Given that Apple’s Steve Jobs was silent about the original aluminum-clad iPhone during the iPhone OS 4.0 keynote announcement, it’s of little surprise that there’s speculation that Apple will not support the original iPhone with future software and firmware updates. This situation will create fragmentation in the iPhone ecosystem, which mirrors Android’s and Windows Mobile’s fragmentation, but will affect users differently in that fragmentation on the iPhone is driven by software via the OS rather than through varying hardware.
iPhone users who are stuck on an older version of the mobile OS may not be able to run apps designed for newer OSes in the App Store. Additionally, if you’re running an antiquated OS, you must be sure to backup your iTunes App Store purchases locally because if your computer crashes and your iPhone requires a restore–equivalent of a hard reset for Windows Mobile users–you’d be out of luck; although you can re-download apps from iTunes App Store for free, Apple only allows you to download the most recent version of apps. This means that if the app has been updated for compatibility for a higher version of the iPhone OS firmware, you wouldn’t be able to get it to run on your old, antiquated hardware without that firmware. The nature of the iPhone’s App Store and the way the iPhone is designed to be able to only download and install apps from the App Store and either via iTunes or on-device makes this ecosystem secure, but also creates inherent risks for users and also may lead to fragmentation due to OS and software compatibilities with the OS.
On Windows Mobile and Android, fragmentation is due to developers having to code their apps for various hardware resolutions (FWVGA, WVGA, HVGA, and possibly a
The original iPhone was accounted for–at least for tax purposes–on a subscription model and Apple had budgeted out 24-months worth of updates. That time has since come and although Apple could charge a nominal fee for OS upgrades like on the iPod Touch, the company will probably abandon older users because newer OS upgrades may support additional features that older hardware may not be able to handle. Steve Jobs already noted that the iPhone 3G would not support multitasking because of hardware limitations, despite iPhone OS 4.0 offering that capability and the support will be made for the newer iPhone 3GS model. These minor support variations are not, in and out of itself, enough to cause fragmentation and disparity within the platform. Older models not receiving the update combined with the way the App Store works will create that fragmented ecosystem, however.