Apple and Microsoft support old computers for many years, only dropping them from a new operating system release when it's absolutely necessary. How long will companies support your older iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows phone and tablet hardware?
iPhone OS 4 doesn't support the first iPhone. And, as you can see in Steve's mail, they won't support it in the future. I can't blame Apple for such a decision. After all, the original iPhone—and the iPhone 3G—are very limited machines in processor power and operating memory. You can't hold back the operating system because of outdated technology. The problem is that, in the traditional computing world, things don't get outdated so fast.
Jobs' succinct reply made me think again about how this future computing world is going to be. Would your iPhone 3GS be supported by iPhone OS 5, which will probably come out next year? What about iPhone OS 6 in 2012? What about the iPad? And what about the Android cellphones or their incoming tablet?
Nobody knows yet what the obsolescence rate for these new devices is going to be. In general, cellphones used to have a much shorter life than computers. People always wanted the next generation, so the cellphone world has been in a permanent fast-forward, a search for the best display with the best battery life and the most multimedia features in the thinnest package possible. When the iPhone came out, the cellphone became an easy-to-use mobile computer, with hundreds of thousands of applications that soon were an indispensable part of the device.
In fact, the iPhone became the main machine for many people. The iPad—as well as its rivals from Google and Microsoft—is only going to emphasize this new era of mobile computing, in which the desktop metaphor will fade away for the majority of the population—consumers that will move into a new world of simple devices, applications, and cloud storage.
But these new computers are evolving a lot faster than desktop and notebook machines. At least for a few years, as things stabilize, new integrated processors and components will keep improving and coming out at a faster rate than in traditional computers. They are also a lot cheaper, which will make a faster upgrade cycle possible for many consumers out there. In fact, it could be argued that these devices will become almost disposable in the near future.
Until that time comes, however, we may have to deal with seeing our new computers becoming obsolete at a faster rate than ever before. The first victim of this race is the original iPhone, less than three years after its introduction. We will see what happens in 2011, but my gut feeling is that the obsolescence rate will remain at that rhythm for the time being. [Steve Jobs email via MacStories]
Updated: My mistake, I thought the iPhone OS 4 was going to support the original iPhone, for some reason. Fixed.