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Apple’s Planned Obsolescence Schedule

It has long been a staple among the Mac faithful that Macs may cost more than equivalent Windows-based PCs, but (along with many other advantages) they retain their utility longer. I’m certainly guilty of such statements, and I’ve backed them up over the years by keeping my SE/30 (upgraded from an SE in 1991) in useful service until 2001, at which point I replaced it with a Performa 6400 that was at least five years old.

That said, hardware longevity — how long the actual hardware continues to function using the software of its era — is being undermined by the need to maintain software compatibility, particularly with networked software. For many years, an elderly Mac could remain useful even in the face of new and incompatible system updates because computers were relatively isolated from one another; as long as file formats remained compatible, older machines maintained their utility. The first hint that networked software was going to become important came from Web browsers, older versions of which weren’t always able to load Web sites using the latest Web design techniques.

But Web browser compatibility is nothing compared to the compatibility issues Apple has raised with iCloud, which works only with Mac OS X 10.7.2 Lion and iOS 5. Suddenly, older Macs and iOS devices that aren’t compatible with Lion and iOS 5 have been excluded from life in the cloud, regardless of how well they run other software and even modern Web browsers. In short, the effective life of hardware is now determined by Apple’s corporate fiat, rather than organically as the Macintosh industry gradually shifts away from supporting older machines.

This got me thinking. When some new version of Mac OS X or iOS comes out, we always report on the hardware with which it’s compatible, but we’ve never brought all the different operating systems together. To do that, I pulled out MacTracker, which provides introduction and discontinuation dates, and used EveryMac’s Ultimate Mac Sort Tool to determine which Macs were made obsolete by each subsequent version of Mac OS X.

The aim here is to figure out just how long you will likely be able to continue installing operating system upgrades (and thus software that requires those OS versions) after you purchase a Mac or iOS device. In particular, I’m interested in the minimum lifespan — how long a particular device would be supported by Apple if you bought near the end of that model’s lifespan.

First, though, to address an early comment, it is true that Apple continues to support the previous version of Mac OS X (though not iOS) with security updates. So, during the reign of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Apple will release security updates for 10.6 Snow Leopard, though not for 10.5 Leopard or anything earlier. While this is a welcome policy, I don’t see it changing the functional lifespan of a Mac, since you don’t get your work done with security updates, you get it done with a functioning operating system and supported applications.

Mac OS X -- Here’s what I found, starting with 10.4 Tiger, which was released in April 2005. Tiger supported all PowerPC G3-, G4-, and G5-based Macs, and was the first version of Mac OS X to run on Intel-based Macs. There’s little utility in going back any earlier, since previous versions of Mac OS X (with 10.0 released in March 2001) also supported all PowerPC G3-based Macs with the lone exception of the original PowerBook G3.

Tiger was superseded by 10.5 Leopard in October 2007, when Apple started to drop support for installing new operating system updates on some older Macs. In particular, Leopard swept off the shelf all PowerPC G3-based Macs and slower PowerPC G4-based Macs whose clock speed was less than 867 MHz. Most of those Macs had been discontinued by October 2003, except for a lone 800 MHz iBook G4, which held on until April 2004. So Leopard supported all Mac models introduced as far back as 7 years earlier, but the last Mac sold that couldn’t run Leopard was taken off the market just 3.5 years before Leopard shipped.

Next up was 10.6 Snow Leopard, which Apple released in August 2009. With Snow Leopard, Apple drew a line in the sand at the Intel transition, eliminating all PowerPC-based Macs. Looking back in time, the iMac was the first Intel-based Mac in January 2006 and the Power Mac G5 was the last of Apple’s product line to make the jump to Intel, sold as a new product until August 2006. (The PowerPC-based Xserve remained available until November 2006, but it wasn’t aimed at the consumer market.) That sets Snow Leopard’s backwards compatibility to as little as 3 years, a year less than Leopard’s. This is understandable given the enormity of the architectural change.

