The “iOS device supporting the most OS releases” is…

Over four years ago, I wrote an article that talked about device longevity and support. I started by talking about the iPad 2.

In March 2011, Apple unveiled the iPad 2. It was thinner than the original iPad, included both a front and rear facing camera, and packed the Apple designed A5 chip. While not incredibly more powerful than iOS devices sold in the previous year, the iPad 2 currently holds an incredible distinction: it supported six iOS releases! Only now, five years after introduction, is Apple letting the A5-family go. It launched with iOS 4.3.5 and will end with iOS 9.3.5, the most current stable release of iOS.

Apple continues to support their devices longer than other smartphone or tablet manufacturers. The iPad 2 certainly wouldn’t come close to the performance of today’s iPads, but it had the power to support six iOS releases!

Something I also noted at the same time:

iOS 9 stands as a unique iOS release: it is the only first major iOS version to not drop support for a device. In other words, all iOS 8 capable devices were able to get iOS 9. Given these recent trends, it’s likely that a good number of iOS devices, especially the 64-bit ones running the A7 chip or newer, will be supported by iOS releases for years to come.

Since I first wrote that, we’ve seen two other iOS releases that also didn’t drop support for the previously supported devices.

  • iOS 12 supported all of the same devices as iOS 11, though the iPhone 5s and iPhone 6 had limited support due to lower RAM specs.
  • iPadOS 14 supported the same iPads as iPadOS 13. (iOS 13 dropped the A8-family of devices, while iPadOS 13 kept supporting the A8 equipped iPads, likely due to the increased RAM on those devices)

What’s the result of those OS releases on device support? The iPad 2 no longer has the crown for the most number of supported iOS releases. Other devices have since had that same distinction. (Specifically the iPhone 5s, iPad Air, and iPad mini 2 supporting iOS 7 through iOS 12). But there’s one that’s done even better:

The iPad Air 2!

The iPad Air 2 was released in 2014 and initially supported iOS 8.1. The A8X chip inside continues to handle recent updates, and the device current runs the lastest iPadOS version (14.4 as of writing). That means it has supported seven major OS releases!

If Apple is willing to have a tablet with the power of an A8X chip live for that long, how long could the devices we see now be useful? A phone or tablet isn’t made useless just because it stops getting updates. Even if we use it until it’s no longer supported, seven years is quite a long time between purchases.

Back to my iPad 2 thoughts:

That all said, I’m sure any iPad 2 owner can tell you: The device ran smoothest with iOS 4 and slowest with iOS 9. But given that each release adds new features of some kind, it’s only an eventuality that hardware cannot keep up with the software running on it. But to support major OS releases for six years is quite a lot, at least in the mobile space. Apple, thankfully, has the advantage of controlling both the hardware and software that goes into their devices, allowing them to tweak and manage every aspect. Because of the limited hardware options, it’s also easy for them to maintain support for older devices if need be.

Despite how people feel about Apple and their devices, there’s little people can say regarding device longevity and support. No one in the industry does what they do.

I’m now very curious how long the current generation of Apple’s devices and chips (especially the A14 and M1) will be supported.