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When iOS 15 arrives later this year, it’s going to continue supporting the same iPhone models that were compatible with iOS 13 two years ago — going right back to the 2015 iPhone 6s — however, it turns out there are some things that the older devices simply won’t be able to handle.
While Apple has often been accused of planned obsolescence, it doesn’t intentionally cripple or slow down older iPhones when newer iOS versions come out — at least not without a good reason for doing so.
However, even a $2 trillion company can’t change the laws of physics, and the fact is that older devices are simply going to be less capable than the very newest models. Batteries get older, processors get faster, and other newer technologies emerge.
Apple already does way more than the competition when it comes to supporting its older products, so it’s always been somewhat ludicrous that Apple would go to all the trouble of making a current iOS release work on a five- or six-year-old device just to encourage users to upgrade to newer hardware. After all, Apple could just as easily drop support entirely and leave those users stuck on the last version of iOS.
So, it’s fair to say that Apple does everything it can to bring its latest features to older hardware, but sometimes that older hardware simply isn’t up to the task.
When Apple releases iOS 15 this fall, users of every iPhone model released in the past six years will still be able to enjoy almost all the great features that Apple is bringing to the table, including cool new widgets, an insane level of notification control, SharePlay, improvements in Messages, Focus modes, new Spotlight search enhancements, and more.
Unfortunately, however, there are a few things that the processors in older iPhones just won’t have the chops for, leaving Apple to draw the line for some features at the A12 Bionic chip, found in the 2018 iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR.
iOS 15 Features Requiring an iPhone XS/XR or Newer
If you’re using an older iPhone, here’s what you’ll be missing out on:
- Portrait Mode in FaceTime: Even though you can take Portrait Mode photos with an iPhone 7 or later, it’s not surprising that a lot more processing power is required to do this with live video in FaceTime.
- Spatial Audio in FaceTime: Real-time audio processing seems to be another challenge for older A-series chips, so you won’t get spatial audio in FaceTime unless you’re on an A12-equipped device or later, even though normal Spatial Audio with Dynamic Head Tracking in video playback only requires the 2016 iPhone 7.
- Immersive Walking Directions in Maps: Apple is adding augmented reality step-by-step walking directions in Apple Maps. Google Maps has offered a similar “Live View” feature since 2019 that works on any ARKit-compatible iPhone model, Apple clearly felt its version of this feature didn’t perform well enough on older chips.
- Live Text in Photos: The new iOS 15 Live Text feature is very cool, but since all of that text recognition is done completely on your iPhone, it’s not a big surprise that it’s going to require a fairly beefy modern CPU to pull off.
- Visual Look Up in Photos: Along the same lines as Live Text, looking up recognized objects and scenes in photos in real-time is also computationally intensive.
- Interactive Globe and 3D City Experience in Maps: Apple is adding a lot more detailed 3D rendering to Maps, including an interactive globe for exploring the world and zooming in on specific areas, plus much richer cityscapes. Don’t feel too bad, though, as Intel Mac users won’t be getting these features either.
- Digital Keys in Wallet: Oddly, Apple lists this one as requiring an iPhone XS and later, rather than specifying that an A12 chip is required, suggesting this could have something to do with NFC or the Secure Enclave. Either way, older iPhones won’t be able to store car keys, house keys, or hotel keys. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, though, as the original Car Key feature had the same requirements when it debuted last year in iOS 13.6.
- Animated Backgrounds in Weather: Apple’s Weather app is getting some nice design changes overall, but a bit of the flair will be reserved for newer devices. The new animated backgrounds aren’t just videos — they’re designed to accurately reflect the position of the sun, clouds, and precipitation, which means there’s some number crunching involved here as well.
- On-Device Siri Speech Processing and Personalization: iOS 15 promises one of the biggest improvements to Siri in years, with the ability to handle all the speech recognition, personalization, and other intelligence directly in the Apple Silicon, but it naturally needs powerful Apple Silicon to pull this off.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that some of these limitations aren’t exactly new to iOS 15. For example, when Apple introduced a new QuickTake video feature in iOS 13 two years ago, it was limited to the brand new iPhone 11. With iOS 14, QuickTake actually expanded to the iPhone XS/XR, but iOS 15 isn’t pushing that back any further. So, the new ability to zoom in while shooting QuickTake videos won’t work on older iPhone models either.
There are also some iOS 15 features that will be exclusive to the iPhone 12 lineup. Two of these are fairly obvious — enhanced connectivity on 5G and preferring 5G over Wi-Fi aren’t going to work on devices that don’t have 5G. However, it also seems that Apple is using the power of its A14 chip to improve panoramic captures, reducing geometric distortion, handling moving subjects better, and reducing image noise.