More on iOS 9 and older devices


Chris Carson at Low End Mac writes:

Yesterday, a gentleman by the name of Chaim Lerman filed a Class Action Lawsuit seeking US$5 Million in damages for “deceptive trade practices and false advertising”. Plaintiff Chaim claims that he and other iPhone 4S owners became unable to use their devices because the iOS 9 update slowed down their devices. […]

The problem of “forced obsolescence” is as old as the tech industry itself. Everybody reading this article has felt the sting of buying something new only to have it replaced months, weeks, or even days later. While your new device may not be rendered useless as soon as the next one comes out, it is inevitable that it will eventually become “obsolete”. […]

Listen, folks, you have to come to terms with the fact that older devices simply won’t run the latest and greatest as well as newer devices will.

Apple has gone out on a limb by supporting the iPhone 4S as long as it has, and I personally applaud them for keeping it up to date. But there are those out there who have unrealistic expectations about how well their older devices should perform with the ever increasing demands of modern software.

I understand Carson’s point, but as I wrote in my previous post, I think that Apple shouldn’t have allowed iOS 9 on devices with an A5 processor and 512 MB of RAM, stopping iOS updates at version 8.4.1 for these devices. (The third-generation iPad, despite having similar specs, handles iOS 9 much better — apparently, having 1 GB of RAM is enough to make a noticeable difference).

Since publishing my previous post, I’ve heard from people who have installed iOS 9 on their older devices — iPhone 4S, iPad 2, iPad mini — which share the same specs and memory, and some of these people told me that iOS 9 runs well enough on them; others confirmed the overall disappointing user experience. This class of devices is exactly on the dividing line between a good and a bad user experience under iOS 9. Apple favoured support and compatibility over user experience, and decided to extend the life of the iPhone 4S and similar devices, probably thinking that it was doing their owners a favour.

The real favour in this case would have been to drop iOS 9 support for iOS devices with an A5 CPU and 512 MB of RAM — iOS 8.4 was running just fine and there are still a lot of current apps on the App Store supporting iOS 8. An iPhone 4S or iPad 2 with iOS 8 would still prove to be quite useful today, and pleasant to use. Even my humble iPhone 4, stopped at iOS 7.1.2, is still a decent (secondary) device.

The kind of ‘forced obsolescence’ that’s truly irritating is when we have technically capable hardware that is denied to run the latest software largely for marketing-related reasons. In this case, exactly for the reason Carson mentions (“older devices simply won’t run the latest and greatest as well as newer devices will”), leaving the iPhone 4S and similarly older devices behind wouldn’t have been forced obsolescence, but a honest realisation of their technical limitations. And a more dignified semi-retirement.

Apple should really offer the possibility to download older iOS ‘combo updates’ via iTunes to allow for a system downgrade with a simple restore & reinstall. Before the process begins, users should be warned about the security implications and informed that such downgrades are unsupported, etc. It’s exactly in cases like this that user experience should be favoured. Take the choice Apple made to not offer Web content blockers on iOS devices with a 32-bit architecture. Although technically possible, the reason given was that user experience would be negatively impacted. Yet making the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2 struggle under iOS 9 is considered fine, apparently.

iOS, especially when it comes to older devices, should benefit from a more Mac OS-like approach. There are a lot of vintage Macs that can technically support certain versions of Mac OS and Mac OS X, but that are way more responsive and usable if kept on a slightly earlier version.

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