The latest version of Apple's mobile platform offers some great new features--but not to everyone. Owners of older Apple hardware will not be able to enjoy all the new powers included in iOS 6. Many are crying foul, accusing Apple of fragmenting its platform. Let's take a look at how accurate these claims are, and how they stack up to the competition.
The core new features of iOS 6 are FaceTime over cellular networks, 3-D map fly-overs, and expanded Siri capabilities. The iPhone 4S and iPad with Retina Display--Apple's most recent mobile hardware--are compatible with all the core features.
Things get messy when you look at older iOS devices. For example, the iPhone 4 (which is about two years old, but still available for sale) gets none of these three features. Neither does the iPhone 3GS (which, unbelievably, is also still for sale). The iPad 2 gets the 3-D fly-overs, but not cellular FaceTime and not Siri.
Part of the reasoning for this breakdown, says Apple, is that the A5 processor chip in the iPhone 4S and iPad with Retina Display are required for some of the features, such as the 3-D fly-overs.
The original iPad, which is just over two years old, doesn't get iOS 6 at all.
Presumably the iPhone 5, which is expected to arrive later this year, will have access to all the new features in iOS 6.
[ Even with all the cool new stuff in iOS 6, Apple disappointed some. Read iOS 6: 5 Features We Didn't Get. ]
Lest anyone forget, Apple has always reserved some of the best features for its newest hardware. The strategy has paid off well. Owners of Apple devices upgrade often to the newest hardware specifically to get those features. For example, the iPhone 4 didn't get Siri with iOS 5, but the iPhone 4S did. The result? Sales of the iPhone 4S are superior to that of the iPhone 4, despite the more attractive contract pricing of the iPhone 4. Same goes for the original iPad versus the iPad 2. The iPad 2 gained access to FaceTime (thanks to a user-facing camera), but the original iPad can't take advantage of Apple's video chatting feature. Result? Apple sold a boatload of iPad 2s.
"Fragmentation" of Apple's iOS devices is at least partly by design. The same is not necessarily true of other platforms.
Take Android, for example. Because Android can be so heavily customized for different devices and form factors, the app and feature experience across the platform as a whole is varied and uneven. Different screen shapes and sizes, myriad different processors and graphics chips, and gobs of different OS versions have certainly let to schism. Fragmentation in the Android universe, however, is not necessarily by design or with purpose. It simply is. The speed at which the hardware capabilities improve in mere months makes it unavoidable.
Microsoft has done a decent job of keeping Windows Phone from becoming too fragmented. For example, most of the devices that originally shipped with Windows Phone 7 were allowed to upgrade to Windows Phone 7.5 with all the features intact. That changed with Windows Phone Tango, however. Tango allows Windows Phone to run on less-expensive hardware. The chief component downgrade is RAM, which can be as low as 256 MB in Tango. Guess what? Devices with only 256 MB of RAM can't access all the features of Windows Phone 7 due to this memory limitation.
We can say pretty much the same thing about the different features available to different BlackBerry OS and BlackBerry smartphones.
The bottom line here is, fragmentation will always be a part of the mobile landscape. Not every device is going to gain access to every new feature or update. It's something the industry--and consumers--have to simply come to terms with and accept.
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