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iOS 8.4: Worth Upgrading?

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iPad iOS 8.4 upgrade screen

Apple’s new mobile operating system introduces Apple Music, improvements for iBooks and various bug fixes. The update also adds some regressive WiFi defects and cripples older iPhones and iPads with slow performance. This article examines the iOS 8.4 release and explains why older iOS devices should not be upgraded.

iOS 8.4: One Step Forward and One Step Back

For the past few iOS releases, the experience seems to be two steps forward and one step back. Apple introduces new features and fixes some defects, only to add new defects and re-introduce regressive bugs. Both iOS 7 and iOS 8 have exhibited poor quality by Apple standards. To put this in perspective, however, people who have switched to iOS comment on its superior stability and performance. Nonetheless, if you are accustomed to near-perfect releases, such as OS X and iOS 4 and 6, you may notice the decline in quality.

Apple has taken note and promised that iOS 9 will be a quality release, offering improved stability and performance. With fewer features and a public beta, this seems likely.

iOS 8.4 is really one step forward and one step back. Your decision to upgrade depends on Apple Music, which although usable, is a glitchy product. If you own an older iOS device, such as an iPad 2 or iPhone 4S, I strongly recommended avoiding this update.

Do Not Upgrade an iPad 2 or iPhone 4S to iOS 8.4!

I always test iOS updates on my iPad 2. If the iOS update introduces severe bugs, I can live without my iPad 2. Over the years, iOS updates have yet to stymie my iPad 2. With iOS 8.4, for the first time, I am recommending that some users skip the update.

The main problem with this update seems to be a change to the embedded browser in the underlying APIs. You might not realize that many of the apps you use are really just web browsers. The UI is just a wrapper around an embedded browser and the content is loaded from a server. This is true of many apps, including some social media apps and Apple Music. Safari is also weighed down by this flaw.

The flaw renders Apple Music unusable on an older device. You may be able to get to an artist’s screen, but when you tap on an album, nothing happens. The album might be highlighted after 30 seconds. If you are lucky, after a few minutes, you may actually be able to play the album.

Other users are experiencing this issue. Some people seem to believe this is due to heavy traffic on Apple’s servers. This is not true. I have installed 8.4 on my iPhone 6. Using the same network, Apple Music is responsive. If this was an issue with busy servers, I would experience problems on my iPhone 6.

Even though the iPad 2 is an older device, there is no reason why Apple Music should be unusably slow. Selecting and playing music should not require a 64-bit processor. I play video games on my iPad 2. They’re much more complex and resource-intensive than a music app. Spotify works just fine on my iPad 2, even after the 8.4 update. It’s sloppy programming. Apple makes excellent devices and operating systems. Their stock apps have always left much to be desired.

As mentioned, the flaw goes beyond Apple Music. Any app that uses an embedded browser is unusable. For example, if you tap on a link in Facebook, the page will never be displayed. Navigating back to your news feed will take several seconds. Safari is still usable, but gets bogged down by web pages that performed well before the update.

Overall, my iPad 2 is much slower and less stable after the 8.4 update. Apps often freeze and close. Even the App Switcher has frozen a few times. It can take over a minute for the device to resume after a freeze. I have rebooted and done soft resets to no avail.

I understand that the iPad 2 is an older device, but these problems are clearly due to bugs. I hate to say it, but I have never had such a poor experience with any major tech product — not even Microsoft Windows. I know Apple will fix it quickly, with either the 8.4.1 update or iOS 9.

It’s generous to allow people with a four-year old iPad to update their device. I almost wish they didn’t offer the update for the iPad 2. I regret upgrading my iPad 2 to iOS 8. I can still use my iPad, but it is a frustrating experience. My old iPhone 4 running iOS 7 is much faster, even though it has an inferior processor. I am using my iPhone 6 much more often, and wonder if I would buy another iPad. After all, it’s just a bigger iPhone. An iPad runs a mobile operating system, but the device itself isn’t any more portable than a notebook computer. Even a $200 Windows laptop can do more than the latest iPad. I think the iPhone is enough mobile computing for me. It is clear that one will need to buy a new iPad at least every 3 years to experience acceptable performance. Apple lost me as an iPad customer. Sometimes I wonder if I am more of a paying beta tester than a customer. (continue…)

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UPDATE: iOS 8.4.1 has been released and fixes some Apple Music defects. The app is still lacking the quality one would expect with an Apple product. Additionally, iOS 8.4.1 slows down older devices such as the iPad 2, according to Geekbench 3 metrics. Apple’s newest update also fixes several serious security issues. For more information, please read “iOS 8.4.1: Worth Upgrading?“.

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