Your iPhone 4S Will Run iOS 8, But Is It Worth the Upgrade?
The iPhone 4S can run iOS 8, but can it run it well?
When iOS 8 was released last week, Apple said its latest mobile OS was compatible with the iPhone 4S and up, the iPad 2 and up and the fifth-generation iPod touch.
Apple is unique in the smartphone game for consistently offering updates on hardware that is three generations old. Most manufacturers are lucky to support a device a year after its release; getting three years of updates is commendable. (The one notable exception here was the original iPad, which didn’t have enough RAM to get an update past iOS 5.)
Of course, that support comes with a major caveat: performance. Talk to anyone who ran iOS 7 on an iPhone 4 and look for the unmistakable glint of pain in their eyes. “Can run” and “can run well” are two very different things.
Last week, Ars Technica diligently tested iOS 8 on an iPhone 4S. The results — which were widely misconstrued by others — were that iOS 8 on the iPhone 4S runs slower than iOS 7 did on the same device. Some tasks could take twice as long to perform and the overall feel could best be summed up as “sluggish.”
We wanted to see for ourselves just what iOS 8 is like on an iPhone 4S in the real world. Over the last week, Mashable‘s social project manager Ryan Lytle has been running iOS 8 on his iPhone 4S.
It’s slow, but you get used to it
As with iOS 7 on an iPhone 4, iOS 8 on the iPhone 4S runs slower than its operating system predecessor. This makes sense because the software optimizations have likely been made predominantly to deal with newer hardware.
Launching apps can be slower, though in our speed tests, this wasn’t universal. Loading mail, certain third-party applications and even the web browser often showed off identical — or near identical — speeds as with iOS 7.
What is slower, however, are some of the visual enhancements. The zoom animations and transparency effects that were introduced with iOS 7 are significantly slower on iOS 8 on the iPhone 4S. In the first day after updating the phone, trying to pull up a folder of applications would often result in a stutter. The scenario is not unlike using a new version of Android on slower hardware, but since Apple is renowned for its excellent hardware/software integration, seeing this type of jitters is still notable.
Launching the camera, especially within the first day of installing the OS, was a particular challenge. The camera would sometimes load straight to black and take a few moments to bring up the viewfinder. Occasionally, it just crashed completely.
This is a potential deal-breaker scenario because for lots of users, the camera is one of the most-used parts of a phone.
The good news is that over the next few days, the camera issues seemed to work themselves out.
Moreover, Ryan told us that he got used to the other slowdowns. After nearly a week of running iOS 8, he doesn’t really notice any difference.
The new QuickType keyboard is a problem
Beyond speed, the bigger issue with the iPhone 4S is using the new features, especially QuickType, on a 3.5-inch screen. (Ars Technica touched on this, too.)
Remember, the iPhone 4S has the same 3.5-inch screen of the original iPhone (albeit at a higher resolution). If you thought the 4-inch size of the iPhone 5 series was too small, the 3.5-inch display on the iPhone 4S is positively dainty in comparison.
This isn’t a problem in a lot of apps because app developers have learned to develop for both 4×3 and 16×9 screens over the last two years or so. Sure, some apps and games were better suited for bigger-screened devices, but the core iOS stuff all worked as expected.
Until now. See, the new QuickType keyboard finally brings predictive text to iOS. It’s a great new feature for Apple and one many iOS users have been clamoring for.
It also adds an additional row of text above the standard virtual keyboard. On a 4-inch touch screen (to say nothing of the 4.7-inch or 5.5-inch displays on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus), this is fine. On a small 3.5-inch display? This is what you get.
Email on the iPhone 4S
Image: Screenshot Mashable, Apple
More than half the screen is taken up by the keyboard. As a result, composing emails, text messages or tweets becomes increasingly difficult.
Yes, you can turn QuickType off or temporarily hide it, but in doing so, you also lose one of the main reasons some users upgrade to iOS 8 to begin with.
The issue extends to other apps, too. The new widgets in Notification Center can’t display as much information to the user on the smaller screen — meaning you’ll need to scroll down to really take advantage of the feature. The new draft mode in the Mail app? That also has less space to breathe.
Even the app switching screen, which includes easy access to your recent and favorite contacts, is more constrained.
We have a feeling that for many iPhone 4S users, iOS 8 is going to be a subtle encouragement to upgrade to a new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus.
Is it worth it?
I asked Ryan if upgrading to iOS 8 was worth it, if the new features — including quick replies to notifications and app extensions — were worth a slightly slower phone and a keyboard that eats up a chunk of the screen.
His answer was essentially “meh.” And that’s our gut feeling, too. If there are certain features in iOS 8 — including app extensions, quick replies and widgets — that you really, really want, iOS 8 is probably still worth the upgrade. The enhancements to iMessage might make it worth it as well.
If you don’t really use that stuff and just want your phone to continue on as it is, iOS 7 is probably good enough.
The one caveat to consider here is that as time goes on, app developers are going to start requiring users to upgrade to the latest version of iOS. With four different phone screen sizes and two iPad screen sizes to consider, supporting more than one version of an OS is just too much work for some developers. That means that if your favorite app demands an update, you might want to go for it.
It’s also possible that over time, Apple could release tweaks to make the iPhone 4S run better under iOS 8. The company did this with the iPhone 4 (though it still never ran iOS 7 well). And it seems likely Apple will do the same here, especially given the large number of iPhone 4S devices sold in India and other emerging markets.
For those of you who upgraded to iOS 8 and now regret it, you can downgrade, at least for now.
Have you run iOS 8 on your iPhone 4S? Let us know in the comments.