Time to upgrade your iPad: how old is too old?

iPad 1

The iPad is decidedly middle-aged now, at least for consumer technology, which means there is a busy used market for older tablets. An original iPad, which came out in 2010, can be purchased on eBay for under $50—a great deal, right? Or maybe you can use that old iPad mini 1 that’s been sitting in the kitchen drawer for a few years, as a cheap way to have a dedicated aviation tablet?

iPad 1

An iPad is an iPad, right?

Not so fast. Most aviation apps have specific requirements that eliminate some older tablets from consideration, so before you buy that used iPad, read on.

When answering the question, “how old is too old for an iPad in the airplane?” you have to consider two related issues: hardware and software. Start with hardware. Older iPads have much less powerful processors and far less memory than the latest generation—the latest iPad mini (hardly Apple’s most powerful tablet) is roughly five times faster than the iPad mini 2, for example. The new iPad Pro models are even more powerful.

That leads to the software issue. Every year, Apple releases a new version of its operating system, the base level of software (now called iPadOS). As this gets ever more capable and resource-intensive, older models of iPads simply can’t keep up, so Apple cuts off support at some point. If you have an iPad mini 2, for example, it will continue to work but you are not able to update iPadOS beyond version 12. That’s a problem, since most apps have minimum iPadOS levels in order to run the latest version and get the newest features.

So here’s the domino effect: older iPad doesn’t have enough computing power -> can’t update to the latest iPadOS -> can’t update to the latest version of aviation apps.

The result is your older tablet will be frozen in amber, able to run older version of apps, but unable to update. And eventually developers may cut off support for those older app versions. Your older iPad isn’t instantly junk, but the clock is ticking.

Here’s the current state of the market:

  • The latest version of ForeFlight (13.4) requires iPadOS 13 or later.
  • The latest version of Garmin Pilot (10.4) requires iPadOS 14.2 or later.
  • The latest version of FltPlan Go (5.0) requires iPadOS 11 or later.
  • The latest version of WingX (9.2) requires iPadOS 12 or later
Synthetic vision

More advanced features like synthetic vision require more computing power—there’s no free lunch.

As you can see, the minimum varies by app, so consider which one you use when making an iPad decision. Theoretically, a FltPlan Go pilot could get away with a much older iPadOS version than a Garmin Pilot user (although there are definitely tradeoffs to this strategy!).

Now it’s a matter of matching your hardware to the software minimums. Which iPads can run which versions of iPadOS? It varies:

  • iPadOS 14 or later: all iPad Pro models, iPad Air 2-4, iPad 5-8, iPad mini 4-5.
  • Maximum of iPadOS 12: iPad Air 1, iPad mini 2-3
  • Maximum of iPadOS 10: iPad 4
  • Maximum of iPadOS 9: iPad 2-3, iPad mini 1
  • Maximum of iPadOS 5: iPad 1 (the original one)

Given all that information, when is it time to upgrade your iPad? We think any model that can run the latest version of iPadOS (top bullet point above) is a valid option for pilots. That’s everything that has been released in the last six years, so that includes a lot of older tablets. For example, if you find a great deal on an iPad Pro 10.5″ (which was released in 2017), that’s a reasonable choice for flying. If you’re still hanging onto an iPad mini 3 or an iPad Air 1, it’s time to make the upgrade.

Remember that we’re talking about the bare minimums here. For best performance, especially when it comes to features like synthetic vision and animated weather images, you’ll want a newer device with better performance. The iPad mini 5, iPad Air 4, and iPad Pro 11″ are our top picks. Read this article for more information on choosing the right model.

7 replies
  1. Ed K Livermore
    Ed K Livermore says:

    Very interesting article. My iPad is about 5 or 6 years old but still capable of running all the software you mentioned. So, I’m good on that level. My concern is the battery life. Is it possible to replace the pad’s battery? It sure seems like my iPad’s battery is depleting far more quickly than before. Thanks for responding. Ed

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Unfortunately the iPad battery is not user-replaceable. There are some shops that will do it, but it’s not something you should try.

    • Max
      Max says:

      I do not recommend replacing the battery – even if you use a reputable shop. I bought my iPad Pro in July 2016. I had a chain repair shop replace the battery in October 2020 (~4 year life). Battery replacement cost was about $100 with a 6 month warranty.

      The repair shop said battery replacement is hard, and they may have to replace the screen if they run into problems. Guess what? I paid another $185 for a screen for a total of $285.

      Should I have bought a new iPad or was battery replacement the right move? If it was battery only, replacement was the right decision. When the screen cost is added in, I would have bought a new iPad and sold the old one.

      This shop had repaired my HP laptop earlier and did a great job. They seem to have smart people with good customer service skills. I live in a college town. This shop services all types of customers, and they have a very busy shop.

    • Steve
      Steve says:

      Yes it is possible to replace your own battery depending upon the iPad model. I replaced the battery in my iPhone 6S and put off buying a newer model by several years. To do so you MUST be very methodical and very patient. And you must understand the video tutorials illustrating the process. The glass screen is held on by nothing more than an adhesive mask and often two petalobe screws at the bottom. The adhesive mask is softened with the heat of a hair dryer and the screen lifted by suction cups. If you force anything you will break it. ifixit.com is a good source for products and info.

  2. Craig
    Craig says:

    I’m currently flying with an iPad Pro 11 that I bought in 2019. I understand the new iPad pros have a much brighter screen does anybody have any experience with the new ones that came out this month?

  3. Jim
    Jim says:

    This article came at a get time as I’m debating to replace my 6th gen. Reason being when using synthetic vision in ForeFlight it crashes. I have sent the crash logs to Foreflight to try and understand what is causing the problem and the response was to close all applications and reboot before using. ForeFlight is using more resource than the ipad can handle causing Foreflight to shut down. That has not really resolved the problem and only other suggestion was to quit using synthetic vision. Not a great option either but the one I’m currently using.

  4. Jim Gates
    Jim Gates says:

    For a price less than an iPad battery replacement, you can buy an external, plug-in USB battery or install a USB power supply in your aircraft.

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