With 10.7 Lion, which came out in July 2011, Apple consigned a few early Intel-based Macs to the dump heap of history. To be specific, Lion requires an Intel Core 2 Duo processor or faster, which left a number of models out in the cold because they relied on the Intel Core Solo or Core Duo processor. The last of these to go was the Core Duo-based Mac mini, in August 2007, putting Lion’s backwards compatibility at just under 4 years. The first Core 2 Duo systems were sold in September 2006, which adds almost another year to those Macs’ upgradable lifetime.

iOS -- What about iOS? The first version of iOS to drop support for earlier models was iOS 4, which appeared in June 2010, and wouldn’t run on the original iPhone and iPod touch from 2007. Apple stopped making those devices after a single year of production in June 2008 and September 2008, respectively, giving iOS 4 a backwards compatibility of 24 to 27 months.

iOS 5, released in October 2011, also tossed an iPhone and iPod touch over the side: the iPhone 3G and the second-generation iPod touch. (To be fully accurate, these devices actually first bit the dust with the release of iOS 4.3 in March 2011, but that was a relatively minor update and including it would muddy the analysis significantly.) The iPhone 3G survived for 2 years, remaining for sale as a low-cost alternative even after Apple introduced the iPhone 3GS in June 2009. It was eventually discontinued in June 2010 when the iPhone 4 came out.

Similarly, the second-generation iPod touch was introduced in September 2008, and while the 16 and 32 GB versions were pulled from sale a year later in 2009, the 8 GB version held on for 2 years before Apple stopped offering it in September 2010.

Technically speaking, that gives iOS 5 a backwards compatibility of only 15 or 16 months, to the last date the iPhone 3G was on sale as a new product. But it also marks the first time Apple introduced a new product while continuing to sell its direct predecessor. On those grounds, you could argue that the real backwards compatibility of iOS 5 is 27 or 28 months, for the iPhone and iPod touch, respectively.

(Michael DeGusta worked up a fascinating chart comparing iOS and Android OS upgradability by phone model up until June 2010. He chose to look at the span of time from a phone’s introduction to three years after release — less for phones released in the last three years, of course. He depicts across that period how long a phone was for sale, how long updates were available, and how far behind a phone was compared to the current version of the operating system.)

Support Summary -- To summarize, then, it seems safe to say that if you buy a new Mac now, it’s a good bet that Apple will support it with new software releases for 4 to 5 years, depending on when you buy in a given model’s lifetime. Snow Leopard cut the time to a low of 3 years for some outlying models, but the desire to focus on Intel-based Macs easily explains that.

Things become more complex with iOS. If you’re buying the current generation of iPhone, you’ll have 2 to 3 years of support from Apple — the longer period if you buy a new model immediately — before you’re left by the wayside. The lower end of the range syncs up with the length of most mobile phone contracts.

However, this will fall down with new purchases of the iPhone 3GS, which Apple is now giving away for free to anyone who will sign a two-year contract with AT&T. It seems entirely likely that the iPhone 3GS won’t survive the next revision of iOS, which means that iOS 6 could be a non-starter for phones that were sold just before the release of iOS 6. (Apple might signal iOS 6 by discontinuing the iPhone 3GS several months ahead to avoid causing some degree of buyer’s remorse.)

The iPod touch seemed to follow the same pattern as the iPhone for the first few generations, but when Apple released the iPhone 4S, there was no associated fifth-generation iPod touch, meaning that the fourth-generation iPod touch, introduced in September 2010, is still current (albeit in both black and white versions now). That may mean that today’s iPod touch will have a much longer lifespan, if we assume it tracks with the iPhone 4, perhaps even approaching the 4-year upgradability mark that nearly all Macs have enjoyed.

It’s also hard to know what will happen with the iPad. The original iPad was released in January 2010 and replaced by the current iPad 2 in March 2011, but both can run iOS 5. The original iPad and iPhone 4 use the same processor — see below — while the iPad 2 and iPhone 4S use a later version. That processor difference could be the trigger that starts the clock on the last possible update. The original iPad and iPhone 4, despite introduction dates offset by several months, may both be thrown under the train with iOS 7. That’s certainly no sooner than 2 years from now. If this wild speculation is on target, that would give the iPad a Mac-like longevity of about 4 years.

