A Note On Smart Covers, Smart Cases + Third-Generation iPads

Over the last several days, we’ve been testing a variety of old and new cases with the third-generation iPad, and as we mentioned a few days ago, many—not all—iPad 2 cases continue to work with the new model. One of the two exceptions we noted was magnetic Smart Cover-like cases—ones with lids that were supposed to automatically lock and unlock the iPad’s screen. A small change by Apple means that some of the magnetic lids developed for the iPad 2 continue to work, while others don’t.

There’s still some confusion over what works and what doesn’t. While we wish we could clear this up entirely for everyone, the reality seems to be more complicated than any pithy summary could capture. Here’s what we’re seeing.

Contrary to claims that the original iPad Smart Cover (released alongside the iPad 2 in March 2011) doesn’t work or works inconsistently with the new iPad, we’ve tested both leather and plastic versions of that Smart Cover with multiple third-generation iPads, and both work reliably. There was a quiet, unexplained update in the middle of last year to the Smart Cover, and it’s possible that different batches of Smart Covers were made inconsistently, but the original Smart Covers seem to be just fine. Reports on Apple’s Support Communities Forum, however, suggest that some people are getting new Smart Covers that aren’t working with new iPads, which is obviously concerning.

Results with third-party cases for the iPad 2 and new iPad are all across the board. They are so inconsistent, in fact, that we’ve tested a “third-generation iPad” case in multiple colors that vary in performance by color. The black and brown versions we received for testing work just fine.

Gray and red versions don’t work at all. Other cases we’ve tested seem to work or not work without regard to colors, but manufacturing for many companies is not entirely perfect, and sometimes varies from batch to batch.

We’ve already received a number of emails from case makers explaining that they’re aware of the problems and completely willing to replace cases for affected users. The issue has been traced to an iPad sensor that was reversed in polarity in the new model, causing some of the third-party magnet designs to fail—and possibly some of Apple’s, too.

Until the dust settles, it would be a good idea to hold off on buying Smart Cover-like accessories. We didn’t recommend the original versions because they were ridiculously overpriced, and there have subsequently been quite a few cases that have incorporated similar functionality with much better protection—Apple was reportedly working on an option of its own before the new iPad launched.