With the launch of iOS 15, Apple will give users the option to upgrade to the latest software or stick with iOS 14 while continuing to receive crucial security updates.
"You can update to the latest version of iOS 15 as soon as it's released for the latest features and most complete set of security updates. Or continue on iOS 14 and still get important security updates until you're ready to upgrade to the next major version."
This is a bit of a departure for Apple, which has typically controlled user updates with an iron fist. Users are strongly encouraged to upgrade, and downgrades are made deliberately difficult. One of its tactics has been to remove the cryptographic signing of older OS versions, preventing them from being run on retail iOS devices.
One major factor driving this was a desire to ensure the integrity of the platform. Software updates routinely fix bugs that allow the user to execute their own unsigned arbitrary code, opening the door to jailbreaking.
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With its latest policy change, Apple has tried to provide the best of both worlds. A sizeable constituency of iOS users defer software upgrades out of a perception they may result in worse performance or battery life.
These concerns are not unfounded. Following the launch of iOS 14.2, users reported severe battery drain issues, with otherwise healthy devices losing half their charge in less than 30 minutes, as well as overheating on some models.
Further suspicion followed the discovery of "throttlegate" (sometimes referred to as "batterygate"), where Apple deliberately reduced CPU performance on older devices to prolong battery life. Apple failed to communicate this change, leading some to suspect the change was designed to coax users to upgrade. It has since faced lawsuits and civil penalties in multiple jurisdictions.
Warier users can remain on iOS 14 without worrying about the integrity of their devices. For how long remains uncertain, and it's hard to imagine Apple concurrently supporting multiple iOS versions as time drags on. This would undercut its biggest criticism of Android — namely, the rampant ecosystem fragmentation. ®