Will Apple's iOS 14 really support all of today's iOS 13-compatible iPhones?

The latest Apple rumor could make a significant difference to enterprise IT budgets.

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If you’re in the business of budgeting for and managing a fleet of iOS devices in enterprise or education deployments, you’ll be eager to learn whether today’s big  Apple rumor is hot stuff or hot air.

The claim: iOS 14 to support all iOS 13 devices

The claim is that iOS 14 will be hugely backward compatible, to the extent that it will run on every existing iPhone that can run iOS 13, though not the iPad mini 4 and the iPad Air 2. (iOS 13 supports every device back to and including the iPhone 6S and the 2015 iPhone SE.)

That Apple may consider supporting those devices once again with iOS 14 is great news for budget-strapped IT managers. They should not bet on this rumor just yet, as it comes from an obscure French website called iPhonesoft and hasn’t at this time been confirmed by anyone else.

We will likely find out if it is true or false at Apple’s important Worldwide Developers Conference in June.

Reasons it could happen

There are very good reasons Apple might choose to maintain compatibility in older devices, including:

  • Customer loyalty: Apple has the highest customer satisfaction levels in the industry. Supporting older devices will enhance this.
  • The environment: Apple is investing in renewable energy, recycling technologies and wants to develop a closed-loop manufacturing system. And Apple’s vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives, Lisa Jackson has previously said one of the best ways to protect the environment is blindingly simple: Replace your smartphones less often. (Apple is also under some challenge for designing built-in-obsolescence into its devices).
  • And services: Of course, if people buy less devices, Apple makes less money, right? Not really: Apple is offering a growing range of compelling iPhone accessories (watch, AirPods and, one day, glasses), and its services segment is raking in tens of billions for the company. Turns out that offering world-class services to already-happy customers is a good business.

There's also the ecosystem, the app economy and the fact Apple now has hundreds of millions of people using one of its devices who therefore become more likely to invest in a second.

Put in that context, making iPhones that continue to work for years and years is good business – is there another smartphone operating system vendor offering up compelling OS upgrades to five-year-old devices? 

And remember that security-conscious enterprise managers know they can rely on Apple to ship security updates across its entire ecosystem swiftly in response to flaws, and can benefit from third-party mobile security protection and MDM systems to help further optimize this – think Jamf Protect for mobile.

Reasons it might not happen

There are also reasons for Apple not to do this.

  • Protecting the upgrade opportunity: Apple has a huge upgrade opportunity as iPhone 6 owners switch to a new device, so why would it dampen that enthusiasm by giving older second-user devices more longevity.
  • Market conditions: We know Apple is struggling to make sales in a tough market – and while its struggle looks like success, overall retail sales in some of its developed economies are sluggish to stagnant as consumers slow purchases in reaction to continued uncertainty.
  • Is the rumor true? That the claim emerged from a small French Apple site casts a little doubt on its veracity, though Apple has a very long-established presence in France. Apple rumor-mongering is not a U.S.-only franchise – just ask Ming-Chi Kuo.

It may not happen

Finally, the rumor itself warns that support for iPhone SE and iPhone 6S could be dropped if the iOS development teams hit a snag.

This suggests these devices may get some of the software enhancements but may lack some of the new features even if the upgrade does reach them.

The conclusion?

Checking the truth of this claim will be a priority item for many enterprise purchasers this year. We’ll find out more at WWDC, the time and date of which hasn’t yet been announced but customarily takes place in early June.

If it does turn out true, of course, the claim also means fans of small iPhones may get another few months' use out of their iPhone 5S, even if the company never makes another.

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