At every Apple developer conference, there’s a heart-stopping moment when we discover whether cherished Apple kit will drop off the supported devices list. And to give Apple its due, the company has historically done better than rivals when it comes to mobile device longevity.
Android users have frequently been lumbered with handsets that never received a major update – to which wealthier Android users scoffed that perhaps such folks should have paid more than 12p for a phone. Yet even flagships fared poorly, sometimes being abandoned after as little as two years.
By contrast, last year’s Apple operating systems still supported new-for-2015 iPhones and new iPads released in 2014. Sure, those devices might not have got every feature, but their owners could at least gleefully prod an upgrade button and eke out another year’s use from them, knowing they’d receive current security fixes and not have to grumpily isolate themselves from the world.
This year, though, will be a comparative bloodbath. With the A11 Bionic chip now Apple’s baseline, the iPhone 6s, 7 and original SE are goners, along with the 7th-gen iPod touch. The iPad Air 2 and fourth-gen Mini, clinging on from 2014, are on the chopping block too, their A8-series chips no longer being capable of offering an experience Apple considers acceptable.
These announcements sting if you dearly love your iPhone 7 or iPad Air 2. But tech marches on and it’s probably time to upgrade. However, a second glance at that list of defunct devices shows they’re not all equal: the iPod touch was still on sale last month – yet it will never get another major OS update.
If you think that’s bad, spare a thought for anyone who recently bought an Apple Watch Series 3. The upcoming watchOS 9 drops support for that wearable. Selling a product known to become obsolete this September feels so un-Apple you half expect Tim Cook to tear off his own face to reveal a five-year-old Android logo beneath.
It’s not good enough. At the time of last September’s announcements, it was my opinion the Series 3 – originally released in 2017 – had no place in Apple’s line-up. Even a year previously, it was a relic, sporting the old-style screen, lacking fall detection, and being incompatible with Family Setup. Users complained it chugged, struggling to load apps. It existed so Apple could meet a price-point and say Apple Watch “starts from £179” – even though the Apple Watch SE is a much better bang-for-buck buy.
The thing is, that tactic works. The Series 3 remained – and still is – popular, because it’s cheap. But no-one who bought one in recent months would have imagined it would be discarded tech come the autumn. And that’s still the case after WWDC’s watchOS 9 revelation, given that the conference has little mainstream cut-through beyond people gawping at Apple’s shiny new laptops.
Naturally, it’s not like watchOS 9 will cause every Apple Watch Series 3 to tear free from its owner’s wrist and launch itself into the sun. Well, not unless Apple’s marketing has got really aggressive of late and its engineers have been up to shenanigans. But when devices are no longer updated, the greater the likelihood things will go wrong when they’re used with those that are running the latest operating systems.
So, again, Apple deserves credit for giving longer lifespans to devices than most; but it also deserves whatever outrage comes its way from this past year’s Series 3 buyers.