updated 02:41 am EDT, Wed June 13, 2012
Hints that iPhone 3GS lifespan is limited
Apple has added a few qualifiers to its claim that iOS 6 is supported on older devices such as the iPhone 3GS and the current iPod Touch. While it was inherently understood that some features, such as Siri and FaceTime, would naturally require the latest and most powerful devices, the company has now set out a precise list of limitations on what features of iOS 6 will -- and won't -- work on a given device. In some cases, the limitations seem arbitrary.
For example, the Safari feature Offline Reading List is said to require the iPhone 4 or iPad 2 or later, leaving out both the 3GS and the fourth-generation iPod Touch, there there appears to be no clear technical reason why the devices couldn't implement the undemanding feature for storing selected articles and sites for offline reading. One possible explanation is that the older devices generally have much more limited storage space than most modern iPhone and iPad units, perhaps an area that Apple was concerned about in terms of widespread user experience.
The inclusion of the iPhone 3GS as compatible with iOS 6 has already raised issues about how Apple drew their lines. The original iPad, for example, is completely unsupported and yet has a newer and more powerful processor than the iPhone 3GS. The rationale on the decision to exclude the 2010 iPad may simply stem from the fact that the 3GS is still in production and Apple wanted to allow it to run the latest OS.
Of the iOS 6 features highlighted in Monday's WWDC keynote address, the low-end iPhone 3GS and fourth-gen iPod Touch will be unable to access Shared Photo Streams, and will even be left out of the VIP and Flagged "smart mailboxes" in Mail. Due to technical limitations, the two devices also won't be able to use features such as Siri, FaceTime over cellular, and the turn-by-turn navigation and "Flyover" features of Maps. The iPhone 3GS and iPod Touch (fourth generation) will still be able to enjoy the enhanced Notification Center, Facebook integration, lockscreen call-answering and other options, the new Passbook app, smart app banners, Guided Access, the expanded iMessage and more.
Owners of the iPad 2 are not left out of much by comparison, but will miss out on Siri and FaceTime over cellular. The iPhone 4 will be prohibited from the 3D "Flyover" and turn-by-turn GPS parts of Maps, and can't use Siri or FaceTime over cellular. All but the iPhone 4S are excluded from compatibility with the "Made for iPhone" hearing aids.
The fact that the limitations go beyond just obvious technical concerns may be a signal from Apple that although the iPhone 3GS has lasted far longer than most expected, its time as an in-production unit may be drawing to a close. The phone could conceivably be phased out as soon as the introduction of the next model iPhone, widely expected for the fall, or be kept around until sales naturally drop off.
The iPhone 3GS is currently seen as a crucial "entry-point" iPhone capable of giving new customers the iOS experience at a "free with contract" price point, and thus it was important that it be seen as running the latest version of iOS. Whenever the next iPhone is introduced, however, Apple will then have four models to support if it intends to keep the iPhone 3GS around.