Dark Clouds Rising -- The wild card in all of this is iCloud, which requires iOS 5 and Lion’s 10.7.2 release. It’s not so much that iCloud is itself uninterested in the past, since Lion works on all Macs sold in the last 4 years or so. The problem is iOS 5, and the way Apple is keeping obsolete products for sale at lower price points. The iPhone 3G can’t run iOS 5 and thus can’t participate in iCloud, but you could have bought an iPhone 3G as recently as 15 months ago. Thus, you may be able to connect a 4-year-old Mac to iCloud, but not an iPhone that’s less than 2 years old and still under contract. Since the entire point of iCloud is to route data among your many devices, this discrepancy is troubling lots of people.

It may seem that iCloud (via iOS 5) is a bit like Snow Leopard, in that it’s making arbitrary decisions about who’s in and who’s out. But with Snow Leopard, those decisions were based on an obvious technical difference — PowerPC versus Intel processors. With iOS 5, though, there’s no such distinction. It runs on the iPhone 3GS and the third-generation iPod touch, which reportedly use the Samsung S5L8920 CPU, whereas the iPhone 4 and original iPad use Apple’s A4 chip, and the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 rely on the A5. Perhaps iOS 5’s system requirements are based purely on overall performance, which isn’t something that users can see or that we can estimate based on known specs. Certainly, iOS 4 on an iPhone 3G was nearly unusable for a while, until Apple released an update with performance tweaks, and even then it wasn’t snappy.

If we’re lucky, the real boon of iCloud will be Apple moving additional processing into the network, as Siri does, enabling iOS devices to maintain their utility longer than in the past. Apple may be trying to push the iPad and iPod touch longevity into the 4-year range enjoyed by Macs. If you consider the iPhone 3GS and 4S as intermediate versions of the iPhone, it’s possible we could see iPhones lasting somewhat longer as well.

As long as Apple continues to sell vast quantities of iOS devices to new buyers, everyone is happy. But should Apple feel the need for more upgrade revenue at any point, it seems clear that the company can arbitrarily declare the obsolescence of an entire generation of devices and potentially enforce that obsolescence with some sort of networked service that works only on the most recent devices.


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Comments about Apple’s Planned Obsolescence Schedule
(Comments are closed.)

Justen  2011-11-02 20:01
iCloud not working on 10.6 seems completely arbitrary and it really annoys me! I use Quicken 2007 - don't get me started about that, I don't like any of the alternatives - so I have to keep a machine on 10.6. But I also use MobileMe and I need to be able to sync my machines. I am just going to wait it out for a few monts and pray those morons at Inuit will release a REAL replacement for Q2007.
John May  2011-11-03 17:16
There are some great points here, and I'll add two observations. First, the iPhone 3G's that my wife and I bought in March 2009 gave less than 18 months of trouble-free service, since I made the mistake of "upgrading" them to iOS4 in the summer of 2010. [edited to correct date of iOS4 release -jm]. Saying the experience "wasn't fabulous" is putting it generously in our case, and even then not all the iOS4 features were available (for good reason, I'm sure).

Second, when I buy a Mac, I often consider getting a refurbished unit from Apple instead of a new one. The discounts range from 10-25%. However, if buying a machine with last year's specs means getting 25% less useful life, then these discounts don't look so good any more. Maybe in recognition of this tradeoff, Apple now lists the release date of each refurbished model in its online store.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 14:26
Yeah, the iPhone 3G with iOS 4 was a mess - I've tweaked to acknowledge that more.

