A new phone comes out. Yours slows down. A conspiracy? No.

Brian X. Chen, New York Times:

It happens every year: Apple releases new iPhones, and then hordes of people groan about their older iPhones slowing to a crawl.

And:

The phenomenon of perceived slowdowns is so widespread that many believe tech companies intentionally cripple smartphones and computers to ensure that people buy new ones every few years. Conspiracy theorists call it planned obsolescence.

That’s a myth. While slowdowns happen, they take place for a far less nefarious reason. That reason is a software upgrade.

And:

Tech companies make it simple to upgrade to a new operating system by pressing an “update” button, which seamlessly migrates all your apps and data over. While that’s convenient, it isn’t the best way to ensure that things will continue running smoothly.

A better practice is backing up all your data and purging everything from the device before installing the new operating system. This “clean install” works more reliably because the engineers developing operating systems were able to test this condition more easily, Mr. Raiz said.

The premise is that a clean install will clear cruft from your iPhone, make your phone run faster with a newer version of iOS.

Read the article, see if you agree. Is there any truth to this recommendation? Is a clean install going to yield enough of a speedier phone to be worth the effort?

Anecdotal, but I’ve run lots of betas, all via the update mechanism, have never (ok, maybe once or twice in ten years) felt the need to do a clean install.

Interesting article, looking forward to reading the comments.



  • Rob

    I don’t hold with the conspiracy theories that Apple intentionally slows down old phones to generate sales for newer models, but I can categorically say that my iPhone 6 has been a slow POS ever since I upgraded it to iOS11. Not just subjectively slower, but demonstrably slow. The time apps take to open can be measured in multiple seconds, as opposed to near instantaneous under iOS10. It got so bad that last week I came to the same conclusion – the over-the-top upgrade was at fault, due to all the crap I’ve installed on my phone over the years. As a consequence, I reset the phone, deleted all contents and settings, and started with a clean install of all my most used apps (ie didn’t restore from backup). Sorry to say it’s still the same. Slow. I guess iOS11 has much more going on under the hood, and the phone’s struggling to keep up with it. Kinda annoying, because it’s not like the 6 is short on horsepower. Really hope Apple bring out a point update to resolve the speed issues, but I’m not holding my breath.

    • Mo

      Good to know; I have a 6 as well. Thanks for the comment.

      • James Hughes

        I have a 5S, I read that it is slightly slower and saw some You Tube videos as well. It didn’t really look that bad, but I remember having an iPad 2 and upgrading to the last iOS it would support. Never again without waiting / checking.

        • The SE, on the other hand, handles iOS 11 like a champ. I have no trouble recommending 11 for SE users.

          • James Hughes

            Even the videos I saw of a 6 didn’t appear to be that much slower though. It could be Javascript. That slowed me waaaaayyy down on my iPad. Obviously just when browsing. But even afterwards sometimes it would hog resources for quite a while afterwards and I would “reset” it using the power button and then holding the home button instead of restarting, that helped too.

          • James Hughes

            I love your edit. Hello Canadian. : )

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    • rick gregory

      Yet I have a 6S and it’s not slow at all. If you’d not done a clean install or had restored from backup I’d say ‘do that’ but it’s weird that you’d see such a big difference. In your place I’d hit an Apple store because, were we on computers I’d suspect a failing drive on yours and I wonder if something analogous is happening here. OH! Wait… how much free space do you have now?

      • Rob

        Thanks for the tip, but I’m guessing it’s just CPU overhead and a hungry OS – I’ve got about 40GB of free space. I’d cheerfully roll back to iOS10, but that isn’t an option either. I’ll give it a month to see if there’s any fixes rolled out, then take the plunge for an 8 I suppose (might go the full shinee with an X 🤓)

    • James Hughes

      Hi, this is the guy with the towering intellect from above.

      I stayed with iOS 10 because I have an iPhone 5S. But, if I had not, I may consider Jail breaking if it was so much slower. Just an idea. I did order a X. I am sure it’ll feel like a major upgrade. It looks like you’ll be going that route too, but if you don’t, it may be worth doing.

