Just over two years since the original iPad changed the face of tablet computing, Apple has announced that the forthcoming version of their operating system iOS6 will not support the original iPad hardware.
Vulnerabilities affecting Apple’s iOS are nothing new; there have been a steady stream of them patched since the operating system was born. Some of these vulnerabilities have been serious enough that they would allow remote execution of unsigned code on Apple devices. In layman’s terms that means that an attacker could run a program of their choice, remotely on your iPad, that’s not good. If Apple ending support of the original iPad means that future updates to the operating system will not be compatible with older devices then clearly that presents a security risk.
Standard industry practice has most often been to support current version minus one, giving customers time to adapt and upgrade, this tendency is cross industry and cross technology. The case of Windows XP was somewhat of an exception and may have been attributed to the relative unpopularity of Windows Vista, however with the latest release I expect to see Microsoft slowly return to the “current version minus one” approach. For Apple this presents more of an issue, they have a long-lived operating system that runs on hardware that has a yearly refresh cycle. At some point older devices must clearly be dropped from support, however if that happens too soon, rather than encourage users to upgrade, it may discourage them from buying Apple at all…
This clash of long-lived operating system, versus rapidly evolving hardware platform, will be an increasing threat. Innovation on the hardware platform and competition among hardware vendors is far more rapid-paced than the traditional software environments. The periods between significant new operating systems are far greater than handset or tablet hardware upgrades. In the post-PC world, operating systems need to be overhauled to take advantage of these new hardware innovations with the same rapidity; it’s no longer a case of just installing a new device driver.
How is this situation reflected in the more fragmented Android world? One argument says that the multiplicity of different hardware platforms could make things harder for Android, but on the other hand, the openness of the ecosystem allows different vendors to modify the operating system as required for their platform. It is no less complicated for Android and no less of a problem; it is simply less visible due to the fragmented nature of the Android space, after all, there are already plenty of devices out there running version 1.x of Android that will never see the welcome relief of an operating system upgrade.
When consumer vendors become the enterprise suppliers, the motivations for product lifecycle management are radically different.