As far as refurbished Macs go, you're absolutely right, if you're buying a previous model, you want to take that reduced lifespan into account when calculating the actual discount.
Anthony Reimer  2011-11-02 20:37
In the University computer labs I run, the dropping of support for PPC Macs (specifically, the Power Mac G5) made us change our whole operation. I used to be able to justify buying Power Macs (now Mac Pros) because they would last 5-6 years with a mid-life RAM and HD upgrade and we could still use a current OS. Since iMacs aren't an option for us (we need matte displays), we had to turn on a dime and scrounge money for Intel Mac minis when Apple's apps (e.g., Final Cut, Motion) would no longer support PPC machines. We get far less performance for our students using Mac minis over Mac Pros, but hopefully we can afford to replace them on the new 3-4 year schedule, since that is how we expect Apple to operate, both with the OS and their creative apps.
Thomas Carlson  2011-11-02 22:44
Apple is gradually evolving from a computer company into a consumer products company. Along the way, they have abandoned education, enterprise, and maybe professional users, too, if rumors of the Mac Pro's imminent demise turn out to be correct. Continuing to support older kit just isn't as profitable as selling new throwaway gadgets.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 14:23
From a longevity standpoint, I don't think Apple is getting worse (at least over the last decade, and the technology world moves much faster now than it used to). Macs are keeping their 4-5 lifespan, and while iPhones are best thought of as 2-year devices, the iPad and iPod touch would seem to be aiming at the Mac's 4-year mark. In the end, Apple is neither doing anything particularly wonderful nor particularly awful.
Thomas Carlson  2011-11-04 17:48
I commented as someone who worked as a lab tech in a Mac-centric school district. We had been forced for financial reasons to run our PPC Macs for longer than 4-5 years. When Apple stopped supporting Tiger it was a big hit for us. Yes, Leopard would run on the newer G4 machines, but not very well. We were envious of school districts that went with PCs running Windows XP which will be supported until 2014.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 18:54
What was the "support" that was available for XP but not for Tiger that made a difference? Security updates? It's not like XP has seen functional updates. I would bet that lots of Windows developers tried to keep their software compatible with XP since so many people didn't upgrade to Vista.
Thomas Carlson  2011-11-05 22:58
It was mostly the lack of security updates for Tiger, which are pretty important to a school district. They bit the bullet, dumped all their PowerPC kit for peanuts, bought new MacBooks to outfit the labs with and PCs for administration way before they would have had to do otherwise. It was quite a financial hit for them.
Andrew  2011-11-09 16:33
The reality is that on Windows XP, dating to 2001, Apple still supports the most recent version of Safari. On my 2005 iBook (which I can't afford to upgrade, being a student), even something as basic as a current web browser isn't available any longer. Even if developers want to support PowerPC at this point, Apple has removed support from the current Xcode. This, I think, is completely unjustified, as there's absolutely nothing wrong with my iBook: the obsolescence is completely artificial.
Curtis Wilcox  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2011-11-09 19:32
Actually, the current version of Safari for Windows (5.1.1) requires Windows XP SP2. Service Pack 2 wasn't released until August 2004. Other Apple software for Windows also requires at least SP2 and both the iPhone Configuration Utility and Windows Migration Assistant for Lion require SP3 (released in 2008). I think Apple's Boot Camp drivers are their only software that doesn't require a Service Pack to work in XP, which makes sense.
Rodney  2011-11-02 21:03
Adam - you have neglected to mention the fact that Apple DOES continue to support the immediately previous version of OS X with security updates. This keeps the machine functional - even if it can't access the latest web services.

Thus, with Leopards release in 2007, Tiger stayed alive until 2009, when Snow Leopard was released.

With Snow Leopards release, Leopard stayed alive until 2011, when Lion was released. I have been using a 2003 12 inch PowerBook G4 for 8 years - fully supported!

With Lion's release, Snow Leopard is still alive, and thus there is current backward compatibility for 5 years, with a reasonable expectation of 2 more years, even for those early Intel adopters with Core Duo machines.

Yes - iCloud is missing from Snow Leopard (for now). You can't always expect new services to be ported into old products, but Apple will make a pragmatic decision on this.

iOS is different. Apple only supports the current major version....
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 13:47
Yes, it's absolutely true that Apple continues to release security updates to the previous big cat. I didn't mention that originally because it feels ancillary - while there's nothing wrong with security updates, I don't use a Mac because it has security updates, I use it because it helps me get work done.

So from a practical, "is this Mac useful?" standpoint, continued release of security updates plays only a very minor role. More important factors are actual bug fixes from Apple, which happen only within the current big cat, and support from developers, which tails off over time.
thomas powers  2011-11-08 14:29
Adam, I was puzzled by your reference in the article to the lesser need for security updates than functional ones. I'm glad you followed up here.
If I'm happy with my functional apps, I NEED the security upgrades to keep working, since that's where the external change (threat) is that could corrupt my work. Could you elaborate your stand?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-08 14:36
Hmm... how to say this. I think security updates are absolutely worthwhile and should be installed because they in essence confer herd immunity - bad guys won't focus on vulnerabilities addressed by security updates because there's little to be gained.

