Should Apple let older iPhones downgrade to an earlier version of iOS?

Some Apple customers want to downgrade iOS on their older iPhones. Should Apple let them do so? Or do the headaches outweigh the benefits of running older versions of iOS?

One of the great things about owning an iPhone is that you get free upgrades to the latest version of iOS from Apple. But not everybody appreciates or wants to run the latest version of iOS on their iPhones, particularly if they own an older iPhone with slower hardware.

So the issue has come up about whether or not Apple should allow owners of older iPhones to downgrade to an earlier version of iOS. Right now once a user upgrades, that's it. He or she cannot easily go back to an earlier version of iOS, no matter how much they might want do so.

I'll share my thoughts below, but first here's a sample of some comments about iOS downgrades on older iPhones from a recent thread in the MacRumors forum:

Eyoungren: ”Should they…yes.

Will they…ever? No.

I hate iOS 7, 8 and 9 and while some people are really security conscious and therefore feel they have to stay updated in order to be secure - I don't care. If I could be back on iOS 6 with my 5, I'd jump at the chance.

But Apple allowing it? No, never going to happen.”

Thatanonymoususer: ”My vote would be no. iOS 6 hasn't seen any updates for a few years now, and In that time we've seen the goto fail bug, heartbleed, shellshock, and a few other major bugs that needed to be resolved. Apple wouldn't be able to properly keep track of security patches with old versions at the rate that they currently do iOS releases.

I know it's nostalgic to go back to older versions like some people do with Windows XP, but the world is a different place from what it was back then, and security needs to keep going forward to stay relevant. It's one of the major reasons why people like to use iOS; everyone updates at once, and we all stay secure at the same time.”

Flow39: ”I really think they should, but they should push out security patches. Google allows people with Nexus devices to upgrade/downgrade their software version to what it launched with. Right now, if I had an old Nexus 4, I could literally drop back down to 4.2.2 if I wanted. I wish Apple would allow that.”

Paddle1: ”No, iOS 6 app support is really bad; it's also lacking in features. Trying to go back to it you lose access to so many things. Good for 2012 but in 2015 it's pretty obsolete and slowly getting worse.

Plus iOS 7 isn't really slow on those devices, it would be more appealing.”

Maxsix: ”Apple uses fear based selling better than few other companies. By wrapping up the storyline as "keeping us safe" no one's about to argue with that.

Upgrades to Apple's various OS's are a crucial and essential part of their planned obsolescence strategy. A key element of Apples hardware sales scheme, they've got this down cold. Allowing anyone for any reason to roll back to an earlier software version is strictly verboten.

Running like a well oiled machine, Apple's profit soar... much to the deep intrinsic delight of the faithful.”

LOLZpersonok: ”It might not be a bad idea to let users downgrade to iOS 6, in my opinion. I personally wouldn't go back because iOS 7 brought some functionality which I do appreciate, such as the control panel, which you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access. I can't remember Apple's term for it, so I'm just going to call it the control panel.

But in general, I do agree with you in that I'm not fond of a lot of things in iOS 7 and up. I personally haven't noticed any slowdowns with iOS 7, 8 and 9, but I'm really not keen on the new multitasking menu, especially in iOS 9. I'm also not a big fan of the new Music app interface and I don't like the UI animations very much. There are other things in iOS that I don't like but I'm not going to turn this into a rant.”

Recoil80: ”They should provide patches for old OS versions. It is ok to force users to install the latest OS version available for the device, but there are still customers with iPhone 4 with iOS 7 and they should receive important security updates.”

CTHarrryH: ”NO - maybe back 1 but not back to 6. Then app developers would have to support 6. And carriers etc. If you want to run an old phone and old software then run Android - half of those phone are old and never get upgraded. Also people would complain that functions aren't there and Apple should functions to 6. There are enough complainer and complaints on this board.”

AFEPPL: ”...why not let owner who purchased devices go back to a version of the OS their device shipped with? Apple attitude on this matter frankly stinks and its not limited to iOS, its the same with OS X. As a consumer i should be able to pick what I'm running and WHEN, if i want to run mavericks, who's apple to tell me i can't?”

iOSUser7: ”Well, actually you can downgrade your Mac to any version you want. Just make a bootable USB of the OS X you want to install, backup your data, restart your Mac holding the option/alt key, choose to boot from the USB, wipe your HDD/SSD with the Disk Utility and then install OS X.”

More at the MacRumors Forum

iOS downgrades don't make much sense for Apple or its customers

My own feeling is that Apple is doing the right thing by not letting users downgrade to older versions of iOS. To do so would be running the risk of fragmenting the iOS user base on different versions of the operating system. And we've seen what a huge problem fragmentation has been for Android over the years.

Plus, it would also be a big headache for Apple in terms of security issues. Older versions of iOS would have to be patched and maintained indefinitely as security is an ongoing battle that must be fought by Apple. So the company would have to devote developer resources into maintaining older version of iOS for goodness knows how many years.

Speaking of developers, letting users go back to older versions of iOS would also be a big headache for developers in the iOS app store. They would have to insure that the latest versions of their apps still worked on pretty much all prior releases of iOS. And that is going to mean much more work on their end.

While I can understand the desire of some users to run an older version of iOS, I just don't see Apple ever letting it happen. I think the company has thought through all of the issues involved with such downgrades, and decided that the negatives vastly outweigh positives.

My advice to owners of older iPhones is to consider making use of Apple's excellent recycling program. You can get an Apple store gift card that you can put toward a newer iPhone, and thus enjoy the latest version of iOS running on newer hardware.

Sometimes you just have to let go of the past, and move forward into the future.

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