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Understanding how long iPhones can last in the enterprise

Organizations may want to use the devices they invest in for as long as possible, but how long does Apple support iPhones? Explore the factors that affect the lifespan of iPhones.

Apple frequently releases new iPhone models and iOS updates, so it can be difficult for organizations to extend the lifespan of their existing iPhone investments while ensuring sufficient device performance and functionality.

Mobile devices have quickly made their way into the enterprise space in recent years, especially as the increase in processing power on devices such as iPhones has enabled them to run multiple applications while still delivering connectivity. Mobile device manufacturers continually release new models of their products, and for the iPhone, this is a yearly occurrence. The new devices typically offer faster processors and other additions, such as enhanced cameras and new OS features.

But, unlike a computer, a user can't upgrade an iPhone by replacing some of its components, which leaves organizations with only one option to upgrade them: replace them with newer models. Given the high cost of replacing several phones within an organization, administrators may be tempted to continue using older devices for as long as they are operational.

Putting off a device refresh comes with risks that can render the endpoint unusable and unsupported if ignored. It's crucial to weigh factors such as OS requirements and the cost of repairs to maintain mobile device functionality and security. Organizations should keep some considerations in mind when deciding to maintain an iPhone beyond the one-to-two-year replacement plan.

Always maintain AppleCare on the devices

When purchasing an iPhone for business use, it's vital to ensure that the device can operate properly -- even if something within it breaks. To accomplish that, the iPhone must have AppleCare so that Apple can repair it or replace any faulty components if the device malfunctions. IT administrators should ensure that all their company-owned iPhones are always under the AppleCare plan.

Replace iPhones that can no longer receive software updates

Apple requires its third-party app developers to deploy newer versions of apps that can run on the latest iOS operating system. Any device that can't receive the latest iOS upgrade is at risk of not running the latest versions of some of the apps available on the App Store. If those older iPhones are not replaced and still run an older version of iOS, they will likely have trouble running the latest versions of some critical business apps. This can potentially render those devices unusable and put the organization at risk.

MDM platforms may have iOS version requirements

IT departments can use mobile device management (MDM) software to manage and deploy apps to iPhones. In some cases, these management platforms may have requirements around the iOS version, meaning some older devices may no longer be available for management by the MDM. This can be tricky for IT teams since they may not be able to push security policies or deploy apps to these devices.

Older devices require more support to maintain

If organizations try to use every iPhone they have for as long as possible, IT will have to spend more time supporting devices that Apple no longer supports. Repairing devices outside of the AppleCare plan would cost more as well. In addition to the issue of supportability, an iPhone that isn't using the latest version of iOS may not receive critical software and security updates from Apple. This can pose a serious compliance issue if someone uncovers exploits or vulnerabilities in old versions of iOS and fixes are unavailable.

In addition to the issue of supportability, an iPhone that isn't using the latest version of iOS may not receive critical software and security updates from Apple.

On average, Apple supports each iPhone model for around six or more years. Earlier models, such as the 5/5C, only support up to iOS 10, while iPhone 6/6 Plus goes up to iOS 12. The iPhone 6S/6S Plus and later versions go up to the most recent version of iOS 15. Apple considers its products obsolete when it stops distribution and sale for more than seven years. That still gives owners plenty of time if the equipment was purchased during its early release. Apple also provides a list highlighting which products are considered vintage and which ones are considered obsolete.

Still, organizations must understand the risks of overextending an iPhone's lifespan to ensure that the device can be repaired and support the apps that employees need. Currently, Apple's latest iOS version is iOS 16. However, this OS is only compatible with iPhone 8/8 Plus or newer.

IT admins should have visibility over which devices may pose a problem if they decide to extend the lifespan of their deployed iPhones. An MDM platform that provides hardware and software version requirements can help flag older devices that may be due for an upgrade or replacement. These notifications can eliminate potential disruptions if a new version of iOS removes support from older devices.

Next Steps

Evaluating the AppleCare Professional Support options

Dig Deeper on Mobile operating systems and devices

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