But the mere fact of a security update existing in no way changes the functional capability of your Mac. What you could do before it, you can do after it - no more, no less. If we're talking about being able to view the latest Web sites (with the latest Web browsers) or use iCloud or take advantage of the latest Photoshop, the fact is that you need to be able to use a version of the OS that's supported, and security fixes are simply unrelated.
Wasn't there a 5th generation iPod touch released this year with a retina display?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 13:52
No, the Retina display came with the 4th generation iPod touch in September 2010, matching the display specs of the iPhone 4 a few months earlier.
Randy Spydell  An apple icon for a TidBITS Angel 2011-11-02 23:34
I'm in the early stages of evaluating how useful iPad 2's will be in the higher education space, both from an institutionally-owned perspective and a student or faculty-owned perspective. Functionally, this future looks very bright. But given the current horrific budget situation for many in higher ed, maintaining a decent longevity to hardware investments is critical to their acceptance. We can't afford to invest in hardware for education that will become outdated as fast as the consumer products do.

This means either Apple wakes up and smells the coffee, or someone new rushes into this space with gear that has more longevity for the difficult budget times I see ahead--as far as my eyes can see. The tablet is coming at us like the Cannonball Express . . . I hope it's not an impending train wreck.
Jeff Carlson  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 00:12
Since the iPad is currently the least-expensive option that has the most longevity, I don't see anyone swooping in; at least, swooping in and doing a better job.

If you're not already familiar, check out Frasier Speirs's writings and work as a teacher who has been using the iPad in education for the last year or so. Lots of insights there.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 13:53
It's worth looking at this table of Android support for smartphones - it doesn't cover tablets, but if the situation is similar, Android tablets could be orphaned nearly instantly.
Remember, just because Apple launches an update that is not compatible with your device does not make the original device unusable. Everything you were able to do before, you can continue to do. All the software you are currently using, you can continue to use. And with Apple's usual reliability, you will be able to use all of those devices for generations past when your current equipment was discontinued and rendered unable to upgrade.

All you lose is the ability to take advantage of cool new features (iCloud, Siri, higher speed processors, etc.). Additionally, you can selectively update portions of your inventory in order to take advantage of new capability while still retaining the ability to use your older software.

I do appreciate the cost of having to upgrade to newer versions of existing software after a revolutionary upgrade (PPC to Intel) but, thankfully, those types of upgrade are relatively rare and most software vendors try to make the upgrade cost reasonable.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 14:34
Well, that's not really true, and iCloud was the thing that really prompted me to write this article. Previously, you could use MobileMe to get wireless push syncing of calendars and contacts, and shared calendars among multiple people. But with the release of iCloud, those features go away, either right away if you have some people/devices that need to use iCloud and some that can't, or in June 2012 when MobileMe goes away.

So that is an actual loss of functionality that, while not rendering the device unusable, does render it less useful than it was before.

Prior to iCloud, software compatibility was still an issue, though less so, since it was less common that an older Mac would be incapable of running software that was necessary to keep it functioning in an ecosystem of devices.
I concede your point on iCloud. That truly is an example where Apple actually retracted capability for older equipment. I can not think of another example, though. The loss of Rosetta in Lion meant that many users could not upgrade without abandoning certain software (Quicken '07...) but it didn't stop their devices from continuing to work as they did prior to the introduction of Lion. Your SE/30 is an example of the point I was attempting to make.

That said, the issue of obsolescence applies to all vendors. As an end user, you aren't privy to the prime manufacturers upgrade plans or schedule so you have to make a somewhat subjective decision on how much weight to give vendor upgrade history when making a purchasing decision. I submit that, by comparison, Apple has been a rock of stability compared to recent history from the likes of Microsoft (Kin, Courier, Vista/Win7/Win8/phones), google (phones with numerous flavors of android, services such as wave), HP, RIM, Dell...
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 15:23
Yes, what finally killed the SE/30 was not software incompatibility, but the fact that a Performa 6400 could do all the server tasks I wanted of it to do and everything the SE/30 could do, faster than the SE/30. So it just made no sense to keep the SE/30 running. And even then, though it makes for a fun example, the SE/30 wasn't actually useful for much - the one thing I'd gotten to work well was LetterRip Pro, so it could run that single app acceptably. I certainly couldn't have done any real work on it (or even really on the 6400 back then - this was in the days of the Power Mac G4).

