Major improvements are coming to iOS in this tenth iteration of the operating system. Apple delivered a number of updates to lifestyle features which were well received. iMessage overhauls, Siri improvements, a top to bottom new Apple Music, and we saw a brief glimpse at the future of how we’ll navigate our devices through improvements to gestures and 3D Touch.

That last point leaves a small community of iPhone users in the lurch however as not all brand new iPhones will be able to take advantage of force pressing through shortcuts and menu options. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to iPhone 6 and older phone owners, that newer hardware will come with benefits over older hardware, but Apple did release a brand new phone this year in the iPhone SE. The SE design might be recycled from the iPhone 5S, but the guts of the phone are current compared to the iPhone 6S with the omission of 3D Touch and the newer haptic engine for vibrations.

WWDC2016 Screenshot (697)

While Apple is looking to expand the role of 3D Touch throughout the UI, and is encouraging more developers to support “peek and pop”, we have a new line of current devices which is already incapable of embracing this refreshed method of navigation. 3D Touch could help simplify shorter interactions on your phone as iOS becomes more complicated, but a number of Apple devices might hold this evolution back.

It’s a difficult balancing act, pushing users to embrace change, while not ostracizing people on older hardware. As it stands now, it’s difficult to gauge what the near-term ramifications of 3D Touch might be if it becomes a more prevalent control method on iPhones. iPads also lack pressure sensors, so app developers can’t build significant control mechanics around these gestures. iPhone 7 will almost certainly contain a 3D Touch compatible screen, but will we be able to rely on this hardware for anything more than the novelty of popping a menu or peeking in on an email?

iphone se review pics (31)The discussion surrounding fragmentation is more easily observed in the Android arena, with the huge number of manufacturers producing Android powered phones, but Apple suffers it’s own quieter form of the same of the issue. While it’s far more likely that older iPhones will receive full operating system updates longer into each iPhone’s life-cycle, it’s increasingly common that each update will be stripped of individual features that newer phones will benefit from. Instead of “OS Fragmentation”, we have “Feature Fragmentation”.

Now a phone which is newer than the iPhone 6S will also receive an “incomplete” update for iOS 10.

In an oddly circular fashion, Apple is again a victim of its own success. With so many iOS devices out in circulation, combined with Apple’s deserved reputation for excellent update support, it’s increasingly difficult for this team to push bolder changes out to the community. The fact that so many recent iOS devices, from iPhone 6 and SE, to iPad and iPad Pro, lack this hardware, it prevents Apple developers from aggressively embracing it.

We can certainly imagine an “all screen” iPhone once issues like fingerprint scanning through a display are solved, but there’s really very little holding Apple back from producing an iPhone with no front button next year outside of the momentum of how iOS devices are currently used. It might be too significant a fork or departure from current devices to undertake, and as Apple is fairly conservative with this revenue generating machine, we’ll likely see business concerns influence future hardware designs far more than technology concerns.

Do you thing “feature fragmentation” will become a more serious concern for iOS users? Drop us a comment below!

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