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Why Does Apple Inc. Support Old iOS Devices for So Long?

By Ashraf Eassa – Feb 1, 2016 at 4:30PM

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Rare long-term thinking from a device maker that operates in an industry characterized by short product cycles.

One of the major advantages of owning an iOS device over, say, an Android device is that Apple (AAPL 0.23%) does a very good job of making sure that even relatively old devices get updated to the latest versions of iOS right away.

Indeed, Apple will allow users to download and install the latest version of iOS -- iOS 9.2.1 as of writing -- on devices as old as the iPhone 4s, which launched in October 2011. Even the iPad 2, which came out in March 2011, will run the latest version of iOS.

What's interesting, then, is that in light of the fact that Apple is apparently having a very hard time convincing owners of previous iPads to upgrade, the company still seems to support these old devices for a long time.

In this article, I'd like to offer up my view on why Apple supports its products for so long, even though it may seemingly have a negative impact on revenues by virtue of lengthening product upgrade cycles.

It's all about building customer loyalty
I believe that the reason that Apple does this is in order to build trust and loyalty among its customers. In my experience, customers tend to appreciate devices that they perceive to be well built and long lasting.

If somebody buys an iPhone or an iPad and gets many years of quality usage out of the device, that person may be more likely to:

  1. Choose an Apple product to replace his current Apple product; and
  2. Potentially buy up Apple's product stack when the time comes to replace the current Apple product.

The reasoning behind the first bullet point is fairly obvious -- good experience with a product from a given vendor is likely to lead to repeat business. The second point is a bit more interesting.

A lesson that consumers often learn is that if you buy a relatively higher-end, high-quality device, that device will last longer than a lower-end, lower-quality device. This means higher up-front costs, but the total cost of ownership on an annual basis may wind up being lower and the experience during the time of ownership should be better.

Additionally, by making sure older devices support the latest version of iOS, Apple's devices have a longer useful life, meaning that resale value tends to hold up better. This can potentially make it easier for current iPhone buyers to finance newer-generation devices with the proceeds from sales of prior-generation devices.

Apple is playing the long game
Although cutting support for prior-generation products after a few iterations of iOS might be a way to boost revenue and profits in the short term, doing so would degrade the value of Apple products in the eyes of many consumers in the long term.

By supporting older devices for as long as it does, Apple is making sure that the premium devices that it sold several years ago manage to age quite well, in a way that's arguably unmatched by its competitors. This isn't something that will go unnoticed by customers and ultimately serves to fulfill Apple's promise at the time of sale that it is selling users a good, high-quality product.


Ashraf Eassa has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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