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A Reality Check About the iOS 11 Installed Base

Raw sets of statistics can often be interpreted in many ways. Taking them out of context can also put those numbers in a very different perspective.

So you can point to the recent industry analysis that indicates that Mac sales decreased in the September quarter and say some nasty things about Apple. But it’s fair to remind the reader that surveys from Gartner and IDC often undercount real Apple sales. They are, after all, surveys and not expected to be completely accurate. The only genuine sales figures are the ones posted by Apple as part of its quarterly financials, and the numbers for the last quarter won’t be announced until early November.

Further, you can rightly point out that PC sales, overall, have also decreased. Yes, it appears that Apple is doing worse, if the numbers can be taken seriously, but it may be a part of an overall trend as much as less interest in buying new Macs.

Then there is a less-favorable report about the iOS 11 adoption rate. Over three weeks after it as released, it’s hit 47% based on numbers from Mixpanel, an analytics firm. iOS 10’s adoption rate is 46%, and the remaining 6.7% are using iOS 9 or older. But to be fair, Mixpanel’s numbers tend to be somewhat higher than the ones Apple makes available from its developer portal.

On the surface, that sounds pretty good, but it has been pointed out that the migration rate for iOS 11 is much slower than last year and iOS 10, which had fewer compelling new features. So it took two weeks for iOS 10 to pass iOS 9, but this year Apple is a week late.

One feature article on the subject mentioned the fact that Apple has pushed three maintenance updates so far, the latest being iOS 11.0.3. But developers and public beta testers are already working on the second betas of iOS 11.1. I wouldn’t assume that lots people are holding off for a few more updates before taking the plunge.

Before I look at the meaning of this slower adoption rate — and the reason to me is painfully obvious — consider the situation for Android users. During the first year, less than 10% of the user base will be running the latest version. Most devices use operating systems that are two or three years old, which has to present security vulnerabilities to the largest portion of the  Android user base. It also makes it all the more difficult for developers to support the latest features in their apps. After all, it may take two or three years before a decent number of users have the this year’s release. But that will probably require replacing their existing handsets.

It doesn’t surprise me that the quality of Android apps is reported to be lower than iOS apps. All things being equal, even if the same developers do both, the low OS migration rate remains a serious handicap. Google’s promises to do better never wash. As it is, Android smartphones are routinely modified by the manufacturers with their custom junkware, and may be further configured by the carrier with their promotional apps.

When a new version of Android comes out, Google sends it to the manufacturer for testing and implementation against their own modifications. Usually the updates go to the carriers next for them to do their thing, and their thing may be to do absolutely nothing.

Only the “pure” Google handsets, now known as Pixel, promise to stay up to date with the latest version of Android.

While Apple was severely criticized when the iPhone first came out for its decision to exert full control over OS updates, this approach makes sense. Apple pushes the updates direct to customers. The carrier isn’t involved, so if an update is late or faulty, you can blame Apple and nobody else. But at least you’ll be able to download the update as soon as it’s released

Now about the slower iOS 11 migration rate: It’s probably not because people don’t care, or are concerned about the quality of the new version. It’s because of the minimum system requirements. The oldest supported models include the iPhone 5s, released in 2013, the iPad fifth generation, also released in 2013, the iPad mini 2 from 2013, and the iPod touch 6th generation, released in 2015.

What this means is that hundreds of millions of Apple’s mobile gadgets cannot run iOS 11. My wife’s iPhone 5c, for example, has iOS 10.3.3 on it. Unless Apple addresses any further issues with iOS 10, that’s all folks!

I think you get the picture.

Apple ought to be commended for allowing mobile hardware up to four years old to run the latest version of iOS. That’s a pretty good run. macOS High Sierra runs on Macs that are seven to eight years old, which is also a pretty commendable lifecycle.

So you can expect to see future versions of iOS support increasingly lower percentages of hardware as older gear is left behind. It doesn’t mean people aren’t interested in updating, nor is this an argument for Apple to improve support. People with the oldest supported products will often complain about more sluggish performance with the new OS. Some updated or innovative hardware features will not work mainly because the older equipment isn’t up to the task.

While some might point to this state of affairs as evidence of Apple deliberately making older gear obsolete to sell you something new, it’s also due to the fact that these products get better and more powerful every year. It would be foolish for Apple not to take advantage of the improvements in their operating systems.

Compare that to Google, where the vast majority of Android smartphones and tablets routinely run older operating systems. Developers can take their sweet time to make any effort to support new Android features, since most users won’t benefit from them.