCodes4u, a coupon website that frequently polls consumers, found that the majority of owners of the suddenly old tablet — 83 percent — felt "cheated" by the iPad 4 announcement.
But on Wednesday, analysts had one message for annoyed Apple customers: Get over it.
"I don't think they (Apple) owe people anything," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD Group. "If the iPad 3 worked for you great two days ago, it still works for you today, so I don't know why you would feel cheated."
Many Apple users have everything they need with the second- or third-generation iPads, some analysts said, and shouldn't feel compelled to buy an upgrade just because Apple has released one.
"Reasonable consumers can assess whether they even need the thing," said John Simpson, a consumer advocate at California-based nonprofit Consumer Watchdog. Simpson said he is the happy owner of the first-generation iPad.
But new Apple products, which are kept secret until the company unveils them with great celebration, are some of the sexiest for gadget-lovers to get their hands on. Apple has a loyal following of consumers who lust after its newest products and the emotional letdown of the short life of the third-generation tablet may have hit this group particularly hard, Simpson said.
For those trying to sell that tablet, the news was particularly disappointing — its price is expected to plummet, and the iPad 4 will start at about $500, just what they paid for their new and now outdated device.
The fourth-generation iPad offers some nice perks. It will double the speed of the Wi-Fi connection and has iOS 6, which can't be installed on the original iPad. The upgrade also moves the iPad onto the Lightning connector, the smaller connection introduced on the iPhone 5 last month.
Apple had been upgrading tablets on a near-annual basis since launching the first iPad in early 2010, and the quick turnaround created some angst. With Tuesday's announcement shaking up Apple's routine, some wonder if the Cupertino company will move to twice-annual upgrades to minimize the pressure that surrounds its product launches.
"That's one of Apple's greatest challenges," said Tom Mainelli, a research director and consumer expert at research firm IDC. "There's this sense of disappointment if they don't knock your socks off with every announcement."
Others, though, say Apple wanted to move its tablet release into the fourth quarter — just before the holidays and when most competitors are releasing their latest tablets. Microsoft will release the Surface tablet on Friday, the same day it launches Windows 8.
Whether Apple sticks with annual releases or begins upgrading the iPad more frequently, consumers don't need to keep up, analysts say, because they can hold onto tablets for a two or 2½ years — about the timeline for operating system upgrades.
The life span of tablets can also be expanded when families pass them down to younger generations. Apple product owner John Engel said he passes his iPhone and iPads down to his four kids. While he doesn't mind using the older products and still uses the original iPad for work and reading, he said he was disappointed that Apple would not upgrade it to iOS 6. To use devices effectively for a full two years, Engel said Apple should allow customers to update them equally — whether it's the first or fourth generation.
Through the generations – iPad release dates:
iPad, the original: April 3, 2010
second generation: March 11, 2011
third generation: March 16, 2012
fourth generation: Available Nov. 2
Contact Heather Somerville at 925- 977 8418. Follow her on Twitter.com/heathersomervil.