Need to FaceTime Family Members with Older iPhones or iPads? DON’T Install iOS 13.4

FaceTime on iPhone Credit: Wachiwit
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If you need to stay in touch with friends or family members that have devices still running iOS 9, you may want to hold off on updating to iOS 13.4 if you haven’t done so already.

Apple released iOS 13.4 last week, which added a handful of new features, including the long-awaited iCloud Folder Sharing, new Memoji stickers, and mouse and trackpad support in iPadOS 13.4, but unfortunately, it also seems that the new version came with an unintended side-effect: it broke FaceTime compatibility with devices running iOS 9.

This problem, which was first reported by MacRumors, affects the ability for anybody with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 13.4 from connecting over FaceTime to older devices with iOS 9.3.6 or even 9.3.5. It’s unclear if older versions of iOS 9 are also impacted, but we’d think that’s pretty likely.

The problem has also been brought up by numerous users on Reddit and the Apple Discussion forums, so all evidence points to it being widespread rather than something that affects only specific users.

We’ve also been able to reproduce the problem in repeated tests by trying to place calls from an iPhone 11 Pro Max, an iPad Air 3 running iOS 13.4 to a fifth-generation iPod touch, first-generation iPad mini, and an iPhone 4s, all of which cannot be upgraded beyond iOS 9.3.6.

Calls placed to these devices will ring through, but when answered will fail to actually connect. Calls to these devices from a fifth-generation iPad using iOS 13.3.1 connect without any problems whatsoever.

Note FaceTime does still work fine between iOS 13.4 and iOS 9.3.6 devices when they’re on the same Wi-Fi network, so if you’re testing this between two of your own devices, you’ll find that it works just fine, but of course that’s not how most people expect to use FaceTime.

What’s Going On?

While it’s entirely unclear why this broke in iOS 13.4, it obviously comes at a very bad time, as the world is struggling with a pandemic and the need for people to stay in touch while isolated in their homes is greater than ever.

It’s also unclear right now which older versions of iOS are impacted by this. Connections to iOS 11 and later devices definitely work fine, but more devices were left behind on iOS 9.3.6 when iOS 10 was released back in 2016, in particular the extremely popular iPad 2, along with the original iPad mini, the third-generation full-sized iPad, the iPhone 4S and the fifth-generation iPod touch. On the other hand, there are fewer devices that should remain stuck on iOS 10.3.4, as only the iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, and fourth-generation iPad couldn’t be updated to iOS 11.

However, despite the fact that iOS 9 is almost four years old by now, Apple actually did release an iOS 9.3.6 update last summer, accompanied also by an iOS 10.3.4 update, both intended to release a critical fix for a GPS-related bug, although it’s likely that not much more changed from the prior August 2016 release of iOS 9.3.5.

Some have been quick to jump to the usual accusation of “planned obsolescence” on Apple’s part, actually suggesting that the company would be evil enough to come up with the idea of forcing your aging grandmother to go out and buy a new iPad during a pandemic just to keep in touch with the grandkids, but as with other claims we’ve previously debunked, this is really not Apple’s style, and it seems much more likely that this is simply a bug related to some minor tweak that was included in iOS 13.4 and didn’t get tested with devices running iOS 9.

To be clear, Apple may not even conduct this level of testing. All of the devices that can’t be upgraded beyond iOS 9 have long been on Apple’s vintage and obsolete products lists, so Apple may no longer feel the need to test every iOS update against these older devices, since it has to draw the line somewhere.

It’s also conceivably possible that this may have been a deliberate change for some valid security reason, but it seems very unlikely that Apple would do this without at least casually mentioning it in the iOS 13.4 release notes, or better yet making some kind of announcement on its support site. Yet Apple’s FaceTime support document still clearly lists the older devices as being fully compatible.

You can use FaceTime on any of these devices on Wi-Fi: iPhone 4 or later, iPad Pro (all models), iPad 2 or later, iPad mini (all models), and iPod touch 4th generation or later (only iPod touch 5th generation or later support FaceTime audio calling).

In fact, Apple’s list includes the iPhone 4 and fourth-generation iPod touch, both of which can’t be updated beyond iOS 8.

Of course, Apple’s standard “bug fixes and improvements” line in the release notes of any iOS version can cover a whole slew of minor tweaks that aren’t worth spelling out. For instance, a huge data consumption bug was discovered during the iOS 13.4 betas, suggesting that Apple was tweaking some network performance settings there, yet the bug appears to have been fixed before the final release, and there’s no mention of what Apple may have changed that could have caused it in the first place.

That said, there doesn’t seem to be any readily apparent security reason why iOS 9 should be a cut-off point. For example, if this was a matter of dropping support for older encryption standards, the TLS versions don’t line up, as TLS 1.2 support was introduced way back in iOS 5, and TLS 1.3 wasn’t added until IOS 12.2 less than two years ago. So if it’s based on encryption standards, everything from iOS 5 to iOS 12.1 should be in the same boat.

So at this point, we’re pretty sure this is just a bug on Apple’s part, albeit one that comes at a very unfortunate time, but we’re hoping that Apple understands the seriousness of the problem and rolls out an iOS 13.4.1 fix very soon. In the meantime, if you haven’t upgraded to iOS 13.4 and you still need to stay in touch with folks running older hardware, you’ll want to avoid the update for now, as there’s no easy way of rolling back to iOS 13.3.1.

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