All the reasons why adoption might have slowed with iOS 8

Speculating on some of the reasons why iOS 8 adoption appears to be far behind years past

October 7, 2014
Jonathan Libov

Among desktop and mobile OS's, iOS has had an historically fast rate of adoption. Rapid adoption of the version of iOS has arguably been just as important, or even more important, than iOS' advantage over Android in sparing developers the headache migraine of fragmentation.

There were a flurry of reports this morning on how greatly iOS 8 adoption has slowed compared to previous major releases. In the 21 days since its, iOS 8 still hasn't surpassed 50% adoption, even when factoring in the millions of new iPhones that have shipped with iOS 8 installed.

You can see it for yourself here: Compare adoption of iOS 8 over the past month with adoption of iOS 7 in previous years.

Now that we've gotten the facts out of the way, let's speculate about why this might have occurred and what the implications might be.

Apple bungled the update due to storage issues, which is payback for continuing to sell 16GB models

The most important reason for slow adoption: The update required 5GB of free space, which is 31% of the storage of a 16GB iPhone. I recall my cousin not updating from iOS 6 to 7 because he didn't have the space. The Messages app alone was consuming 4GB of his 16GB iPhone.

Apple can either expect people to have 5GB available or have their base model at 32 or 64GB, but they can't have both. It's somewhat bizarre and antiquated that Apple is still selling brand new iPhone 6's devices with 16GB, let alone the 8GB iPhone 5C.

People are becoming jaded to new iOS releases

It's possible that the early days of mobile OS's were simply more exciting. As a crude measure, you can appreciate the difference between updating from iOS 1 to 2 and updating from 7 to 8 by dividing 2 by 1 and 8 to 7. And unlike the stir caused by iOS 7's new look-and-feel, iOS 8 doesn't bring many new features that your average user feels like he's got to have. Even third-party keyboards probably don't excite your average user as much as, say, copy/paste did in iPhone OS 3.0. And for late adopters who are just joining the smartphone era, you know they're not the type who gets excited by change.

A cynic might argue that that OS's inevitably reach a point of jadedness after a few years. In light of how unexcited people are about new Windows releases these days, it's difficult to remember how culturally poignant these old Windows 95 commercials truly were.

Apple dropped the ball with iOS 8.0.1

Apple screwed up in releasing a fatally buggy sub-point release of iOS 8. Now that Apple is the world's biggest company and a cultural touchstone, identifying major flaws with the iPhone has become something of an annual sporting event (see Bendgate and Antennagate). The bad press and word-of-mouth Apple earned because of 8.0.1, however, was merited. Every new iPhone and iOS update now generates a tremendous amount of word of mouth and a lot of trepidation along the lines of people asking their friends: "Should I update or is this going to screw up my phone?"

Whoever hadn't already updated to iOS 8 by the time 8.0.1 was identified as a dud is probably still on iOS 7.

iOS 8 follows a very jarring release in iOS 7

iOS was the first major visual overhaul in the history of iOS. Unlike those of us who follow the keynotes, many people were probably quite surprised with just how much had changed. You can't blame anyone who might have felt like the rug had been pulled out from under them and grew skeptical of another new iOS.

There are a lot more older models in use than ever before

I was still on an iPhone 4, three generations older than the the newly released iPhone 5S, when iOS 7 came out. iOS 7 was all kinds of sluggish on the iPhone 4 until iOS 7.1.

With every passing year, older models of the iPhone, handed down to someone else or purchased second-hand, comprise a greater percentage of market share. You can hardly blame an iPhone 4S user now from being wary of iOS 8.

People don't like all the time they might not be able to use their phones while upgrading

Upgrading your iPhone to a new version iOS probably cost me at least an hour, including some time to get familiar with what's changed, digest new permission dialogs, and observe other new changes. There were also apparently quite a few reports of updates taking many hours even to boot.

Now that phones have nearly become our primary computing devices, you can hardly blame anyone for fearing, or even just stalling, the disruption it causes.

All in all it's hard to jump the shark with only one major iOS out of eight decelerating so quickly. Apple could reverse that trend in iOS 9. And even so, the rate of adoption is still light years ahead of Android, which gives them a leg up on Apple Pay, Apple Watch integration, Motion Processing, Touch ID, and other features that are only possible in recent OS's.

But the absence of fragmentation—a pillar of iOS development that has already been punctured by the introduction of three new size classes in two years—still remains one of Apple's biggest advantages. Were iOS adoption to continue to decelerate in the coming years, it would drain some of the defensible moat Apple has built around iOS.

Thanks to Yann Lechelle, Zac Cichy, Ahuvah Berger-Burcat, Axel Le Pennec, Aviv Ben-Yosef, Nick Jouannem, and Maxence Taïeb for the feedback and insight on Twitter, which led to this post.