Apple products are expensive. Even the cheapest laptop costs a thousand dollars and even if you settle for an older iPhone 12 you have to pay at least $699. The cheapest Apple Watch, the Apple Watch Series 3, will still set you back $199.
But if you buy one Apple Watch Series 3 now out of the Apple Store, it will be obsolete in about three months. Apple has announced that watchOS 9, which is set to release sometime this fall, will only support the Apple Watch Series 4 and later, despite the fact that Apple is still actually selling the Apple Watch Series 3.
That’s not a great look. As an Apple writer, I know better than to spend $199 on a piece of tech that’s four years old, but the average consumer looking for a bargain probably won’t. That’s why Apple is still selling it: For those who don’t want to spend $399 on an Apple Watch Series 7 or even $279 on an SE, the Apple Watch Series 3 is here.
It may be a “budget” device, but the expectation is that when you buy an Apple product, it won’t be immediately obsolete. However, that’s basically the case with the Apple Watch Series 3.
And other relatively recent devices are hitting the chopping block for compatibility this year as well. On the iPhone side, the iPhone 7, which was sold until 2019, won’t get iOS 16. The same goes for the 1.8GHz Core i5 MacBook Air 12-inch MacBook, also sold in 2019. And while the Apple TV HD has this Once it has escaped obsolescence, it probably won’t be able to support the next tvOS update in 2023.
A relentless pace
You could argue — especially on the Mac side — that the pace of innovation is to blame. The Apple silicon transition has led to a quantum leap in the performance and capabilities of Apple’s Macs, so it’s not terribly surprising that the lower-end Intel chips from just a few years ago can’t handle the same OS functions. And the Apple Watch has gone through several major changes since Apple introduced the Series 3 in 2017.
But for a company that has been very conscious of the longevity of older devices, the lack of support is worrying. Someone buys an Apple Watch Series 3 from the Apple Store somewhere, and outside of a watchOS 8.7 update that will likely arrive later this month, they won’t get any new features, updates, or security patches as long as they own it.
That’s an erosion of the trust Apple has built up over the years. Apple does not guarantee an explicit upgrade if some manufacturers do, but users expect their device to be supported as long as they own it. A Mac bought in 2019 or an Apple Watch bought in 2022 that won’t get the latest OS update isn’t exactly reassuring to someone buying an older iPhone or SE device.
For the Mac, the transition to a new processor is clouding those waters a bit, but Apple supported PowerPC chips six years after the Intel transition was announced. We’ve been in the Apple silicon transition for two years and Macs are flying like flies. At the pace of business, macOS 17 will not support Intel Macs by 2025, including those that are still being sold (Mac mini and Mac Pro). And when it comes to the iPhone and Apple Watch, the Apple-silicon transition isn’t going to last as they’ve been using Apple-silicon all along.
And then there’s the iPad Pro. On the one hand, iPadOS 16 happily supports every iPad Pro model ever released, all the way back to 2015, the most intriguing new feature, Stage Manager, can only be used on three models: the most recent 11-inch iPad Pro, 12.9-inch iPad Pro and iPad Air with the M1 processor.
That means that the iPad Pro released in 2020, barely two years ago, is already behind the times. Apple explains that Stage Manager “requires large internal memory, incredibly fast storage, and flexible external display I/O”, and therefore requires an M1 chip, but that’s not very reassuring for people who spend more than a thousand dollars. having issued an iPad Pro just 18 months ago.
So how can we know that the next hardware round will take more than a year or two for Apple to declare it obsolete? The Apple TV HD, iPhone 11, ninth generation iPad, Intel Mac mini: all these devices are now available for purchase in the Apple Store.
Will they get next year’s updates? Could be. But I’m less sure than a few weeks ago.