How long will you hold onto your iPad or iPhone? Will it matter how old it is if it still does everything you want it to, such as reading e-books? Or will you trade up to something newer and shinier?

CNet’s David Carnoy has a piece looking at Apple’s assumptions concerning how long consumers will continue to use a given device. As part of an environmental impact study, Apple explained it assumes customers will hold onto OS X and tvOS devices for four years, and iOS and watchOS devices for three years. It doesn’t necessarily mean the useful life of those devices is over—the customers may pass them on to friends or family members when they trade up to a new one.

Carnoy wonders whether that number will stay steady or if it might increase over time as devices become more powerful and there’s less impetus to upgrade.

The question of device longevity is one that does concern me, given that the iPad Mini 2 I just got is two years old already and may not make the transition to the next version of iOS—or if it does, it certainly won’t get the one after that. But if it doesn’t, does that mean it’s going to be effectively useless in a few more years?

When you get right down to it, it’s hard to say. My first-generation iPad might be a low-resolution relic, but it can still read e-books. The most recent versions of the Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo apps that will install on it will still connect to their respective e-book stores and download purchases. A number of other old applications still work to varying degrees, too, but even if they didn’t, it would still make a reasonable e-book reader and web browser if nothing else.

My iPad Mini 2 is even better at this point. It has a much better screen, for one thing. Also, the wider variety of apps currently available are all much more capable than the ones on the original device—and there are even more e-reading apps available, such as Marvin and Gerty, that will continue to work in the future even if iOS changes lock them out of new updates down the road. So even if Apple decides in its infinite wisdom that I don’t need a new OS once the Mini 2 has its third birthday, it’ll still continue to be useful for the foreseeable future.

That said, I could wish Apple was more supportive of older hardware. The most-recent-compatible-version feature is a nice touch, and it will be even more useful for the Mini 2 than for the first-gen iPad when it gets to that age—but is there really any need, at this point, to lock older devices out of new app updates just because newer ones are incrementally better? Android seems to be a good deal better about letting old OSes stay relevant to new applications.


  1. Another variable is the degree to which authors and their publishers make use of ePub 3 features. Here’s the BISG grid that examines many eReaders on a number of those features.
    Of course, an eReader encountering an ePub 3 feature it doesn’t support **should** simply ignore it and display what it can just like a web browser failing to recognize certain HTML markup.
    The iBooks 3.1.3 app for iPad 1 does OK but not as well as Ibooks 3.2 for iOS or iBooks 1.0.1 for MacOS. The current version of iBooks for iOS is 4.7 and the current version for MacOS is 1.5 so they are a little behind the times.
    For those with the interest, one can download a suite of ePub 3 test books and see for themselves what works on a given eReader and what doesn’t.

  2. From what I’ve seen with my iPad 3, iOS downgrades take place gradually. New iOS versions still install but lack some of the new features. The key divide will probably be the transition to a full 64-bit iOS and apps. With an iPad mini 2, you should be OK. My iPad 3 and iPhone 5 won’t make the transition. I’ve already had a few 64-bit-only apps that won’t install, mostly CPU-intensive ones.

    Even then, if you have bought an app you can install older versions to run on older operating systems via the App Store app. You lose nothing. You merely don’t gain the new features.

    I’m hoping the changeover or at least its full impact delays long enough I can pick up that new iPhone SE with 64GB of storage, used at a price that doesn’t offend my frugal sensibilities. With it, Apple created a real winner at a fairly competitive price.

    • Maybe, but your evidence is anecdotal. It could be that Android users keep their devices longer. Or it could be that even if most people get rid of their devices after a short time, there are always outliers. (For that matter, as noted in the above post, I still have my own six-year-old iPad, even if I don’t use it for much anymore.)

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