iOS 9 and Upgrade Rates

With iOS 9 launching this past week, Apple will effectively be resetting the clock on upgrade rates for its biggest and most important operating system. In marked contrast to Android, the latest version of iOS is almost always the most popular version, with the exception of the first month or so after launch. As such, iOS 8 usage has quickly plummeted, iOS 9 has rapidly risen to 50% or so after less than a week, and will continue to rise steadily thereafter. These patterns are fairly well established at this point but it’s worth looking into the details and how iOS 9 might be different.

The established pattern

The chart below shows the established pattern for iOS upgrades, which has a fairly striking shape (as I’ve noted before, somewhat like Half Dome at Yosemite National Park). I’m relying here on Apple’s own numbers, as provided on its Developer Program site. Where I show Android numbers, they’re from Google’s equivalent site.

iOS adoption rates

Note the overall shape of the graph with a very dramatic change in month 12, when a new version of iOS is released and the clock gets reset. But you may also have noticed that the precise upgrade rates have been different for these last three versions of iOS, with each version bringing a slightly lower level of upgrades compared with the previous one. This is perhaps best illustrated by looking at the peak usage for each version, right before the new version is released (I’ve included peak upgrade rates for the last three major versions of Android on the right of the chart, for context):

iOS and Android peak upgrade rates

As you can see, the peak adoption has fallen from 94% for iOS 6 to 87% for iOS 8, though obviously both are still much higher than the major versions of Android achieve.

Prospects for iOS 9

What is driving this falling adoption rate, and what might we expect to see with iOS 9? There are several possible causes of the falling rate:

  • Older devices are no longer supported by new versions of iOS and, therefore, can’t be upgraded
  • Recent updates to iOS have been fairly large, requiring significant amounts of free space on devices to install the update over the air and smaller, though still decent sized, free space on devices updated through iTunes. Some users have therefore chosen to forgo updates rather than delete apps, photos, or other content they wanted to keep on their devices
  • Deliberate choices to stay on older versions – some users may have made the deliberate decision to stay on older versions, perhaps as a reaction to a perceived increase in instability in new versions over the last couple of years
  • Apathy and/or lack of awareness. Though I regularly update my devices the day updates become available (or even earlier, through the developer and public beta programs), my wife rarely updates any of the software on her devices unless I prompt her. She dislikes technological change and is usually fine with missing out on some features. I suspect there are many like her who don’t update their devices through apathy or simple lack of awareness of new software and its benefits. Of course, one interesting side effect here is that those who didn’t upgrade to iOS 8 for this reason will likely also forgo the iOS 9 upgrade, thereby swelling the total numbers of holdouts.

Let’s now apply these reasons to iOS 9 and see how they might impact upgrade rates:

  • Unlike iOS 8, iOS 9 doesn’t abandon any older devices supported by the previous version – both iOS 8 and iOS 9 support the iPhone 4S as the oldest iPhone, and iOS 9 also supports all the same iPads as the two previous versions of iOS. As such, there should be no increase in the number of non-upgraders for this reason at least.
  • iOS 9 comes with a significantly smaller requirement for free space relative to iOS 8, something Apple highlighted at WWDC and has since. This should actually help some users who struggled to update devices with cramped storage to upgrade to iOS 9.
  • Users making the decision to deliberately stay with older versions are usually weighing the disadvantages against the benefits of upgrading. iOS 9 is intended to be a more stable release, focusing more on polish and bug fixes than dramatic new features, so some users may be more willing to upgrade than they have been. However, other users may not see enough in iOS 9’s new features to drive them to upgrade either, so this may end up being a wash.
  • Apathy and lack of awareness are likely unaffected by any of the specific details relating to iOS 9 although, if awareness of specific features such as Apple Music or the News app rises, that could drive general interest in upgrading.

All in all, I don’t see a lot of reasons for iOS 9 to see lower upgrade rates than previous versions per se, and there are several reasons to think upgrading might actually be quicker and/or higher for iOS 9. Early signs from Mixpanel data and from an Apple press release out this morning suggest iOS 9 is tracking ahead of the pace of iOS 8 adoption in the first few days, which tends to confirm that. It’s possible this early pace is affected positively by the smaller file size, which does seem to have been a big issue last time around and that, over time, things will settle in at a similar rate to iOS 8. In fact, given that holdouts will tend to forgo multiple upgrades, it’s almost inevitable the upgrade rate declines somewhat over time as these users stick around on top of the single-version holdouts. As the secondary market for iPhones heats up, devices may also stay in market longer and, even though iPhone 4 units likely make up a pretty tiny percentage of total phones in use today, some users of older devices may choose to forgo upgrades for speed rather than pure compatibility reasons. As such, I suspect we’ll see another small reduction in the total percentage of users upgrading to iOS 9 relative to iOS 8 long term, much as we did with the previous two versions. However, iOS continues to post some of the fastest and most complete upgrade rates of any OS we’ve ever seen and that’s unlikely to change.

Published by

Jan Dawson

Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research, a technology research and consulting firm focused on consumer technology. During his sixteen years as a technology analyst, Jan has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the consumer technology space, pulling together insights on communications and content services, device hardware and software, and online services to provide big-picture market analysis and strategic advice to his clients. Jan has worked with many of the world’s largest operators, device and infrastructure vendors, online service providers and others to shape their strategies and help them understand the market. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Jan worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as Chief Telecoms Analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally.

3 thoughts on “iOS 9 and Upgrade Rates”

  1. whats the point of comparing OIS upgrade to Android when that mean actually nothing. that’s Apple to Orange in my opinion.

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