The Curse of Apple Supporting Older Hardware

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Imagine two scenarios:

1.) Apple uses operating system upgrades to intentionally hobble older hardware to encourage or force users to buy new devices.

or

2.) Apple does an amazing job of bringing the latest OS improvements to years-old devices, supporting older hardware far longer than any competitor.

Different people can watch Apple’s upgrade cycle—and its affect on the oldest devices—and come up with different opinions. In my opinion, there are two inescapable facts. The first is that no one on the planet does a better job of supporting older hardware. In the Android world, most devices never get a single update, let alone upgrades to new generations of operating systems.

The second is that the oldest generation of devices supported by any given upgrade are going to run it the least well. Often, it might even be slower performance than the previous operating system offered.

Putting that second point another way: duh. Older hardware with older processors and other components are slower than newer devices.

Old Telephone Equipment

Old Telephone Equipment

Damned If You Do. Or Don’t.

Jeff Gamet and I discussed this issue during Friday’s Daily Observations. The point I kept circling back to was how Apple is damned no matter what, at least by a subset of customers.

In the current state of affairs, some customers feel like Apple is intentionally hobbling their devices, as noted by a Computer Business Review article about a SumOfUs.org petition. For the record, those complaints are unfounded in my opinion.

If Apple isn’t doing it on purpose, the company could choose to support one less generation of devices with each upgrade to mitigate these complaints. Of course, some owners would then complain Apple is leaving them behind. The same would be the case if Apple disabled more and more OS features on older hardware to ensure adequate performance.

It’s not exactly a no-win scenario—Apple generally-speaking wins. But it is a scenario where someone is bound to be displeased with whatever Apple does.

The Future

I personally appreciate that Apple pushes the boundaries with its operating system improvements, designing for the newest hardware. That may be easy for me to say since my job requires that I have that newest hardware, but this is quintessential Apple.

The company pushes boundaries, relentlessly ditches the past, and has little or no loyalty to much of anything. Apple focuses on the now and on tomorrow. It doesn’t care about yesterday. For us customers, that is sometimes painful, like when Apple jettisons a port or something else we’ve grown comfortable with.

But it’s also Apple’s biggest strength. Its relentless focus on improvement is a big part of why we love Apple devices.

In that no one can make everyone happy, I think Apple’s path for operating system upgrades and support for older hardware strikes the best balance possible.

14 Comments Add a comment

  1. daemon

    I just find it funny that you cite the iPhone as evidence Apple supports “older” hardware.

    And I concede the point as long as we call anything three years and older as ancient.

  2. JustCause

    To me, the major difference between iOS and Mac OS X (macOS) support for hardware is that the Intel architecture hasn’t been advancing as much as Apple Axx architecture. It will be interesting to see how long A7 and forward (64bit) devices are supported.

  3. Bryan Chaffin

    Thanks for the formatting note, JustCause. I had the same thought on Apple’s recent processors, too. Apple seemed to jump sharply with the A7 and up. Those devices might see longer support. I suppose it depends a lot on whether that sharp rate of increase continues. If so, I imagine Apple will design its software accordingly (meaning the same number of generations will continue to be served).

  4. I have an iPad 2 that’s running perfectly fine on the latest iOS. To me that’s impressive.

    Actually I find the argument that Apple if forcing obsolescence to be more than a bit disingenuous. But then I’m old enough to remember when one of the major faults of the Wintel platform was their insistence on supporting old hardware and software. It held back improvements in stability and security. Apple has learned from their mistake and is getting vilified for it. Like you said, they can’t win.

  5. mactoid

    You’re all assuming that the lawsuits are sincere and not just a blatant attempt at using the courts to facilitate a cash-grab from an insanely successful corporation. I’m sure this whole thing will be very lucrative for the lawyers, whether the case goes forward or not.

    Just my cynical 2¢ worth!

  6. Sailor HG

    The main counter-argument I have with scenario 1 is that Apple does not allow us to revert our iOS devices after we upgrade. So if we find ourselves unhappy with the latest release, the only option we have at that point is to suffer with it or buy a newer model.

    The Mac, in contrast, is not impaired by this limitation; we are free to fall back to any version of the OS supported by the hardware. This is the only Apple platform where I can agree with scenario 2.

  7. 5 years. That’s the maximum support you can get from Apple. Found that out when I needed a new battery for my laptop. No batteries available to order for laptops older than 5 years (mine is 2011–right at 5 years). Mac Pro – no repair options. So after 5 years, eBay or other 3rd party venues are your only option. Also, it is unlikely that any subsequent MacOS after 5 years will work on your Mac.

  8. Scott B in DC

    New capabilities require better hardware. If the hardware doesn’t support the new capabilities and cannot be made optional without breaking the system, then that’s the way it goes. I am probably pushing it to the limit with my late 2009 iMac. I suspect that I have one more macOS release left before they stop supporting the Core 2 Duo that’s in this machine.

    Also, would they like Apple to be like that other famous OS vendor where you have to buy a new machine to upgrade their operating systems? I think the current upgrade is the only one that did not require new hardware. How many of those users of the other vendor can say that they are using their company’s latest and greatest on 6 year old hardware?

  9. PSMacintosh

    Sailor HG defines the main problem with Apple’s method.
    It is one thing to offer updated iOS for iPhone. But to not allow an easy back-track method for consumers to make their own choice about which OS they want to continue with and when is really a crappy move by Apple and deserves some legal repercussions!

    Apple is to much into thinking that it knows what is best for all of us and takes steps to force us into their decision. That, like when Government does the same, is JUST PLAIN WRONG!

    Please stop defending Apple all of the time!
    We need more sound “critics” within the Apple Press to make a dent into Apple’s thick skin!

  10. furbies

    I’m still driving a Late ’08 2.4Ghz 15″ MacBook Pro and 10.11/El Capitan and it’s fine, so why won’t Apple let me run 10.12 ?

    So I don’t have handoff/continuity ? no loss.

    I invested in a replacement battery last year, and previously upped the RAM to 8GB, and a 480GB OWC SSD, and Data Doubler. I’ve also got a SD Card Reader in the Express/34 slot.

    So come on Apple, we pay a lot for our Mac hardware, let us put up with a loss of feature(s) and get the next OS to run on older hardware…

  11. archimedes

    Although Apple is abandoning my 2008 MacBook Pro, I will have no problem running Linux (or Windows, or BSD) on it for years to come, including critical security fixes. On the other hand, 8 years is pretty good for Apple. I wish the original iPad had been supported as long.

    What perhaps is more significant is that Windows (and Linux) can often still run software from the 1990s, while older Mac software is completely unusable on newer Macs, and much of it is orphaned.

    I also find that many iOS apps have been orphaned – many of them simply stop working on newer versions of iOS. Fortunately new iOS apps are usually developed to replace them, but not always.

  12. archimedes

    Seconding furbies, I would say that a 2008 MacBook Pro with an SSD still works great in 2016. The main thing I notice is the lack of a retina display.

  13. archimedes

    One interesting change that Apple has made is that OS upgrades are free. But where does Apple get the money to pay for development? Probably largely from hardware sales (as well as software sales and their cut from the app store and services like Apple Music.) Apple’s business incentives don’t seem to align with extended support for older Macs, iPhones, or iPods.

    On the other hand, Microsoft seems to be switching to a cheap/free OS upgrade model as well. So how does Microsoft fund its own development efforts? Perhaps by OEM deals (assuming they pay Microsoft), software sales (Office), and services (Azure, Office 365, etc..)

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