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The iOS 8 Report: Getting Dumb and Dumber

Some tech sites with no imagination whatever issue the same tired nonsense every year when Apple is about to issue a major product update, be it software or hardware. There’s always suspicion, the warning how bad things are apt to happen, or that the product isn’t good enough. So maybe stay away or wait for things to settle down.

Curious that they seldom post warnings of that sort about the latest stuff from Google, Microsoft or Samsung.

So one iOS 8 review suggested it was a half-point upgrade because, well, it had essentially the same interface as iOS 8, although there are lots of enhancements. The writer in question evidently forgot about the hundreds of major improvements, such as the addition of HealthKit and HomeKit, not to mention the ability to install third-party keyboards. That has been one of the major complaints about iOS.

When you consider the full package, you’ll find the extent and number of changes is amazing compared to anything the competition has devised. But Apple continues on the annual upgrade path. This time, they delivered more than twice as many new features compared to previous iOS upgrades. Apple claims hundreds, although the list I saw only mentions less than a hundred, but it’s admittedly far from complete.

Some of the basic cautions, though, are just plain common sense. The key caution is to hold off on the update in case there are serious early-release bugs. It has already been reported that the first group of HealthKit apps have been held back by Apple until the end of the month to fix some bugs, but that shouldn’t be a deal breaker. There are always glitches when doing big things.

In addition, early and preferred reviewers of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus report some app crashes and other bugs, and I’ll assume their test gear was outfitted with the iOS 8 GM, though I suppose it’s possible further changes were made before the OS went live at 10:00 AM Pacific on Wednesday in the U.S.

Yet another story questions the value of installing iOS 8 on older hardware, but some of the cautions border on the extreme. Take Touch ID. Apple’s fingerprint sensor was only installed on the iPhone 5s. Until the new iPhones arrived, no other models supported that capability. Is that a reason not to install iOS 8? What about all those other improvements?

Other reasons include lack of 64-bit support, which again is restricted to the iPhone 5s and this year’s new models. Do I have to go on?

You’ll no doubt fare worse on an iPhone 4S, the oldest supported model, which was introduced back in 2011, the day before Steve Jobs passed. This was the first time Siri appeared on an iPhone, and it’s the last iPhone with a 3.5-inch display. It also has an A5 processor, three generations behind the current chipset, so you expect things will run slower.

Ars Technica did a set of benchmarks and found that apps commonly launched from about a quarter of a second to a full second slower. Take a breath and the difference is not significant. All right, so it took more than three seconds longer to do a cold boot, which isn’t something you do on an iPhone terribly often. Indeed, the fact that performance is only slightly degraded isn’t such a huge deal. As with the iPhone 4 and iOS 7, it’s very possible Apple will make it snappier with a future maintenance update, but this is still the last hurrah for the 4s.

In short, the improvements in iOS 8 appear to make it a worthy upgrade even for the oldest supported iPhone, and the downsides aren’t so serious. Yes, you’ll encounter slightly slower app launch times, and the lack of support for features that depend on newer hardware, but that shouldn’t be a serious impediment to installing the update. Macworld Senior Editor Chris Breen wrote an article that contains a number of suggestions for installing iOS 8, and a fallback scheme to revert to iOS 7.1.2 if things go awry.

One thing that’s certain: When you try to download a major update of this sort on the first day, you expect download glitches. Tens of millions of iPhone and iPad users were out there trying to get ahold of the update, attracted by the huge amount of publicity over the past three months. No wonder the servers were slammed, although you hope Apple is finding better ways to boost capacity. Remember that OS X Yosemite, a larger update when it comes to file size, is coming in October.

In any case, the fear-mongering about iOS is less significant than a curious non-review I read about the new iPhones at a certain tech site. When I first saw the headline, I got the impression this was going to be a highly favorable review, but it was more about not being one of the preferred tech journalists who receive the first review samples from Apple, and how writing positive reviews will guarantee that status continues.

I would prefer to think that these journalists have a lot of influence in the industry and to the public, and thus they are placed on the top of the list. The article implies they write favorable reviews to get more free stuff, but that’s an attack on their ethics.

The only interesting comment in this non-review is about Apple being able to achieve a balance of features and usability with the iPhone, implying the new models, which the author has not has yet used, hit the mark better any previous model except for the original in 2007. Maybe, but I wouldn’t express any such conclusion without actually having the products at hand for a reasonable test period. But maybe that’s just me.