Blog Post

iPhone OS 4: Device Compatibility

iPhone OS 4 has over 100 new features. However, some of those features (or all of them) won’t be available on older versions of the iPhone/iPod touch. Wonder how you’ll fare? Read on.

iPhone 3GS/iPod touch Third-Gen

Both of these will get full compatibility — the whole shebang. Note that the third-gen iPod will only support all the new features on models with 32 or 64GBs of memory; the 16GB model was really a second-gen iPod, which is discussed below.

iPhone 3G/iPod touch Second-Gen

Some compatibility. Multitasking will not be available due to a lower amount of RAM (128MB vs. 256MB on the newer models) and a slower processor. It’s not clear yet whether multitasking is the only new feature that’ll be missing. Nor is it clear as to whether Apple (s aapl) will be charging iPod touch users a fee to upgrade like it did with the iPhone OS 3.

iPhone/iPod touch First-Gen

Apple hasn’t officially said anything on these two yet, and that’s likely a sign that you won’t be able to run OS 4 at all. At least those of you still using these dinosaurs have a new iPhone to look forward to in June.


Obviously, the just-released iPad will be able to run the new OS. It’s worth mentioning because the update won’t be available until the Fall, which seems like a long time considering that the iPhone and iPod touch are getting the update this summer.

How do you feel about Apple’s compatibility decisions? The inevitable course of progress, or a slap in the face?

44 Responses to “iPhone OS 4: Device Compatibility”

  1. The genius of the iOS4 is that it neither requires more RAM or faster processor for multi tasking. Let’s say you running two apps on your device simultaneously, then it makes sense that you’d need twice the ram and speed to run them. However, iOS does not run two apps simultaneously. Rather one app is put into a sleep mode which uses no ram or processor speed, saving the current state of the program to your disk, whilst the other app is being run. This guarantees that the second app can make the full use of all the RAM and processor.

    Steve Jobs was proud of this “new” (actually it is as old as UNIX operating systems) multi-tasking capability. But the genius of it is that it neither requires more RAM or speed. This contradicts his reasoning that older devices are too slow or have too little memory to support this “new” multi-tasking.

    Having said that there are certain capabilities of iOS4 that actually do require more speed and RAM, but the new multi-tasking isn’t the reason. (For those who are interested the iOS supports a limited form of multitasking that is similar to the one on your Mac or PC… )

  2. i don’t know if i should go ahead and buy the 3gs no and upgrade the software when it is released or if i just just wait until the new software comes on the iphone. can anyone help me with this decision?

    • The iPhone 4 update is free, so it doesn’t really matter. Whether or not Apple will actually ship the 3GS with iOS 4, I don’t know.

      Personally, I would say, with all the new features of it, wait until the iPhone 4 comes out. The 3GS is half the price of the 4, however, so if you don’t want all the new features, it would make sense to spend half the money and get a 3GS. With the iPhone 4, though, you’re also guarenteed compatibility with iOS 5 or maybe iOS 6 in the years to come.

    • The iPhone 4 update is free, so it doesn’t really matter. Whether or not Apple will actually ship the 3GS with iOS 4, I don’t know.

      Personally, I would say, with all the new features of it, wait until the iPhone 4 comes out. The 3GS is half the price of the 4, however, so if you don’t want all the new features, it would make sense to spend half the money and get a 3GS. With the iPhone 4, though, you’re also guaranteed compatibility with iOS 5 or maybe iOS 6 in the years to come.

  3. While watching the Apple keynote on iPhone OS 4, I was excited about the new features of it – most notably the multitasking and the Home Screen wallpaper. That is, until my heart sank at the end. In the last minute of the keynote, I not only learned that my so-called 3G 8GB iPod Touch is actually a rebranded 2G, but I also learned that it won’t support multitasking!

    Furthermore, a comment down below mine says it may not even support having a Home Screen background on the 2G and so-called 3G!

    Assuming the lack of these two features on the iPod Touch 2G and 8/16 GB 3G is carried out to the release of OS 4, I am quite disappointed, although I still have features like folders and spell-checking to look forward to.

    But, if both of the features mentioned above will not be compatible with the above-mentioned devices, I think the upgrade to OS 4 should be free or cheap (<$3). If we do get Home Screen wallpapering, I suppose I would be willing to pay full price.

    Personally, though, I think users of the 2G and so-called 3G (8/16 GB) iPod Touch, and the iPhone 3G should be allowed to get the full benefits of iPhone OS 4. I understand Apple’s claim of those devices, with half the RAM and a slower processor, being unable to power multitasking, but surely those devices should be able to run it nonetheless? If a user does find their older device sluggish with multitasking, perhaps a user setting could be implemented to disable it?

    I have heard of Apple’s marketing strategy of leaving fully capable computers and devices falsely incompatible with new software, to make the user go out and buy a new one that IS capable, and assuming one or more features of OS 4 won’t be compatible with the above-mentioned devices, I think this is their stategy in action, and I for one do not think it’s fair.

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but that’s just my opinion.

    • angryatjobs

      I agree, I feel like I have been had. I just bought the 8gb in January, and was reassured that the wallpapers option would be available to the devices. Now Im going to have to jailbreak it, or buy a new one. This is just them trying to extort money. I bet someone will get it working on the 8gb then sue Apple. I would.

      • Well, I was recently to the Apple website, and pleased to see that the iOS 4 update is completely free! And good thing too, because it turns out to be true that on the 2G iPod Touch and iPhone 3G, it will not only not support multitasking, but it won’t support the home screen wallpaper, either! Humbug!

        Try and convince me that those devices don’t have enough processing power and RAM to put a picture on the home screen!

