iPhone Users Face Dilemma Of When To Upgrade

Originally published on November 4, 2013 5:28 pm



Let's talk about smartphones. And for iPhone users, an important decision: when to upgrade. Apple's latest iPhones, the 5S and 5C, have been out for a couple months now. But some people are resisting temptation. They're perfectly happy with their older iPhones, except for one thing, when they upgrade to Apple's new operating system, things slow down.

To talk about how to manage this decision, we're joined - as we often are - by Bloomberg technology columnist Rich Jaroslovsky. Hey, Rich.


GREENE: So we're starting to see some complaints come in from people who say that they have an older iPhone, they're happy with it, and when they do this upgrade, you know, things just get sluggish. I mean how big a problem is this?

JAROSLOVSKY: Well, I think it's a significant one. It really depends on how old the iPhone is. People with last year's model, the iPhone 5, probably not going to encounter too much difficulty. But the older the phone, the more difficulties you're going to be running into and there have been a lot of complaints from people with iPhone 4s, for example, that things are getting very sluggish and the battery life is not as good as it was.

GREENE: And this is something that iPad users might be confronting, as well.

JAROSLOVSKY: Exactly. The new iPad Air went on sale on Friday. But people who have older iPads that have upgraded to IOS 7, the current version of the operating system, are also reporting problems. I've had some myself.

GREENE: I mean the obvious question seems to be couldn't you just not upgrade your software? You have an iPhone 4, you have an older operating system, just, you know, stick with it.

JAROSLOVSKY: Well, Apple does everything it can to get you to upgrade the operating system. They want everybody on the same version of the operating system so that all the apps that you download will run on all the phones. And it's actually one of their big advantages over Android, where there are so many versions out there that the universe is very fragmented and a lot of apps won't run on a lot of phones. So it's in Apple's interest to get everybody to upgrade and they really make it hard to not upgrade.

GREENE: And there was a piece in The New York Times Sunday Magazine by an economics reporter, and she had her own phone issues. An older iPhone seemed to get slow, seemed to run out of battery juice when she upgraded. And she actually suggested that this could be a pretty shrewd business decision on Apple's part, trying to make life difficult for people with older phones to force them to buy the new ones. Does it go that far in terms of this Apple strategy?

JAROSLOVSKY: I don't think so. I think that Apple doesn't really want to tick off its customer base. It's got a strong incentive to keep everybody happy using Apple devices. But one of the things that they've done is to enable a bunch of new features in the software to take advantage of the newer hardware. And although it's possible to turn those features off, a lot of people don't know that yet.

GREENE: You're saying that if they could communicate with their customers a little better they might explain that if you turn some of these functions off things might run a little more smoothly.

JAROSLOVSKY: Yeah. Exactly. For example, the new operating system will update apps on its own. You don't have to manually go in and tell it, hey, let's go update the new version. And that's a feature that people have been clamoring for. Senator John McCain pressed Apple CEO Tim Cook at a congressional hearing to enable a feature like that. Now they've done it. But guess what? On the older iPhones that takes up battery power and you may want to disable that feature to make the battery last longer. But Apple really hasn't quite communicated that. Some of the whiz-bang visual effects in the new IOS also take up battery power so, you know, those things are strictly cosmetic. You can turn them off and you will find that your older phone will run faster and will last longer.

GREENE: Doesn't everyone wish that they could just drag an Apple executive into a hearing and then tell them what problems they have with their devices?


JAROSLOVSKY: Well, subpoena power is a wonderful thing.

GREENE: Exactly. Well, and we should say I mean there is a risk right now for Apple. I mean they've been facing more competition from other smartphone companies compared to the past.

JAROSLOVSKY: Well, absolutely. I mean there are, you know, not just the Android universe - which has sort of taken things by storm. The market share of android is huge. But there's also, you know, sort of nipping at the heels; things like Amazon, which has a tablet already and is likely to come out with at phone at some point. Microsoft, which has its Windows phone platform. So there's a lot of competition for Apple. That's why it's really not in their interest to tick off their users all that much. And that's why I kind of think this wasn't a deliberate strategy to get everybody to rush out and buy a new iPhone.

GREENE: Rich, thanks as always.


GREENE: Rich Jaroslovsky is the technology columnist for Bloomberg News and a frequent guest on our program.


GREENE: That's the business news on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.