iOS Upgrades as a Trojan Horse

I’ve been trying to use cell phones like cars: buy them and use them until they just don’t work anymore. For a car that may mean something like a duration of ownership of 10 years or so. But it’s different for an iPhone.

The 3GS runs iOS6, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. On the surface this is a welcome benefit: people running 2009’s iPhone get the 2012 software. How nice of them.

I like listening to Roderick On The Line. There was a recent episode where Merlin and John were talking about John’s recent upgrade to an iPhone 5. He had been using a 3GS, but ever since he installed iOS6 the phone had become a pain to use. It felt slow, the camera would take forever to load, contacts wouldn’t sync properly. The guy isn’t doing heavy-duty stuff—he’s making phone calls, taking pictures, and checking email. Of course, he buys an iPhone 5 and it’s night and day. Things work the way he expects them to.

My sister has a 3GS and it’s been a similar story. Ever since she installed iOS6 she complains that her phone has slowed down. She’s not complaining that she’s missing out on the new features of iOS6. She’s complaining that the features she already uses don’t work as well as they used to. Why did she upgrade? Because she was prompted to do so.

I recently upgraded to an iPhone 5 – partly because I needed to escape that home button problem that began rearing it’s ugly head. And yes, the hardware is better on the iPhone 5. Clicks feel clickier on the home button and volume buttons. The battery lasts longer (I’ve had my iPhone 4 for over 2 years). But what really demonstrated the difference was the music app.

I’ve been using iTunes Match on the iPhone 4 ever since iOS 5 last year. It was almost always a pain. The promise of having all my music everywhere was met with crashes and delays waiting for the library to update from iCloud.

The worst was when I would place the phone down and it would enter Coverflow mode. I’d need to wait for all the artwork to load before I could, say, actually play music.

iTunes Match on the iPhone 5 feels like all my music is local. The interface flows way better and music loads faster. It’s what I always wanted iTunes Match to feel like (minus the problem with play counts and last played dates).

I wonder if Apple’s generosity towards free software upgrades for previous phones is really a ploy to make you so frustrated with your phone that you’ll upgrade to new hardware. You could say this about nearly all OS upgrades. On the other hand, if Apple didn’t provide the upgrade they’d be accused of withholding software just to make people upgrade to new hardware.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.