Another year, another iPhone update, and another update to iPhone software that sends old phones to an early grave in the third drawer down, never to see the light of day again.
Except, not this year. This year everything old feels new again.
There’s a lot of believers out there in the conspiracy theory that the big tech companies really do make our old gear start crapping out when new things are ready to hit the market.
Not just crazy people, but perfectly sane people who are tired of having their old stuff stop keeping up with the march of time. Why doesn’t tech stay crispy fresh and fast for longer?
But this year, there’s something very different about the latest major iPhone update, iOS 12.
While you may have been well justified avoiding the big updates in years past, this is one that noticeably improves gear going all the way back to 2013’s iPhone 5S and iPad mini 2.
Think about it. That’s all the way back to the year Frozen came out. Back to when Steven Universe first arrived!
In itself, five years is the longest window of devices ever supported by a new iOS update, but the fact they also feel better is an absolute stunner.
According to Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica, who has been testing new iOS updates on old devices for six years, he’s never seen old devices speed up thanks to an update before.
“Anyone using an older device can safely upgrade to iOS 12 without worrying about speed, and that’s a big deal.”
The less conspiratorial version of the traditional upgrade cycle is that new software is designed to get the most out of the latest hardware. And then all apps, not just the latest apps, get updated to use the latest features, which are rarely designed to help older devices age gracefully.
But this year was fundamentally different.
When Apple announced iOS 12 back in June, it actually made it clear that this year was all about performance improvements, including for older phones. Not adding new things for the sake of new things, but smoothing and refining and polishing code to make it better all round.
And that mission is having a real impact. According to Cunningham’s testing, older phones are seeing in the order of 10-20 percent improvements when it comes to launching apps like your important basics like the camera, or Safari, or even just how long it takes to fully switch on after a reset.
And around that same launch event, Apple executive Greg Joswiak told ‘The Talk Show’ podcast that the whole ‘planned obsolescence’ thing is “the craziest thinking in the world”, railing against the idea that people would believe Apple would intentionally give someone “a shitty experience so you go buy our new product”.
But sometimes it can feel that way. A lot of times it feels that way! It’s not fun when an update was an exciting idea because there were all these cool new toys to play with, but suddenly even the basics feed our regret glands and make us wish we could take back running the software update.
It would even be a pretty great thing if companies would make it a little easier to downgrade should things go badly.
But for now, let’s enjoy this magical happy place where a new update for old phones actually makes them feel fresh again. If that gets you another year to avoid feeling like you need to upgrade, that’s a good amount of money saved toward the shinier, newer thing next year!