All iPhones and iPods can upgrade to the current firmware, but some features are disabled on older devices. The iPhone 2G from two years ago can’t handle stereo audio streaming over Bluetooth, despite the fact that it’s just as fast (or slow) as the iPhone 3G. Then there’s the lack of Voice Control on all […]
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The remarkable relationship between iPhone firmware and hardware

All iPhones and iPods can upgrade to the current firmware, but some features are disabled on older devices. The iPhone 2G from two years ago can’t handle stereo audio streaming over Bluetooth, despite the fact that it’s just as fast (or slow) as the iPhone 3G. Then there’s the lack of Voice Control on all non-3GS devices. However, as of firmware 3.0, all iPhones and iPod Touches can upgrade to the latest software and use the latest apps. That’s pretty amazing, considering some devices are already two years old — which approaches ancient in the stupidly-fast paced tech world.

It’s even more amazing when you compare it to Android, one of the other big smartphone OS’es on the block. A recent piece in Wired talked about how some new Android smartphones — devices released within  the last year — are being sold with older firmware. Some devices are being sold with Android 1.5 (Cupcake) or 1.6 (Donut), whereas the newest versions of Android are actually 2.0 and 2.1. What’s more, despite the fact that Android updates can be delivered over-the-air (something Apple could really catch up on), there’s no universal system for delivering said updates.  Worse still: it can depend on the manufacturers and carriers to update the firmware, depending on which Android device you buy.

Consider then the purchase of a first-gen iPhone 2G today from someone who had never updated it: you would still have the option of updating it to 3.0 for free (or for $4.95 if it was an iPod Touch). I think this is fantastic support on the part of Apple, and although there are some marked slowdowns and missing features when 3.0 is running on older iHardware, at least the possibility is there.

It’s my understanding that Firmware 4.0 is going to leave out the first generation of iPods and iPhones — which seems fair enough since they’re now three years old. However, I really hope that Apple can at least keep up this two-year firmware support for devices as we head for the inevitable iPhone 4.0, because I think it’s one of the platform’s greatest strengths.

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