As new versions of iOS are released annually, many iPhone users wonder if their devices will be compatible with the latest updates. Generally speaking, Apple supports iOS updates for iPhone models going back 5-6 years. However, there comes a point when the oldest iPhone models are not supported and can no longer be updated to the newest iOS version.
Factors That Determine iOS Compatibility
There are a few key factors that determine whether an iPhone can be updated to the latest version of iOS:
- Hardware specifications – Older iPhones may not have enough processing power or RAM to handle new iOS features.
- Missing components – New iOS versions may require hardware that older iPhones lack, like an NFC chip for Apple Pay.
- Design changes – Drastic design changes, like dropping the home button, may render older iPhones incompatible.
- Security updates – At a certain point, Apple will stop providing vital security updates for older models.
- App support – Apps in the App Store require users to be running recent iOS versions, so older iOS versions lose access.
Based on these factors, Apple generally provides 5-6 years of iOS support for each iPhone model before it is considered obsolete and can no longer be updated.
The iPhone 5 and iPhone 5C
Currently, the oldest iPhone models that cannot update past iOS 10 are the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 5C, which were originally released in September 2012. Here is a quick rundown of why these iPhone models can no longer update:
- The iPhone 5 and 5C use the Apple A6 system-on-a-chip, which does not meet the performance needs of newer iOS versions.
- These phones have only 1GB of RAM, while iOS 11 and later requires 2GB.
- They lack certain hardware included on newer iPhones, like the NFC chips for Apple Pay.
- The design is not compatible with newer iOS features like swipe gestures.
The iPhone 5 and 5C were supported up through iOS 10, which was released in 2016. But they are not able to be updated to iOS 11 or later, which means they cannot run any current apps or get the latest security patches.
The End of Software Updates
Apple provided software updates for the iPhone 5/5C for about 4 years after their release, which is typically the minimum length of time iPhones are supported. The last iOS version released for these phones was iOS 10.3.3 in July 2017.
Lack of Security Updates
Without further software updates, the iPhone 5 and 5C lack crucial security fixes and improvements that protect against hacking, malware, and other vulnerabilities. Using an iPhone on an outdated, unsupported version of iOS is a major security risk.
The iPhone 4S
Before the iPhone 5 models, the iPhone 4S was the oldest iPhone that became incompatible with iOS updates. The iPhone 4S was released in October 2011 and was supported through iOS 9. iOS 9 was the last version to be released for the iPhone 4S, in late 2015. Here is a summary of why the iPhone 4S can no longer be updated:
- The iPhone 4S uses the Apple A5 chip which is not powerful enough to run iOS 10 or later.
- It has only 512MB RAM which does not meet the 1GB requirement.
- The lack of a 64-bit processor prevents it from running iOS 11 and later.
- It is missing hardware like the Secure Enclave coprocessor on newer iPhones.
The End of Updates
The iPhone 4S was supported for about 4 years after its release, similar to the iPhone 5 models. The last iOS 9 update for iPhone 4S was version 9.3.6, released in July 2016.
No Longer Secure
Without security updates for over 5 years now, the iPhone 4S is extremely vulnerable to hackers if used today. It is unsafe to use an iPhone 4S on the outdated iOS 9 operating system.
The Original iPhone
Going back even further, the original iPhone launched in 2007 was eventually cut off from iOS updates as well. The requirement of supporting older iPhones for 4-5 years means the available lifespan of an iPhone is limited:
- Original iPhone – Released June 2007, support discontinued with iOS 3.1 in late 2009.
- iPhone 4S – Released October 2011, support discontinued with iOS 9 in late 2015.
- iPhone 5/5C – Released September 2012, support discontinued with iOS 10 in mid 2017.
And this cycle will continue into the future, with the recently released iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus set to lose compatibility with new iOS versions in the next year or two.
Which Other iPhones Cannot Update to the Latest iOS?
