- Apple’s iOS 16 is now available for download for iPhone X and newer, but not every model supports all of the new features.
- Some features like Live Captions and improved dictation require an iPhone 11 or iPhone XS, respectively, meaning those with older iPhones miss out.
- Experts believe Apple didn’t have a choice—some features need more processing power than older iPhones have.
Apple's new iOS 16 update is available for iPhone X and newer handsets, but some features have been locked out and are only offered to owners of newer devices—something experts don't think Apple could avoid.
While most iOS 16 features are available to all compatible iPhones, some, including two accessibility features, require more modern iPhones to function at all. It's a move that means people whose iPhones don't make the cut will need to upgrade if they want to get the full iOS 16 experience, but experts believe that it's one that Apple was right to make—and it might not have had much of choice in the matter.
"I am afraid the reality is that there are hardware limitations when it comes to some features," Carolina Milanesi, President & Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, told Lifewire via email. "The processing power or AI/Machine Learning capabilities are just not all the same," she added, suggesting older chips just don't have the abilities some features need.
The list of features that require modern iPhones isn’t long, but it includes some notable ones. One missing feature is a marquee one that Apple showed off during its iOS 16 unveiling event in June—the ability to lift objects and people out of an image and paste it somewhere else. Apple says that people will need an “iPhone with A12 Bionic and later” to use that feature which means iPhone XS or new devices are good to go, but not older ones.
It’s a similar story for two accessibility features, too. The iOS 16 update includes an all-new dictation feature that automatically punctuates text as people speak. There’s even support for emojis for the first time, but the on-device nature of the new dictation engine requires an iPhone with the A12 Bionic chip or later. Again, iPhone X and iPhone 8 owners are left out.
Things are more complicated in terms of Live Captions, a feature that adds captions to live content, including FaceTime calls. Apple says an iPhone 11 or later is required—a device that uses the A13 Bionic— or an iPad with the A12 Bionic. Apple’s documentation isn’t clear why the iPad can get away with the older chip, however.
Apple has a history of supporting older devices for a long time, releasing multiple iOS feature updates long after an iPhone is removed from sale. The company also recently released a security patch for a nine-year-old iPhone, too. A long tail of both feature updates and security updates is great for iPhone owners, including those buying used ones, because it makes iPhones relevant for longer. It’s better for the planet than everyone buying a brand-new iPhone every year, too.
If anyone believes that Apple holds back features to encourage people to upgrade to a new iPhone, experts suggest that isn’t the case at all. Using the A12 Bionic example mentioned earlier, independent app developer Martin Pilkington believes it’s just a case of technological progress. "The A12's Neural Engine was more flexible and powerful, so it would make sense that all these AI/Machine Learning features would need it as a minimum requirement,” he told Lifewire via direct message.
But that doesn't mean everything makes sense, and the iOS 16's Live Caption feature is one example. Why can't the iPhone XS's A12 Bionic handle the feature when the iPad's A12 Bionic can? Pilkington isn't sure, saying that "the A12 Bionic in the iPad is the same as the one in the iPhone XS," noting that "if anything, it's weaker as the iPhone XS has more RAM [than the iPad]."
Unfortunately, Live Captions is the feature in question—an accessibility feature that some who have used it have called "amazing" and their "favorite feature" of the software update.