With iOS 13 due in mid-September, millions of iPhone users are looking forward to the latest update.
But for some, that anticipation is more likely to instil fear than excitement.
Because like many OS updates, iOS 13 fails to cover some relatively newly-manufactured handsets.
For example, the iPhone 6 that launched in 2014 will not be updated with iOS 13.
This issue isn’t limited to iPhones, either. Most Android models also have a limited number of updates before they are taken off the roster.
The risk of being left without software updates has been a hazard of mobile use for around a decade, with most models being supported for between two and five years from launch.
But now that smartphones are routinely priced at around £1,000, it’s hardly surprising users are beginning to protest at their costly mobiles becoming ‘obsolete’ so soon after purchase.
Is this a reasonable complaint?
Or could consumers simply change their habits to avoid the problem?
It would be easy to look at the current crop of expensive smartphones and decide that manufacturers stop supporting them prematurely to force users to buy new versions.
While there’s probably some truth in that, it’s not the whole story.
Smartphone prices have only begun to climb in the last couple of years, whereas the issue of OS updates has been around for much longer.
Of course, makers want customers to change their mobiles frequently, but in the last decade the smartphone has become a highly desirable consumer item anyway.
This happened independently of the timing of updates or ‘built-in obsolescence’. It merely reflects our love of (and reliance on) technology.
As a result, manufacturers have increased their ranges.
This has introduced the challenge of supporting many more models – and versions – than in the early days of mobile use.
Regularly discontinuing old models deals with this.
It means manufacturers get the turnover they want, and customers get the cutting-edge shiny stuff they covet.
Up to date or out of date?
It could be argued that phones are not obsolete just because they no longer get updates.
A non-supported unit will simply carry on doing whatever it was doing at the point those updates stopped.
Of course, technology will move on and the handset won’t keep pace.
And apps, particularly security-sensitive ones like banking apps, will likely stop working as it falls behind current standards.
But for consumers who only want to make calls and texts and do a little web surfing, an ‘obsolete’ model can serve perfectly well for years.
It’s rather like the cancellation of support for Windows 7 PCs next January. These computers won’t stop working the day after Microsoft withdraws tech support.
But they will be more susceptible to malware and incompatible software.
Change buyer behaviour for superior value
Many users have to keep their smartphones updated because security is very important, especially for those who do banking and conduct business via mobile.
In which case, savvy shopping can make life much easier.
For those unable or unwilling to pay £1,000 or more every three or four years, there are two clear options.
The first is to buy the latest high-end model on a contract, thereby spreading the cost over time.
This will still be expensive, but perhaps less financially painful.
And it only really works if the customer picks out the very latest model, to maximise their exposure to OS updates.
The other option is to buy a mid-range smartphone outright, and change it for a similarly affordable brand-new handset when the updates stop.
If the handset is coupled with a SIM-only deal, it will likely work out much cheaper, with little or no loss of functionality.
The middle of the market is now a great place to find genuinely great products at affordable prices, particularly with the entry of Chinese manufacturers to the UK market.
And while toting an Elephone or a Meizu may not do much for your street cred, it could do wonderful things for your bank balance…