  4. I’m running os 4 now on 3GS it’s nothing to write home about and it’s veery berry buggy don’t try it on a 3G as it not got the power. The 3GS just copes. A lot of bugs in all corners of apps. A lot of app store apps are not ready for it unless it’s an apple fault. Wish I could go back to os 3 it’s faster.

  5. im guessing that every single feature that os 4 brings will be on the ipad as well or else that would be tremendous bullshyt which im sure but just in case steve jobs wants to be gay on us………

    im really upset that the ipad only has 512mb ram thats what the iphone 4g should of had ipad should of gave it 1gb ram atleast apple is so fucking cheap when making these devices

  6. This is unfair. How about those who have these old iPhones and iPod touch 1st Gen?
    We also want the update, even if no multitasking or whatsoever.
    I want the folders! I hate that apps are only limited to 180 where I have alot of disk space left.
    Please Apple, don’t be unfair…

  7. As a iPod touch 2G owner, I hope I don’t have to pay for iPhone OS 4.0 since it’s going to lack multitasking on my device. If not free, maybe charge a smaller amount then the iPod tough 3G. (Of course if they charge anything at all. But I’m almost positive they will.)

  8. DarkSock's Mangravy

    This is outrageous! This is typical Apple baloney that smells like Buffalo Beast – who, up until now, has done nothing to garner his place in the Hall of Mock. Apple should be ashamed of themselves for such a travesty.

    Also, I peed in a horse once.

  9. My son got my 1G phone when I got the 3GS and I agree with others that it was/is a great phone that will be fine without version 4.

    I actually commend apple for supporting the 1G as long as it did. I was NEVER able to get new OS’s for my smart phones (offically, there were hacks out there but they were flaky at best). And don’t mention the upgrade path on the Treo, that was even worse.

    But – I have another year on my 3GS contract so I don’t see a next gen phone in my life for awhile.

    this will rock on the ipad though.

  10. It’s certain that the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch are on course to run the same OS, though I’m thinking they’ll meet common ground at OS 4.1, rather than 4.0.

    Apple would probably want to take the time to fix the bugs of iPad OS first, then anything that will inevitably crop up in iPhone 4.0 with the end goal to distribute one universal update that works for all three devices come Fall.

  11. i have a iphone 3g and it doesnt bother me that it wont have multi tasking because i have been waiting to get a new iphone that comes out this year and i skipped the 3gs because it wasnt that much of a upgrade from the 3g. The new iphone will have OS 4 and better hardware. So I can’t wait until the summer to get the new iphone.

  12. Apple’s backwards compatibility is driven by hardware evolution and nowhere near as limiting as MS Windows versions which obsolete PCs every time anything changes. Other phones can’t be upgraded at all. So, I have no problem with this. I like the new, higher mileage engines offered by auto companies, but it never occurs to me or anyone to gripe that I can’t drop a new 280HP block into a three year old car that came with a 175HP engine. Besides, the older iPhones are as good as they ever were and with a few new features for free, they are even better. I have a 3GS and will enjoy the new OS, but if the new iPhone unit is really cool, I’ll sell my GS to someone who can’t upgrade their G. We all win.

    • Great analogy and totally agree.

      I hated when I had a Windows Mobile device and at every new OS update I either had to replace the hardware to be able to use it or kept running the old version.

      Apple gives their hardware a great run for the money. I have a 3G iPhone. Depending on the features of the new phone I will upgrade. Going from the 3G to the 3GS wasn’t worth it for me.

  13. I’m reserving my judgment until I’m certain there’s a new phone coming in summer as well (you know what they say about assumptions!). As a 3G user, I will be very annoyed to have to “upgrade” to a year-old phone (3GS) to get all the new features.

    If there’s a new phone this summer, and the cost structure is similar to the 3GS last summer, I will have no problem upgrading…

  14. The 1st gen iPod touch and iPhone may be considered “dinosaurs”, but they have the exact same CPU and RAM as the iPhone 3G.

    I don’t see any other reason of Apple not supporting them besides money… they want us to upgrade our devices.

    • Walt French

      Many have less memory, and by now all the original iPhones are off their lock-in and can be upgraded for a pretty modest price.

      OTOH, they could supposedly upgrade the OS and probably have a somewhat slower overall experience (more code in a small amount of storage), that still can’t multi-task. Not a lot of gain for the user.

      Meanwhile, Apple would have to support the platform, for probably very few end users, because not many would bother to upgrade. Further, I’ll wager that a large share have been handed down to kids, who jailbroke them and are running on T-Mo, and don’t care about Apple features.

      We don’t know what the iPhone HD or whatever is coming this summer will offer. It might tilt the calculus even farther towards “anybody with a Gen1 who cares about 4.0 features will upgrade.

      Oh, and BTW: pretty much industry standard practice. Win6.5 phones being sold today — and maybe, for at least the rest of this year — will NOT be upgradable to Win7Phone s/w. Just like anything else electronic, or even automobiles: evaluate your buying decisions based on your current needs and somewhat about promised upgrades, not a sense that Mother will take care of you even as an adult.

  15. Thats Correct, the zoom function is not available on the 3G. Curiously, the ability to put a wallpaper on the home screen is missing too, but this is very buggy, Images transferred from iPhoto arent appearing on the lock screen, even though you can set them

  16. My needs are modest. Just give me Bluetooth keyboard support for my 2-G iPad touch, and I’ll not quibble over what other features are or are not included.

    But since many users who bought new iPhones and iPod touches last year can’t benefit from 4.0’s most powerful feature, multitasking, the upgrade should be a freebie (at least for them). That’ll make being left out a bit more palatable.

    • I so much agree with you. Sometimes knowing what’s coming is worse than just waiting for it without any clues.

      I’m still waiting for the iPad in Canada since the keynote in January!