Apple has made it so that that iOS 8, which goes out to the public today, will work on iPhones reaching all the way back to the venerable 4S. Which is good! But as Ars Technica found out the hard way, subjecting your elderly iPhone to new software may not be worth it. At least not yet.
The 4S, which first hit the streets nearly three years ago, does its damnedest to keep up with the software designed for its bigger (and even biggerer) younger siblings. But it just plain doesn’t have the hardware to support some of iOS 8’s biggest features, like Touch ID, AirDrop, and the Metal graphics API.
And even with the stuff it can handle, the poor 4S gets winded pretty quickly. Ars points out that the phone’s guts offer about a quarter of the performance of the iPhone 5S, and an even smaller fraction compared to the newest iPhone 6. Apps launch more slowly—sometimes taking 50 percent longer to load—with herky-jerky transitions that hang and hesitate.
All of which is kind of secondary to the main problem: The 4S was the last of Apple’s phones with a 3.5-inch screen. That size was once considered the golden rectangle of smartphones. But everything is bigger in the future, including iPhones, and the added rows of buttons and bars that appear in many iOS 8 apps eat up valuable screen real estate on the great-granddaddy iPhone.
So yes, it’s entirely possible for you to download the brand new iOS on your brand-old iPhone. And by doing so you’ll get a lot of goodies like more keyboard options (finally) and fun widgets.Ars ultimately concludes that it’s a trade-off you should go ahead and make.
But to us, cramming that shiny new software into the 4S’s cozy yet slightly musty house is a tight fit that will leave phone and user alike groaning. New features like widgets and alternate keyboards are nice, but not at the cost of so much screen space and speed.
Have some pity on the old warhorse, and let it stay pleasantly outdated, for its sanity and your own. Or at the very least, just wait it out a while; there’s a good chance iOS 8.1 will do more to bring older devices along for the ride. [