Currently, here are the iPhones that cannot update past iOS 13 and earlier:
- iPhone 4S (max iOS version: iOS 9)
- iPhone 5 (max iOS version: iOS 10)
- iPhone 5C (max iOS version: iOS 10)
And here are the iPhones that can only update to iOS 12 or earlier:
- iPhone 5S
- iPhone 6
- iPhone 6 Plus
These older iPhone models do not support iOS 13 or later due to the hardware and design limitations discussed earlier. Using an iPhone stuck on iOS 12 or earlier poses security risks and prevents access to the latest apps.
Which iPhones Can Update to iOS 15?
In contrast to the obsolete iPhone models listed above, here are the iPhones currently capable of updating to the latest iOS 15 version:
- iPhone SE (1st generation)
- iPhone 6S
- iPhone 6S Plus
- iPhone 7
- iPhone 7 Plus
- iPhone 8
- iPhone 8 Plus
- iPhone X
- iPhone XS
- iPhone XS Max
- iPhone XR
- iPhone 11
- iPhone 11 Pro
- iPhone 11 Pro Max
- iPhone SE (2nd generation)
- iPhone 12 mini
- iPhone 12
- iPhone 12 Pro
- iPhone 12 Pro Max
- iPhone 13 mini
- iPhone 13
- iPhone 13 Pro
- iPhone 13 Pro Max
The support timeline generally goes back 5-6 years, so any iPhone model released within that timeframe will be able to update to the newest iOS version. However, the iPhone 6S/6S Plus and earlier may lose compatibility soon.
Will the iPhone 7 Ever Become Obsolete?
The iPhone 7 was released in September 2016, meaning it is over 5 years old already. Based on Apple’s typical 5-6 year lifespan of iOS updates, the iPhone 7 series will likely be obsolete within the next year or so.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus will likely lose compatibility once iOS 16 is released, as the hardware and design is becoming dated. While still functional now on iOS 15, users with an iPhone 7 should prepare to be cut off from updates soon.
Preparing for the End of Updates
If you have an older iPhone that cannot update to the latest iOS, there are a few steps you should take:
- Backup your data. When the iPhone stops working due to outdated software, you risk losing data if you don’t have a backup.
- Check app compatibility. Many newer apps require very recent iOS versions, so your old iPhone may already be unable to run certain apps.
- Enhance security. Disable wireless connections like WiFi and Bluetooth to minimize potential security holes.
- Replace the battery. The battery health of an older iPhone may be depleted, so replace it to extend usability.
- Plan an upgrade. Start budgeting and researching a newer iPhone model to upgrade to when your old iPhone completely loses compatibility.
Keeping an iPhone on unsupported, outdated iOS versions poses increasing problems over time. While you can squeeze extended usefulness out of an older iPhone, it is wise to start planning for an upgrade to maintain full functionality.
The Bottom Line
Due to hardware constraints and the need for continual software innovation, Apple ends software updates for older iPhones about 5-6 years after their release. iPhones that cannot update to the latest iOS version face security risks, app compatibility issues, and functional problems.
Currently, the iPhone 5, iPhone 5C and older models cannot update past iOS 10 or earlier. Very soon, iPhone 6/6S series will also be obsolete. iPhone users should stay aware of Apple’s support timelines and prepare to upgrade once their iPhone model can no longer be updated.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why won’t my old iPhone update?
Old iPhones stop receiving iOS updates due to outdated, underpowered hardware that cannot handle the latest software features and security demands. Apple typically provides around 5 years of updates before ending support.
What happens when an iPhone stops getting updates?
Without updates, iPhones face security vulnerabilities, lose app compatibility, lack new features, and eventually stop working properly. Using an unsupported iPhone is risky and increasingly limited over time.
How can I tell if my iPhone can still get new iOS versions?
Check Apple’s iOS compatibility page or your iPhone’s Settings app to determine if your model and iOS version are still supported. Generally, iPhones 5+ years old using iOS 2+ versions behind will not be able to update further.
What should I do with an old iPhone that can’t update?
Backup your data for safekeeping, enhance security settings, replace the battery if needed, and start planning to upgrade to a newer iPhone model in the near future.
Will my iPhone 7 ever become obsolete?
The iPhone 7 will likely lose update compatibility in iOS 16, as it will be over 5 years old. iPhone 7 users should prepare to upgrade to a newer phone when iOS 16 comes out in 2022.
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