Apps updated for iOS 7 could cause major headaches for older devices

Credit: Mr.Thomas via Flickr

Last month I discussed some of the challenges developers will face with iOS 7. With Apple pushing developers hard to update their apps for iOS 7, they are under the gun to get their apps updated, both in terms of user interface as well as underlying capabilities.

Apple wants developers not only to support iOS 7, but also to actively integrate new APIs and features into their apps. The App Store ecosystem has been one of the reasons for Apple's success in mobile. In order to push the entire platform and its users forward, Apple needs enough apps that are compelling to get people to upgrade -- in spite of the dramatic changes the company has made in the user interface design and the overall user experience.

Here's some good news for Apple. According to an informal web-based poll by the Iconfactory's Craig Hockenberry, virtually all iOS developers (95% of those who responded) are moving to update their apps to be compatible with and take advantage of iOS 7. 

Hockenberry went a step further, however, and asked how many developers planned to offer backwards compatibility for users with devices running iOS 6 (or earlier). Nearly half (48%) of the developers that responded said they were dropping support for earlier versions of iOS, meaning that existing users will need to upgrade to iOS 7 (or at least never update the apps from developers going iOS 7-only).

Although not a scientific survey, the poll highlights a major point in the number of developers planning to drop support for older versions of iOS. For many developers, updating to iOS 7 means going back the drawing board literally and figuratively. As developers redesign, recode, and re-imagine their apps for iOS 7, they may come close to building a completely new app. In fact, many developers are likely using iOS 7 as a way to implement major functional changes and to adjust entire feature sets. On the other side of such a massive upgrade, a developer could be left essentially supporting two completely different apps.

Enterprise app developers may have more time and options

While the pressure to update apps for iOS 7 applies to any developer, enterprise developers creating apps for in-house use may have more options for delaying such an upgrade, since their apps are intended to be used only within their company or with select clients.

In theory, this should give enterprise developers more breathing room and the option to simply stick with an existing version of their apps. In practice, however, there are major motivating factors to encourage enterprise developers to make the jump to iOS 7.

From an enterprise perspective these features alone are worth building into enterprise apps, not to mention all the other advances that all developers can use to improve the functionality and user experience of their apps (for a full description of these features, check out my earlier coverage of them).

  • AirDrop
  • Per-app VPN connections
  • Enterprise single sign-on
  • App data protection by default
  • The power to control which apps managed or enterprise apps can send content to
  • The option to pre-configue and/or remotely configure app settings
  • Support for true multitasking apps

Enterprise developers that haven't yet created and released native apps have an even easier time as they can start from the ground up with iOS 7's design focus and APIs rather than work to redesign an existing app for the new OS. If a company's users are satisfied with a web app, then iOS 7 may not present an immediate issue. 

Forced upgrades could be a problem, particularly with BYOD users

Apple is no stranger to marching its customers forward. Unlike some of its competitors, Apple has never hesitated to tell users that they will need to upgrade or replace their devices (or the OS that runs on them) if they want access to new features or new software.

iOS 7 will support all the devices that Apple currently ships, which includes any that were released during or after June 2010, though some devices won't get all its features.

Anyone with a first-generation iPad, one of the first three iPhone models (the original, 3G, and 3GS), or any iPod touch save the current fifth-generation model will be out of luck. On one hand, all of the unsupported devices were introduced three or more years ago (the slight exception being the fourth generation iPod touch, which was introduced in September, 2010). On the other hand, however, the iPhone 3GS and fourth generation iPod touch were still on the market this time last year. The original iPad hasn't been on store shelves for a couple of years, but given the cost of the device compared to a subsidized smartphone, some users may have seen little value in upgrading.

This presents a challenge to businesses and schools where either the iPhone 3GS, earlier iPod touches, or the original iPad are still in use. If key business and productivity apps or internal enterprise apps are updated to iOS 7, organizations need to figure out a plan to update such devices. If the devices are owned by the company or school that will likely mean a discussion about replacing them with newer options. That's something that could be cost-prohibitive, particularly for K-12 public schools.

If the devices are personally owned and part of a BYOD program, that upgrade decision remains in the hands of workers. Demanding or even expecting them to upgrade their devices could easily create a new layer of tension between IT and end users, particularly when workers pay the full cost for the device on their own. After all, the iPhone 3GS may have fit perfectly into a BYOD program when a user bought one or two years ago and that user may not yet be eligible for an upgrade from his or her carrier. There's a bit of irony here since BYOD devices may benefit more from the enterprise and mobile management features of iOS 7 than company-owned and fully managed devices.

All things considered, iOS 7 is a major advance for iOS devices in the enterprise and in education, but supporting and integrating it also poses challenges for developers and IT leaders -- challenges that should to be discussed and addressed now before Apple ships it. 

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