So while I've long been a proponent of keeping old Macs running, I'm seeing more and more situations where the hardware is willing, but the software is weak. :-)
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 15:11
You can still use pre-10.7.2 with iCloud calendars via CalDAV (using BusyCal, for instance), but Apple isn't supporting any such for Address Book.
gastropod  2011-11-03 01:03
The ipod touch 2G was abandoned by 4.3 in March 2011. Nothing I needed in the new features (airplay for third party apps, Nitro in Safari, a few more minor things.) but that means no more security updates since then, either, including the pulling of 'trusted' certificates that are known to be nasty.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 14:14
Oh right - forgot about that. I've added a parenthetical, but for the most part I'm not including it in the analysis since it's a complete outlier that just confuses things further.
Derek Currie  2011-11-03 04:55
I vividly recall Apple declaring that hardware older than 18 months would be considered legacy with regard to Mac OS X. This was circa 1999. As you can imagine, there was a loud uproar from all corners. Carbon was born. Mac Classic OS compatibility was born. A lot of remarkably old Macs ran Mac OS X 10.0. Windows box users point to Intel and Microsoft's nearly eternal legacy support as an asset. But all things must pass and I have no complaint about Apple's periodic moon shots, leaving reasonably old hardware and software behind. Then consider that I still have my 1993 Quadra 650 running as an imaging workstation, albeit souped up with a PPC 601 daughter board. My 1997 9600 continues to run 24/7 as an FTP server on the Internet using Mac OS X Server 10.3 Panther, albeit souped up with a 900 MHz G3 CPU. Meanwhile, my 2006/11 Mac Book 2GHz runs 10.7 Lion perfectly.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-03 14:20
That's probably about right - Mac OS X 10.0 shipped in March 2001 and the last pre-PowerPC G3 Mac (the 240 MHz PowerBook 2400c) was discontinued in December 1998. The first PowerPC G3-based Macs appeared in late 1997. So even with that massive transition, there was a 2.5 to 3.5 year range of backward compatibility.
Zed Ruhlen  2011-11-03 23:08
The need to run the constant latest and greatest software should not be confused with obsolescence of hardware. I upgrade an OS only when I am forced to, kicking and screaming. I use XP on my Windows machines and whatever OS shipped with my Macs. I don't upgrade my software either unless absolutely forced to. New OSes and Software are built, by definition, for hardware that your older computer does not have so why torture yourself? If you really need the latest version of Office you'll NEED a new machine anyway.

PPC Macs are exactly as functional today as they were a decade ago when running the same software and for those FEW items that need updating there are usually acceptable alternatives. As for security, REALLY??? What security do you need? I mean I get it that my Windows machines need to be locked down in the most annoying way possible but I don't have anything running on any of my Macs, no firewalls, anti-virus, nada. Never have, either.
John Spragens  2011-11-04 06:03
There's a somewhat different longevity question that interests me.

For various reasons, I'm sticking with Snow Leopard. But as new versions of the OS bring changes to the APIs developers use, there will come a day when the newest applications from, say, Adobe won't run on Snow Leopard.

I'm curious how long that's likely to be.
Bo K Engelbrecht  2011-11-04 11:59
How about instantly? Adobe Carousel.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-04 12:40
There are too many variables to predict that, unfortunately, since it depends on how compelling the new APIs are, and how hard it would be to maintain the same feature set for previous operating systems. For instance, if iCloud becomes a big deal for syncing data, Lion will become required far faster than if it doesn't.

