Sure, Apple screwed up in the way it handled the iPhone slowdown incident, but at least some of the backlash is overblown FUD—you just have to look at their history of support and why they did the slowdown.
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A quick look
A site called Patently Apple has tallied 30 class action lawsuits; a French consumer watchdog group has started an investigation, and it even a US senator has been asking questions. One angle that’s getting casually tossed off is that Apple slowed down the phones for planned obsolescence, and another comment I heard was that to stay in Apple’s ecosystem, you have to upgrade your phone “every two or three years at least.”
However, if you look at the reasons behind the slowdown, Apple’s actions are actually consistent with their relatively long support cycles. You can read the their full explanation, but essentially, peak loads on devices with degraded batteries can cause them to completely shut down, so when this is in danger of happening, iOS throttles the devices. They’ve only been doing this about a year. Apparently a some people don’t agree, but I think most people would rather have a slight slowdown instead of a full hard shutdown.
Yes, Apple should have been more transparent, and a nearly 900 billion dollar company doesn’t need anybody to defend it. But this isn’t some test of faith for the Apple zealots—compared to the rest of the smartphone industry, their long-term device support goes a long way to counter planned obsolescence conspiracy theories.
Ever since the iPhone 4 and the debut of Apple-designed SoCs, the trend has been for Apple to support each iPhone model and SoC generation for four years and four major OS updates. (There are a few exceptions—the iPhone 4 and 5C only got three major updates, but they still got about 4 years of support.) Apple is currently supporting iPhones all the way back to the 5S, which came out in 2013.
Apple is also on a trend of keeping two previous generations of iPhones available for sale, serving as their de-facto mid-range devices. So, what if you bought one of these the day before it was discontinued? Looking at discontinued devices from the Apple SoC era (the 4, 4S, 5, and 5C), the average time from last availability to the last OS update is still a little over two years.
In response to the incident, Apple is offering $29 battery replacements and will add a battery health feature to iOS. You could argue that maybe they should consider even longer support, thought that could make things more challenging for developers, and no matter what, some consumers are always going to complain.
The enterprise angle
There’s an enterprise angle here, since embedded devices and handheld computers can have much longer lifespans of five, seven, or even 10 years.
This is why the iPhone SE is so interesting. As I wrote shortly before it came out in 2016, the SE has the exact same physical dimensions as the iPhone 5 and 5S. This means that accessories like barcode scanner and credit card reader sleds designed for the 5 and 5S could still be used after these phones were discontinued and no longer supported—you just pop in an SE, instead. The iPhone 5 came out in 2012, so from it to the current SE, we’re at over five years of compatible device availability.
If the iPhone SE holds to previous Apple lifecycle trends, it will be supported through iOS 13 and get patches until sometime in 2020. The hardware could stop being available in 2018, though, so I’m curious to see how Apple follows it up. Will they make another 5/5S/SE-compatible phone with a more recent SoC, giving even more continuity for accessories? Or will they perhaps follow the same concept, except with an upgraded iPhone 6/6S-compatible phone?
Some formal lifecycle commitments would be nice (though I’m obviously not holding my breath for enterprise support SKUs!) but you have to acknowledge that they’re doing a good job so far.