Hi! In this week’s edition of Tech 911—the column that attempts to answer all of your emailed questions (please email us your questions)—we’re taking a look at an issue that affects more people than you might think at first: updates. Specifically, should you really update your device to the latest and greatest version its software or operating system? What if the update makes it worse?
Lifehacker reader Mike writes:
“My wife and I have leapt off of the upgrade train. You see, we’re young professionals with a lot of student debt. My wife and I each have an iPhone 5s, and our computers are about to hit double digits.
My wife decided to upgrade her iPhone 5s to iOS 12.0.1 yesterday without backing up her phone. Part of the reason for that is probably because she’s been running Mavericks until just recently – her computer wouldn’t let her sync. I had a small, internal panic attack when she told me. Her phone has been fine for all of the 24 hours since she updated, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
My question is this: is iOS 12 safe for our outdated phones? I saw the update was almost 2 GB, which eats up a lot of space on our 16 GB phones. Apple says “go ahead,” but iOS 11 was a bit dicey.”
That’s a great question, Mike. I feel like a lot of people—especially those with older devices—get a little nervous about installing major updates. Jump up to Windows 10 on an older desktop PC, macOS Mojave on a legacy MacBook Air or, in your case, iOS 12 on an older iPhone, and you might have a worse experience than you did previously. And that thinking isn’t far-fetched. There have been plenty of examples of software updates slowing older systems and devices to a crawl.
Normally, I’d recommend installing any and all software updates you can get your hands on, because that’s the best way to ensure that your device has the most up-to-date features (and, more importantly, security updates). However, if your device is pretty old—a few years, let’s say—it might be worth waiting a bit before you take the plunge.
What should you do, then? I’d recommend searching for anecdotes around the web so you can get a sense of others’ experiences before you install a major update to your device. In other words, find test subjects. In your case, I’m sure there are a ton of forum posts out there that detail what iOS 12 is like on an iPhone 5S, if not benchmarks, tests, and other details that can help you decide whether the performance drop—if one even exists—is worth it.
Specifically, here are a few mentions I found:
“The noticeable thing with iOS 12 is largely to do with the animation and transitions. When you move from one state to another, say, opening or closing apps, waiting for the keyboard to pop up when you open a text box, pull up the Control Center, that’s when the improvements really hit you. Apple has tightened many of these processes so it doesn’t feel like you’re waiting for things to happen or when they do they don’t just stutter up on the screen.
It feels more nimble and responsive and you can now move from one activity to another much quickly and the animations don’t seem to get in your way as much as they used to with iOS 11.
It’s one of those things that cannot be demonstrated with benchmarks. Indeed, I ran a Geekbench before and after just for kicks and the results were identical, or at least close enough to be within the margin of error.”
“Launching apps like Safari and Mail were noticeably faster in the iOS 12 beta, but the difference in others, including Weather and Maps, was hardly visible.
Apple’s claim during the keynote was that the share sheet comes up twice as fast when the system is under load. We found that the share sheet came up much faster than it did on iOS 11, even when there were no other apps open. However, this result wasn’t always consistent — after running it several times in a row, iOS 11.4 mostly caught up to the beta.
Startup time was the category where the iOS 12 beta clearly fell behind. iOS 11.4 loaded much faster and was ready to go 9 seconds before iOS 12.”
“Jumping from iOS 10.3.3 to iOS 11.0 resulted in a handful of small performance regressions that are marginally improved in iOS 11.4.1, but for the most part iOS 11’s performance has stayed level. By comparison, across the board, iOS 12 performs almost as well as iOS 10, whether you’re launching a lighter app like Settings, a heavier one like Maps, or cold booting your phone. It’s an impressive, noticeable gain and a huge improvement for anyone out there who’s still getting by with a 5S.”
I think it’s safe to go for the iOS 12 update—performance appears good, in that the update doesn’t appear to be slowing older iPhones to a crawl. As for the space concerns you mention, that’s fair. Try connecting your iPhone to a computer and use an updated version of iTunes to install iOS 12 onto your device. Don’t perform an over-the-air update. This should save you as much space as you’re going to get. You can also go in and get surgical with that-which-is-stored-on-your-device, and I’ve previously covered a bunch of tips for freeing up more space in iOS.
If you want to go crazy—because your device is showing that a lot of space is devoted to some mysterious “other” category, for example—you can also try a more hardcore update option. Create a new backup of your iPhone, plug it in to your computer, pull up iTunes, and use the “Restore” functionality to both install iOS 12 and start from “scratch,” which I put in quotes, since you’ll ultimately be restoring your iPhone from the backup you made.
Let me know if you need any more help or advice! And once you’ve installed iOS 12, do take a peek at all the neat things you can do with it.
Do you have a tech question keeping you up at night? Tired of troubleshooting your Windows or Mac? Looking for advice on apps, browser extensions, or utilities you can use to accomplish a particular task? Let us know! Tell us in the comments below or email [email protected].