And as an example, when Matt Neuburg updated the TidBITS iOS app to iOS 4, he had to drop iOS 3 compatibility because it was just too much work to maintain what was essentially a second code base in the same app. Perhaps it wouldn't have been with a big commercial app, but for something free, the effort equation changes quickly.
John Spragens  2011-11-04 22:18
Complicated sets of cascades, too. The older version of Photoshop might be just fine for my needs. But if I've bought a new camera, Camera Raw might need to be updated to provide support for the camera ... and that might require an update to the new Photoshop ... and that might require update to the current version of OS X ... which would break the software for my orphaned Minolta scanner that runs only with the help of Rosetta ...
Andreas Frick  2011-11-07 14:03
I can understand that Apple drops support for older machines after a appropriate period of time. But I am very disappointed about discontinuing certain applications, especially AppleWorks. I have created a lot of documents using it, but iWork is only partly a replacement. People have to retain an older computer to be able to work on their old data. Very uncomfortable situation.
Frans Moquette  2011-11-08 23:43
I agree. Apple should provide backward compatibility for documents. And they easily could. Either by continuing to support Rosetta in future versions of Mac Os. Or, possibly better, by allowing older versions of Mac Os to run under VMWare or some other virtualization solution. That would certainly be better for the customer. And it will probably be better for Apple because people won't be held off buying a new Mac that won't support their old documents.
bmehling  2011-11-08 00:14
I joined the ranks of iphone users (3g, stood in line at AT&T) because of the idea that _software_ updates would increase the longevity of the device.

iOS4 broke that feature, essentially hobbling the device. The performance was so slow that it couldn't unlock itself in time to answer phone calls! The iphone experience was no longer delightful or fun. Apple forced me to jailbreak and go back to 3.1.3 to have a usable device. I am still annoyed with Apple for forcing me down this path.

Now Apple ships iOS5 and my wife's <1 year old Verizon iphone4 doesn't get Siri!? Are you kidding me?

Shameful treatment of loyal customers (4 macs, 4 ipods, 1 ipad, 2 iphones, 1 atv2)!

PS.... The irony of Apple loyalists complaining about Android market fracture seems entirely lost on them.
Craig Luis  2011-11-08 00:57
Well, just for the record, the college I work for still has a functional SE/30 that is used for looking up some unique records in a proprietary database that is incompatible with anything newer. We keep encouraging the department to extract the records to a newer system, but it is slow going. There were conversion tools at one point, but they didn't get used, and now we don't have anything they would work on. Good thing the SE/30 is reliable...
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-08 13:13
And you can probably keep buying old SE/30s to replace it if necessary. :-)
John Ferman  2011-11-08 01:26
One of the consequences of Apple's dust binning of Macs and devices is the not inexpensive need to upgrage software applications. For example, none of Adobe's imaging software is now being offerred for non-Intel machines. I am sure other readers will cite other specifics.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-08 13:15
Yes, of course, but at least that's an organic situation of needing to move forward from machines that stopped being sold over 5 years ago, especially given the huge performance increase from the Intel processors (which is especially necessary for things like Photoshop).
Andrew W Donoho  2011-11-08 14:37
The iOS devices that no longer run current versions of iOS are based on the ARMv6 architecture. In fact, Apple makes it moderately difficult to create new projects in Xcode to support these earlier devices.

I would add that Apple does support new apps that run on old iOS hardware. I have not heard of Apple denying access to the App Store due to support of earlier hardware and iOS v3.1.3. That said, it is frequently uneconomic for developers to support this older hardware. I only support iOS v4.0 and later. (Grand Central Dispatch, iOS v4 only technology, is just too powerful a technology to ignore.)

thomas powers  2011-11-08 14:52
Apple is notorious for dragging us, sometimes kicking and screaming (or bitchin' and moanin') into their future. No floppies, USB for ADB, bye-bye PPC, etc.

But you could stay behind if you needed to, keeping old equipment and its latest supported software. The cloud changes all that, and MobileMe should have been seen as a precursor. When Apple yanks a service (bye-bye MM), people who have become dependent on it are stuck, literally abandoned. When the rules of engagement for iCloud change in a way you can't work with, you're locked out. What happens when the next shoe drops and you MUST be an iCloud user to use the App Store, just as you had to (perhaps) pay to move to SL just to get to Lion?

