The new 'new iPad': Lightning strikes again

commentary Apple's unexpected new iPad is all about one thing: Lightning. Now, not only is your 6-month-old iPad "last year's model," it's also incompatible with a flood of new iPad accessories. Injury, meet insult.

I told you the new dock connector change was awful.

Apple unexpectedly unveiled a new fourth-generation iPad today, just six months after the birth of the cheekily dubbed "new iPad." That's the shortest planned obsolescence window I've ever seen from Apple, and CNET's Roger Cheng is not alone in feeling burned at spending $500 (or more) on a gadget that's just been significantly upgraded at the same price.

Apple's fourth-generation iPad. Yeah. Ouch. CNET/James Martin

Make no mistake, though -- the suddenness of the iPad update has nothing to do with the faster A6X processor, expanded LTE support, and 10-hour battery life. All the feature upgrades would have been just as good six months from now. The new new iPad is about one thing and one thing only: Lightning.

This upgrade fits the iPad into a new universe of Lightning accessories and cables that will generate no less than $100 million in revenue from consumers suddenly forced to upgrade. Apple started standardizing on the Lightning connector with last month's updates to the iPhone and the entire iPod line. The iPad was the only outlier -- until today.

Meanwhile, the 30-pin third-generation iPad has utterly vanished from the Apple Store. While the iPhone 4S sticks around as a cheaper alternative to the iPhone 5, the iPad 2 suddenly gets a "price drop" to $399, and the perfectly lovely, thinner, faster, and Retina Display-endowed iPad 3 gets shuffled into the closet like an embarrassing cousin. You can't even buy the perfectly good iPad 3 through normal channels. What?

The Lightning dock connector is a money grab, pure and simple, and today's iPad announcement is just an acceleration of the grabbing. And, as I wrote in my earlier rant, it's all the more galling since almost all smartphones plus the Kindle Fire HD and the Nexus 7 both use the industry-standard micro USB to charge.

Most 10-inch tablets don't use the underpowered micro USB, it's true. But if Apple had centralized on that standard like it said it would do with smartphones, it could have waited out its normal iPad release cycle and released a fourth-gen iPad with micro USB 3.0, which is more than adequate for charging a 10-inch tablet.

That would have leapfrogged the 10-inch competition, been backwards-compatible with cables and other accessories, and avoided the second appearance of rampant anti-consumer behavior in as many months.

But don't despair, iPad 3 buyers! I know I just made a compelling argument for you to feel angry and betrayed about the next-generation iPad, but I do think you should look on the bright side. You iPad 3 owners are actually the lucky ones. You've got yourselves a great collector's item: a really nice iPad with a Retina Display, a fast processor, a great battery, and iOS 6 with all the bells and whistles...and you don't have to shell out for new cables, adapters, or accessories. You win!

No, I know, it doesn't make me feel any better, either. Sorry.

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