iOS 7.1 and the iPhone 4 performance

Improved performance

This is what appears at the bottom of Apple’s iOS 7.1 page. I would have updated my iPhone 4 to iOS 7.1 anyway, but I was pleased to see such incentive nonetheless. I know a few iPhone 4 users who are still on iOS 6.1.x., and to those who refrained from updating to iOS 7 only because of performance concerns, I can safely say they can do so now. 

Come on, it wasn’t “unusable” before

But there’s something I just need to get out of my system first. I strongly disagree with those saying and writing that the iPhone 4 was “unusable” before, meaning on iOS 7.0 to 7.0.6. It was not. Of course, the iPhone 4’s hardware is old by today’s smartphone standards, and has its limits. And I admittedly didn’t rush to update it from iOS 6 when iOS 7 came out. But I’m glad I did, in the end. At the time, one of the articles that contributed to my wariness was this one by Ars Technica: New Lease on Life or Death Sentence? iOS 7 on the iPhone 4. It is a well written, informative article, but at the time it also led me to believe that iPhone 4 performance under iOS 7 was worse than it actually turned out to be.

Ars Technica has published another article about the iPhone 4 and how it performs under iOS 7.1, iOS 7.1 on the iPhone 4: As good as it’s going to get, which again I suggest reading because it contains useful information and even stopwatch-measured app launches comparing responsiveness under iOS 6.1.3, iOS 7.0 and iOS 7.1. But I don’t fully agree with the author when he refers to the iPhone 4 performance under iOS 7 as being ‘jerky’ and I think this sentence in the last paragraph is a bit exaggerated: If you’re sticking with the iPhone 4 for another year, iOS 7.1 makes performance tolerable enough that using the phone isn’t unbearable.

I’ve previously talked about my impressions on iOS 7 and how it performs on my iPhone 4. Read iOS 7 on the iPhone 4 and iOS 7, battery life, and the iPhone 4 for more details. In short, the only issues I noticed when updating to iOS 7 were occasional lags in UI animations and transitions, and occasional lags when using the virtual keyboard. Occasional being the key word. I concluded my article by saying:

The general performance is surprisingly good considering the aging hardware, and not disappointing compared to the situation under iOS 6. At least for how I use my phone. If you fiddle constantly with your iPhone, you may find certain transitions (lock screen to home screen, going in and out of apps, etc.) to be slower than before. I find them more pleasing and less ‘harsh’, but that’s me. 

And I absolutely stand by these words. 

I have the feeling that some who talk about the iPhone 4 being “unusable” under iOS 7 are people who are now accustomed to the performance of the iPhone 5, 5c and 5s, and having to go back to an iPhone 4 to review iOS 7/7.1 they find a noticeably worse user experience. That’s understandable. I don’t have faster smartphones than my iPhone 4 at the moment, and again I’m telling you that I’ve never found its performance under iOS 7 to be intolerable or the phone unusable. I never really felt it slower than under iOS 6, simply different. And the occasional lag or stutter was no big deal, really. Oh, and another detail that I rarely saw mentioned: I experienced just one random Springboard crash under iOS 7 on my iPhone 4 (a couple more on my iPad 3), so I can say that iOS 7 on my iPhone 4 has always been rather stable. Therefore I really can’t agree with Federico Viticci when he writes:

Indeed, iOS 7 on the iPhone 4 (and to an extent, the iPad 3) was, in my experience, insufferable: animations were slow, scrolling would often drop frames and stutter, and everything felt generally sluggish.

He’s not alone (just skim through the comments on both the Ars Technica articles I mentioned), but really, as an owner of an iPhone 4 and an iPad 3, sometimes I think I have some special versions of these devices, since my experience has been noticeably different. Again, please note that I’m not saying that the iPhone 4 is particularly fast under iOS 7. If you’re one of those teenagers I frequently see out and about furiously tapping text and chat messages with two thumbs, then your idea of speed, performance and responsiveness is going to be different than mine. What I’m denying, however, is that the iPhone 4 has been unusable or insufferably slow and sluggish under iOS 7. 

iOS 7.1 and the iPhone 4 performance: is it really better?

I haven’t been measuring response times with a stopwatch. What matters to me is the general feel, not the millisecond. But since updating to iOS 7.1 I’ve noticed better responsiveness overall. The interface feels snappier. Animations, transitions are faster. The iPhone 4 seems to be faster at waking up and unlocking the screen. Apps’ launch times are shorter, as are the ‘zoom in’ and ‘zoom out’ transitions when you launch an app and you quit it. Navigating screens and swiping throughout the interface feels faster. The multitasking interface is more responsive and I’ve noticed no visible lagging or stuttering when swiping to navigate the carousel of open apps. Notification Centre and Control Centre’s interfaces are faster to display and slide away, especially Control Centre, which seems to have a slightly bouncier animation than before and feels more responsive when invoked. 

Another improvement is in the virtual keyboard’s responsiveness. I didn’t have particular issues with the keyboard before, but admittedly sometimes it lagged, felt stuck, only to regurgitate everything you’ve typed when it looked as if it weren’t registering your key strokes (a phenomenon I like to call ‘cluster typing’). Under iOS 7.1 I have noticed no such lagging and the keyboard seems to be keeping up with my typing quite well. 

As regards to the built-in apps, so far I’ve noticed better responsiveness in Safari, Mail and Camera. The Camera app feels a tiny bit faster at launching, both when you tap its icon, and when you access it directly from the lock screen. Changing modes (Video, Photo, Square) feels slightly faster as well. Same for navigating photos in the Camera Roll. Battery life appears to be the same as before, which is nice.

All these improvements are noticeable, and I highly recommend updating to iOS 7.1 to all iPhone 4 users. If you’re still on iOS 6 simply for performance-related reasons, then updating to iOS 7.1 will give you a comparable experience. If you’re still on iOS 6 for mere æsthetic reasons, then I can’t argue with this type of personal preferences, but I’ll remind you that there hasn’t been a 6.1.6 patch for the iPhone 4 to fix the SSL/TLS security flaw (iOS 6.1.6 is available for the iPhone 3GS and the 4th-gen iPod touch only), so you’re using a device that is currently not secure.

(I may update this article in the following days if I notice other specific improvements worth mentioning.)

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!