Comparison of Android and iOS long term software support

I’ve noticed people always brush against Apple’s requirement for iPhones to run relatively recent iOS at all times and claim they drop support for phones too quickly based on that, not factoring in how they actually got to that point. Well, I’ll explain how that’s not actually true and how iOS updates actually work…

With Android, Google allows you to run very old Android versions. Currently you need to run at least Android 5 (Lollipop) or 6 (Marshmallow) to still be able to use most apps and it’s my experience with Android 5.1.1. that I already lost ability to even find some apps on GooglePlay with it. So it’s more Android 6 really… And Android 6 was released in 2015. Phones generally mostly received 1 update back then, more if you were really lucky which meant you were essentially stuck with that version of Android till this day in 2021. Which is roughly 7 years of being allowed to use an old version without much or any restrictions after which support starts to slowly decline. You can use it normally, you’re just stuck with old outdated version all this time.

iOS on the other hand, it uses a bit different approach. It actually requires you to run more recent versions as rather strict requirement. And people always complain with: “But you need iOS 13 today to even use most apps!” Well, iOS is not like Android where you’re basically stuck with old version of OS, but still allowed to use it. With iOS you need to stay up to date which has many security and faster API evolving benefits. But the catch here is, while yes, you are required to use at least iOS 13 today, the difference is, you can install and use iOS 13 on an iPhone 6s which was released back in 2015. Not only that, iPhone 6s is eligible to install iOS 14 too and is planned to receive iOS 15 as well in fall 2021! Notice when was iPhone 6s released? Yeah, quite long time ago…

And if you look that iOS 13 is a requirement today when iOS 15 is almost out, it means Apple gives you a 1-2 year grace period (sometimes even more for popular models) between latest iOS version and required version in which you continue to only receive security updates and no feature updates anymore. And if you sum those times it gives you same 7 years (sometimes even more) of being able to use your device pretty much without limitations. You’re required to use latest versions and you’re also actually kept up to date the entire time.

Let me visualize it in a spreadsheet for easier understanding…

iOSvsANDROID_UPDATES

Android’s state of updating was really sad back in 2015 with most vendors only handing you a single update if at all. Samsung was really the only exception to give Galaxy S6 users 3 years of major OS updates. Which is why single major update was really an average of the industry back then, but Google allows you to use that old version from 2015/2016 version till this day and will probably continue to allow with slow decline in availability of apps when using it. There is no hard date on discontinuation of support for Android 6 Marshmallow, but seeing how Google just dropped Android 2.3 Gingerbread this year, it’s safe to assume Marshmallow will be entirely dropped in 2025 after 10 years of service just like Gingerbread.

iOS on the other hand was actively being updated for iPhone users and is guaranteed to receive major OS update this fall with iOS 15. After that it’s safe to assume it’ll not receive major updates anymore if we consider trends in the past, especially since iOS 15 will be a 6th major update for iPhone 6s which is a bit of an outlier, but this is common to happen with models that are really popular. After this period iPhone 6s will continue to receive only security updates till 2024/2025 when it’ll be entirely dropped and you won’t be able to install new apps or use any Apple services. Phone will still work with apps already on it and all that, but support will effectively cease entirely.

Conclusion

As much as people rave how Apple drops support for devices too quickly, the reality is, they actually don’t. In fact they actively support devices for longer than Android phone makers and when you draw a line and sum all things together, the long term support is about the same with both. It’s just different journey to the final point where they both cease the support entirely. iOS pushes you to run newer versions and after certain period of support is over, they stop supporting you. Android on the other hand doesn’t have much of a support and sort of leaves you with an old version, but is allowed to be used for same period as iOS overall. You need to rely on GooglePlay and app updates to address security issues which has a limited scope of reach when it comes to fixing OS core level security issues that need actual full on security updates and not what GooglePlay services can deliver.

Android’s updating of major OS versions and security updates has gotten better with 2 years being an industry average now with big players like Samsung following lead with 3 major OS updates and additional 1 year of security updates and then same yellow path of no updates, but still being functional. We’ll see how things will change for Android with Google planning to offer 5 years of full major OS and security updates starting with their new Pixel 6 phones. It would be nice if it pushed other phone makers to do better than 2-3 years of major OS updates.

But for now, this is the conclusion under existing observed conditions. Both, Android and iOS have very similar long term support with slightly different experience through this period. And if we’re honest, 7 years is a very respectable period for Android or iOS devices, especially given their “gadgetry” nature which means they are really old, slow and generally outdated devices at this point and people only stick with them because they either don’t have finances to buy new one or they really only use them for basic things for which they are still fine.

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