I expect even my everyday consumer electronics to be useful (if not state-of-the-art) for closer to 10 years than 2. (And I recognize that I've foregone the benefits of state-of-the-art when the platforms I've chosen to keep do well enough for my humble needs.)
James Bailey  2011-11-08 16:47
I suspect that the technical reason why the iPhone 3G can't use iOS 5 is the amount of RAM is too small. The 3GS has twice the RAM of the 3G, 256MB vs. 128 MB.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-09 16:15
That's entirely possible. It is a little surprising, given the low cost of RAM (I have a large collection of 1 GB flash drives that were giveaways) that Apple wouldn't have put more in to start.
Bertrand Morin  2011-11-09 02:09
With all the comments on the evolution of machines and software (including the OS), it becomes difficult to make a choice on the combination as one is on the verge to by or to upgrade. I am at that point: my experience with Imac is not very good (nice machine at decent prices), but with time, the difficulties in keeping a functional unit is difficult because of the nature of the computer, especially with the complexity and tightness of the components, and the costs. I am thinking of a Mini (recent) or a used Mac Pro (1-4 years old); the first choice is obvious, but the Mac Pro offers a superior platform when one considers the base and the "upgrade" path. My question is simply: a Mini or a Mac Pro.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-09 16:15
Unless you know you need a Mac Pro, I'd recommend the recent Mac mini - the cost for performance is much better. The Mac Pro hasn't seen an update in a while, and there have been rumblings about it being discontinued entirely. And I have to admit, it's a lot harder to make the case for a Mac Pro unless you need multiple video cards, other internal cards, the absolute highest performance, or the most RAM. And then money is no object.
Bertrand Morin  2011-11-09 16:33
Thanks. I will go the way of a MINI, but well equipped.
Bob Kerstetter  2011-11-09 13:49
Apple looks forward, not backward. Want backward compatibility to 10-year-old viruses? Go with Windows 7. Cut the conspiracy theories. BTW, iOS5 works fine on my 3GS. Of course, Siri does not work, but the less-than-equivalent Dragon Go does.
xandra  2011-11-21 22:34
I'm sorry but I think Adam has got things backwards.
I feel that t support period has grown shorter. I bought a Computer (MacPro) in Feb, and an iPad 2 in May. I also have a MobileMe.

If I don't upgrade to Lion - (system software that's only been out for several months - and hardly ready for primetime) I'm screwed. Alternative is a couple thousand dollars to upgrade my 3D program and Adobe Creative just so I can run iCloud...

I'm even too scared to install iTunes 10.5 (since reports indicate it won't sync with my ATV1 (purchased in September 2010). (The senior Tech at Apple TV couldn't even confirm!).

So while I can't speak for others: I have 3 major devices about to reach dinosaur land: 2 purchased THIS YEAR, and 1 purchased 14 months ago - unless I'm willing to move to less stable system software, and spend a fortune upgrading software.

For now, I'm waiting it out for the final demise of MobileMe Come June I'll have to decide what to do.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-11-21 23:07
As I said, iCloud is the wildcard that's causing confusion here. But otherwise, your Mac and your iPad are completely supported by Apple now and will be for quite a few years. You could upgrade to Lion and iOS 5 now, and barring iCloud (ie, if you were happy to ditch MobileMe in favor of non-Apple solutions), you could stick with Snow Leopard and iOS 4.3 as long as you wanted.

Whether you wish to upgrade because of the associated expense of upgrading elderly PowerPC software is a separate problem - Apple always provides backward compatibility for major architectural shifts for a few years, but always drops them in the end - witness Classic and now Rosetta. But you can deal with this with VMware Fusion 4.1, which can now virtualize Snow Leopard inside Lion.

The Apple TV is an entirely different issue, which is why I didn't include it in the overall analysis. Apple considers it a "hobby" and has not been good about maintaining support for the original model, as you discovered.
Hpyhikn  2012-01-03 23:31
This is absolutely true. While such a strategy is acceptable for a toothbrush or razor, it's aggravating to have spent $150 on an ipod nano, to have it die 12 months later. It no longer holds a charge. Only Apple could get away with such reckless disregard of its customers' money. How long can they burn their customer base? This will be an interesting lesson. They should be remembering the hubris of the big three US automakers before Toyota.