Tech by VICE

What Would Happen to You if Launching an App Took Five Seconds?

Running modern software on old phones may not always be the best idea.

by Yiwei Tian
Nov 14 2015, 4:00pm

Recently, I was browsing a story on a Chinese tech website titled "This Is What You Have To Go Through After Updating Your iPhone 4 to iOS 9."

It's a long post detailing what the author experienced with his apps after he updated his old phone. Unsurprisingly, the combination of the five-year-old hardware with the brand-new software caused some major glitches—but what did surprise me was that after the upgrade, the phone is almost unusably slow.

The blogger ran a series of tests to see how long it took to boot up some of his favorite apps:


Imagine waiting for an app that takes as long as five and a half seconds to launch every time. That's a long wait, especially if the app is part of your daily routine, such as WeChat (a popular Chinese messaging app). On my phone, launching WeChat takes less than half a second—and it's probably about the same for anyone with an up-to-date smartphone.

If you're the type of person who rushes out to get the latest gadget, this obviously isn't an issue for you. Many people still use older phones, however—among iPhone users, 10 percent are still using iPhone 4 and 4s. Apple estimates that as of November 2, 34 percent of iPhones in the US are still running iOS 8 and earlier versions. It's probably a good bet that at least some of the 66 percent who have upgraded to iOS 9 are running it on older phones. There are likely American iPhone 4 users who, like this blogger, still carry old models that will every now and then turn into glitchy craps.

If you're satisfied with running iOS 7, or even iOS 6, on your iPhone 4, you probably don't want to run the risk of making your phone glitchy by upgrading to iOS 9. This is assuming you're not much of a trend-follower, since this will make it impossible to get some of the newest and shiniest apps.

I know that if I had a slow phone, it'd perhaps drive me crazy. So I wanted to get some insight into why many people still use older phones, whether they run old software, and how it affects their daily life.

I talked to a person who is still using an old iPhone 4 with iOS 6 installed.

"How impressed are you with someone saying happy birthday on FB?"

Colgate Searle is a designer who lives in Brooklyn. He still has an iPhone 4. We conducted the interview by text message.

Me: Hey Colgate, how long have you been using your iPhone 4? Have you ever considered upgrading it?

Colgate: For five years. I still use the same phone. I just don't think my phone could handle it if I upgrade it. It works now and I don't want to rock the boat. It is sensitive and works if I am patient with it. The phone only works on speaker phone. At first I had to tell everyone when they called. Conversations were often awkward. Then people started calling me less, which I am fine with.

Me: Do you still talk to your friends then? What apps do you usually use?

Colgate: Yeah I do. But I probably won't pick up when in a car with people. So texting became better for quick communication. I use Instagram a bit. And don't really run other apps much. Got rid of FB that was refreshing.

Me: Mind telling me why?

Colgate: You know how people will say hey look up this dumb useless fact on your phone and I will say no it's not worth it. Google works on my phone but still I have to feel likes it's really worth going there.

We should be careful not to let social/self validating/ego-boosting apps in the way or replace real social interactions. But I am guilty of like likes too.

Me: Are you not afraid of being left-out?

Colgate: We used to be a society that of individuals that could entertain themselves and now we are so quick to be like "entertain me, I am deserving of being entertained"!

It does not bother me to miss out an invite because it went out on FB only. How impressed are you with someone saying happy birthday on FB? It just kinda meaningless you are being told what to do by a reminder not actually remembering something about your friend. How fun would fishing be if someone put a fish on your line every time?


And of course, just as there are people like Colgate sticking with the old fashions, we also have folks at the forefront of the technology.

"I get to use the [new] software before like 95% of people. Its an exclusive club in a way!"

Sam Sheffer is a 25-year-old who runs the Snapchat Discover channel for Mashable. He has an iPhone 6s. We conducted the interview by text message.

Me: Hey Sam, tell me, how often do you upgrade your iPhone?

Sam: I hop on the betas usually. So I have upgraded iphones every year on the day.

Me: So what is the best part of the newest iOS?

Sam: I upgrade because I like to see what new design elements apple implements because I am on the beta.

I get to see what they tweak and what ultimately makes it in the public versions. I enjoy that. Most of the changes that apple makes between the betas are subtle but I notice that. It is just something I personally enjoy! Before this year you had to pay 99$, and this year apple lets anyone do it.

Me: Mind telling me more about this betas thing? How early you get to see the latest iOS then?

Sam: on the betas, you can download the software, give feedbacks, and report bugs, etc.

I got to use the software before like 95% of people. It's an exclusive club in a way! Apple shows it off in June usually, and it releases publicly in September. So about three months.

Me: What besides the beta that gets you hyped over using the newest devices/iOS?

Sam: For example, the apple ecosystem, as in the operating system, like how my computer talks to my phone, and I could pick-up this conversation with you on my laptop at wherever we left.


We all find ourselves surrounded by myriad digital signals that link us to various people, places, and things. Our day-to-day communication is fueled by modern telecommunication technology and gadgets. It's truly a time when opting out might be too costly.

Even for people like Colgate, who prefer the old style of communication, part of him still couldn't escape from the "guilty pleasure" of enjoying a "thumbs-up" on his FB page.

There is no right or wrong between Sam and Colgate's approaches, of course. Still, it's interesting to me to observe our digital habits. Are you the type of person who notices how long it takes for a new generation of software or hardware to be released? Why do these devices have such a hold over us? And why does it make me so impatient to wait more than one second for WeChat to launch?

Research has shown that part of our daily habits are shaped by our devices. In the psychology field, the term you are looking for is nomophobia, short for "no mobile phone phobia." Researchers describe it as an anxiety we feel when we misplace our phones, which concludes as four dimensions: "not being able to communicate, losing connectedness, not being able to access information and giving up conveniences" which is based on an social experiment conducted on estimately 300 undergrads in a university. Even though the term itself remains controversial as the researchers are still debating whether this is an actual clinical disorder or just a normal physical dependency, one thing hard to deny is that when we are off the digital grid we unquestionably lose our shit too.

In case if you are still wondering when humans will become cyborgs, I think we may already be there: half human, half phone.

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