The iPad 1 is dead; long live the iPad Mini

3 min read

The original iPad deserves a special place in general aviation’s history–it was the first all-in-one tablet computer that offered a large screen, easy-to-use interface and long battery life. It started an app revolution in aviation that has changed the way many pilots fly. And it wasn’t just pilots who liked the iPad; Apple sold almost 19 million iPads in the 12 months the original model was available.

But the iPad 1 also deserves a place in history because that’s pretty much what it is right now: history.


The iPad 1 has reached the end of its useful life for pilots.

Most aviation app developers have actually done an admirable job of maintaining support for the original iPad. While many high end gaming apps long ago abandoned the iPad 1, ForeFlight, WingX and Garmin all officially support it to this day. That’s great, but we don’t expect that to last, for two reasons.

First, aviation apps are changing at a rapid pace. New features appear on a near-monthly basis, from terrain alerts to synthetic vision. These high end features require a lot of computing horsepower, and the iPad 1 just doesn’t have enough. It features a single core A4 processor and 256MB of RAM, compared to the iPad 2’s dual-core A5 processor and 512MB of RAM. That’s plenty for basic tasks like email and web browsing, but it falls short on most other counts. Newer aviation apps like AOPA’s FlyQ don’t even try to support iPad 1.

Secondly, iOS (the software platform at the heart of the iPad) is leaving the original iPad behind. When Apple unveiled iOS version 6 in September 2012, they broke the news that the original iPad would not get this upgrade. It’s been stuck on version 5.1 ever since, missing out on new features that iPad 2/3/4 owners get free.

This problem will only get worse this Fall, when Apple releases iOS 7. This update represents the most radical overhaul of iOS in years, and will force app developers to adjust their apps to run properly. We expect this will be the final straw for many app developers who, faced with the choice of supporting iOS 5 or iOS 7 , will make the logical decision to ditch the two year old version for the new one. That’s not to mention the significant number of new features iPad 1 owners will miss out on.

Some will complain that 3 years is a short lifespan for a $500+ product like the iPad, but it’s hardly atypical. Rapid obsolescence is the price we all pay for more features at attractive prices. Indeed, a new iPad Mini is less expensive than the original iPad but features improved specs in almost every category. We’d rather see that type of innovation than a stale product that never improves.

In any case, that iPad 1 probably saved the average owner far more than the purchase price, in less expensive digital charts and forgone handheld GPS purchases. For an IFR pilot, one of the popular charting apps represents a discount of at least 90% off the price of paper charts. That makes the iPad a pretty good investment, even if you have to replace it every 3 years.

So give your iPad 1 to your kid or grand kid–it’s still great for playing card games. But if you need an iPad to fly with, it’s time to make a new Christmas list. Might we suggest an iPad Mini?

7 replies
  1. Mark Fakhry
    Mark Fakhry says:

    Even though there’s no iOS 6 or 7 updates for iPad 1, and it won’t be able to take advantage of future Foreflight updates, would it still be usable on its current Foreflight version?

  2. Frank DeArmond
    Frank DeArmond says:

    You are correct in one aspect: Three years is too short of a timeline for tech renewal – very frustrating to have to spend $500-plus when my IPad 1 works perfectly fine. Using WingX with geo-referenced charts and it works great. Your assumption about saving dollars on paper I believe is erroneous (admittedly it depends on whether you fully trust your tablet/computer 100%) – relying solely on digital charts is foolish IMHO. When you’re in the goo (IMC) and your electronic wonder decides to give up the ghost, you’ll wish you had paper charts. And printing them for each trip just does not seem very reasonable or feasible. Just MHO

    • RW Hutto
      RW Hutto says:

      Along with the iPad1, paper is also history. iPad’s are safer, quicker, and infinitely easier to use at night. They reduce fuel consumption, are easier to carry, and posting revisions has been replaced by simple downloads of updates. Paper charts are ALWAYS out of currency unless you just happen to be at home when the revision comes in the mail to your home address. Try the Mini, you will cancel your paper subscription.

  3. John Lindinger
    John Lindinger says:

    I can live with older hardware that works as it should. I can live without iOS updates. I can live without App updates. When the old iOS 5.1 compatible App can no longer download current aviation charts, then I will be forced into the hardware upgrade cycle.

    Too bad you could not comment on how long the iOS 5.1 apps will continue to support chart updates.

  4. Rich B
    Rich B says:

    Of course one good option is to use the I for just a chart back-up, and switch to the newer version for the full featured app. Then you have 2 iPads and sources of chart on-board, as long as you remember to update the charts and plates, and charge the battery. I use as a good source of charts and plates, as well as flight planning.

  5. TK
    TK says:

    I don’t think app developers need to abandon iPad 1. Instead, they can release two apps. For example, “ForeFlight Original” (or whatever they want to call it) will work on iPad 1. And the new “ForeFlight” would continue its growth. iPad 1 can make a great backup, especially when a pilot can buy one for cheap. Also, as a society, I think we need to “go green.” The idea of software updates and inability to get older software encouraging one to throw out good working hardware devices is unfortunate. The fact that it does not run newer apps does not make it unusable. But it’s bad when software vendors don’t leave an older app available in the iTunes store, when their newer one no longer supports a device. Outside of the pilot community, all those iPad 1’s could be useful to people who could never before afford an iPad.

  6. Thomas waters
    Thomas waters says:

    As the owner of a. 1. I would like to get a Ipad mini but it needs to have
    128 or better storage I’m tired of having to make room for new apps music and video.

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