      • Rob

        Fair comment – it looks like the 6S/SE are relatively unaffected by the increased demands of iOS11, they are quite a bit further up the horsepower scale than the 6. Guess it’s time to send the ol’ 6 to live out its life on a farm, which is a shame, but I’m nervy of jailbreaking (is that even still a thing nowadays?) Time to drag my uncomprehending arse into the A11 era 😉

        • James Hughes

          Oh yes, jail breaking is still quite big. I did it once because I wanted to tether, by my dumb plan wouldnt let me. I have not since though. Good luck!

  • Zockaholik

    Everytime a new major iOS Version is released, I start from scratch with my devices (factory reset (media is cloud saved)).

    iOS11 made my iPhone6 nearly unusable for me, even the iPhone5 (iOS10) my mother owns, runs faster at stuff like opening the camera from lockscreen. It’s not about peak performance but overall sluggishness of the UI. So iOS11 is a very bad deal for 6 and 5s owners.

    • Bryan Pietrzak

      Not all iPhone 6 owners. I just did the normal upgrade, no clean install and my 6 doesn’t seem any faster or slower than with iOS 10

  • john doofus

    The point on networking is spot on. In my experience, people who complain about a slow computer or phone are actually experiencing a slow (or worse, flaky) network.

    • john doofus

      Should have said “are often experiencing”.

      Obviously, sometimes the device/software truly is slow. But the vast majority of users don’t know how to determine whether the source of their problem is “on device” or network-related.

      Even for expert users and programmer types, it can be tricky.

  • James Hughes

    A new phone comes out. Yours slows down because your older phone has an older chip and the new iOS is designed to take advantage of the new chip. Why exactly is this so hard to comprehend?

    • Rob

      Thank you for your valuable contribution, I stand in awe at your towering intellect.

      • James Hughes

        You are welcome sir. Also, if you don’t put gas in your car it will not run, UNLESS it’s electric. Again, you are welcome.

        • Wait wait. What about putting diesel in my gasoline car? Will that work? 😉

          • James Hughes

            What? You think I am a genius or something? Rob said “towering intellect”. Sheesh.

        • Rob

          Also, do not put gas into an electric car. I think I’m getting the hang of this.

          • James Hughes

            Bravo! Bravo! Here here!!

          • Mo

            Please, keep these tips coming!

          • Box of Cotton Swabs

            Always rebuild your iPhone’s desktop before installing a new version of iOS.

          • Mo

            And remember to Save As!

  • komocode

    i remember the iPhone 4 was pretty smooth when it came out. fast forward a few years later to iOS7, it became extremely slow to the point where it’s unusable even after doing a factory reset. it makes sense since iOS 7 was a redesign, but Apple shouldn’t have allowed iPhone 4 users to update (or at least give users special ways to downgrade)

  • if you do a clean install, do you have to manually find and install all of your desired apps?

  • David Zentgraf

    Bullshit. Especially a tightly controlled operating system like iOS has very few issues with accumulating cruft. If the installer places the right files in the right directories, there’s virtually no difference between a “clean system” and an upgraded system and they will both run identically. You have no chance to poke around the innards of the system yourself, so there’s nothing Apple doesn’t have any direct control over that would result in some sub-optimal install.

    While it is indeed simpler to start from zero than it is to account for the correct migration of an existing system, I’m sure by version 11 Apple has this down to a science and is testing the hell out of migrations, since that’s what millions of people are going to do.

    No, the reason new software is slower on old hardware is the same reason it’s always been: the new software is geared towards the capabilities of the current hardware, and only so much effort has been put into keeping it usable on several generations old hardware. It is infeasible to have several different versions of iOS all with the same features but optimised for different hardware; the way for Apple to evolve the state of the art is to look forward, not backward. You wouldn’t have iOS 11 on an iPhone X if Apple tried to keep it compatible all the way back to the original iPhone.

    They can’t win either way: stay tied down by past hardware, or not let people upgrade to the latest features.