Old iPhones Die Hard

If Apple makes a substantial amount of revenue from selling new hardware, why support a legacy iPhone 4s with iOS 9? This was a question inspired by last Friday’s AMA thread.

iPhone 4s is a phone that’s four years old, and it’s about to be updated to the latest OS – albeit, with performance-minded restrictions.

Still, for a company to provide OS-level updates to hardware that would have been considered “vintage” last year is more than impressive. That’s rare.

And if you don’t think there are people out there who still use iPhone 4s models… you don’t know my parents. Every year, they tell me that they’re thinking about upgrading to the latest iPhone. They’ve been telling me this for four years and it’s (obviously) yet to happen.

I’m not pushing them to the latest hardware because they don’t need to be on the latest hardware if they have the latest software. Yes, there’s a lot more a device can do if it has the latest OS (security issues notwithstanding) – and, yes, newer devices would certainly be substantially faster than what they’re currently on.

Or would they?

Yes, by the numbers, newer devices with updated “everything” tend to perform better than older devices. But what if there’s a law of diminishing returns for those who just don’t see the difference – enough to justify the cost of upgrading?

Apple has the same “problem” when it comes to iPad.

But is Apple truly hurting if it maintains customer satisfaction, allows its users to benefit from the latest OS-level advancements, and keeps them purchasing apps and services well within the boundaries of their ecosystem?

While I’ve not yet seen iOS 9 on an iPhone 4s, I’m interested to see how my parents feel about it when the update ultimately ships. Despite any restrictions due to hardware limitations in relation to what the OS can do on modern hardware, I believe they’ll be just as happy with their iPhones as they have been to this point.

Forget the technical clap-trap for a moment.

They’re certainly happy enough not to feel the need to switch to an alternative platform.

Perhaps the cost of having a user switch away from your platform is far greater than the cost of continuing to support an older device (especially if the code will work well enough on it)?

That’s what I’d assume – but I’m not an actuary who works for Apple.

When they’re finally ready to upgrade, will my parents be more inclined to upgrade to something that’s familiar to them (not just in brand, but in general software operation and appearance)? In knowing that my parents freak out when their web browser’s start page changes, the answer is: “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

Apple only generates revenue if you stay with Apple – so, it’s in their best interest to keep a customer happy even if they don’t happen to upgrade to every new model that’s released. Yes, this is true for every other OEM on the planet – but Apple is an anomaly, given that its entire business model is predicated upon actively developing both hardware and software platforms.

A person is more likely to switch between one Windows OEM and another (or one Android OEM and another) if it’s perceived that the experience will be similar. To have a similar Apple experience, you can only look to Apple.

Why would Apple (or any company) want to willingly abandon customers who are still satisfied with their experience – or, perhaps worse, engender a feeling of abandonment in the user? Since Apple controls the hardware and the software, it’s reasonable to expect that they can (and do) enable certain software features for certain capable models.

In essence, Apple can continue to improve upon a device that’s four years old and improve customer satisfaction in tow. That customer satisfaction will more than likely lead to future hardware purchases (or continued software / in-app purchases).

Where Apple makes its money.