iOS 15 device compatibility embarrasses Android 12 — here’s why

iOS 15 Focus
(Image credit: Apple)

iOS 15 isn't just exciting for anyone looking to buy an iPhone 13. It's an upgrade for six years worth of iPhones, and that's something Android 12 just doesn't offer.

With the announcement of Apple's new mobile operating system at WWDC 2021 on Monday we got the list of devices that it's compatible with too, tucked at the bottom of Apple's press release. The oldest device on the list is the iPhone 6S, which debuted all the way back in 2015. The oldest phone on the Android 12 update list is only from 2018.

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After consistently dropping devices with each new iteration of iOS, Apple surprised everyone by announcing that iOS 14 would run on all devices that could use iOS 13. And now the company is doing it again. Not every iOS 15 feature will work on the oldest compatible models, but the core enhancements, the security updates and app compatibility will remain intact.

It makes Android 12, an operating system that's also stuffed with new features, look disappointing by comparison. Take Google's own phones. The oldest Pixel that can run Android 12 is the Pixel 3 series, which is coming up to just three years of service. The Pixel 2 series, which did get an Android 11 update, is getting left behind.

All the other phones confirmed to work on Android 12 so far are ones that released this year, such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 series or the OnePlus 9 series. However, looking at previous generations of these phones, we can make an informed guess at just how many of them will move to Android 12.

While there are workarounds (via XDA Developers), 2018's Galaxy S9 is officially stuck on Android 10, as is 2017's OnePlus 5. Therefore we'd expect the Galaxy S10 and OnePlus 6, which are compatible with Android 11, to not see an update to support Android 12. 

While two or three years of updates seems reasonable if you frequently upgrade your phone, it's frustrating to see perfectly functional phones slowly become left out of the latest updates. Samsung has recently begun promising four years of Android security updates for its devices, a year more than Google offers for the Pixels. This is a good thing for Samsung to do, but it's not in the same league as Apple.

Part of why Apple gets away with charging high prices for its phones (and rarely discounting its newest models) is because they're guaranteed to work for longer with the latest software and apps than any other smartphone. It's hard to argue that offering its latest software to a six-year-old phone isn't a good value. 

To be fair, there have long been complaints that new iOS updates can negatively impact performance and/or battery life on older iPhones. But at least users have the choice.

iOS 15 is available as a beta right now, but won't debut for the average iPhone user until the fall, alongside the new iPhone, assumed to be called the iPhone 13. Android 12 is also currently in beta, but Google's target is to have Android 12 ready for a stable release by August of this year.

As for features, iOS 15 will offer users a revamped notifications experience, a new Focus mode, several FaceTime enhancements, support for a digital ID in Wallet and upgrades to Safari, Weather, Maps and several other Apple apps. Android 12's headlining features are its new "Material You" design, a more powerful Quick Settings menu and boosts to the system's privacy and power efficiency.

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.