iOS 13’s speed enhancements may be more important than we think

Apple's senior VP-software engineering Craig Federighi talking about the company's upcoming iOS 13, Catalina, during WWDC in San Jose on Monday. (AFP)

Ever since the first iPhone, Apple’s devices have been known for speed. But with chipsets from Qualcomm etc. achieving faster and more efficient performance levels, the Cupertino-based company somewhat lost that edge. Every Android phone today may not beat iPhones on benchmarks, but many do, while others are dangerously close. For instance, the OnePlus 7 Pro has been known to beat an iPhone XS on Geekbench’s multi-core tests.

This makes a certain section of Apple’s announcements at yesterday’s WWDC 2019 (Worldwide Developers Conference 2019) quite important.

While announcing iOS 13, Apple’s next mobile operating system, the company’s senior vice president, Craig Federighi, mentioned how iOS is faster. The new operating system is 30% faster, has 50% smaller app downloads and 60% smaller updates, Federighi explained.

According to Apple’s own blog post, “iOS 13 is faster and more responsive with optimisations across the system that improve app launch, reduce app download sizes and make Face ID even faster.” In a way, Apple is acknowledging that it needs to address the speed concerns once again, as it did with iOS 12 when Federighi said the company is “doubling down on performance”.

The emphasis on speed here is inescapable. Apple faces the same hardware saturation that all other companies do, meaning software has to get better to deliver more seamless experiences. Reviewers have often found phones like OnePlus’ flagship devices to “feel” faster than the best iPhone out there.

Apple mentioned that iOS 13 will provide up to twice as fast app launch speeds, which is one of the first things you need for a phone to “feel” fast. You see, benchmarking tools test smartphone chipsets under a set of limitations and rules, which usually makes them a poor way to represent real world performance.

For instance, Google’s Pixel devices present pretty high benchmark scores, but their real world performance, compared to say a OnePlus 7 Pro, are noticeably slower. That makes a huge difference in how customers and reviewers gauge a smartphone today. And that depends not just on the company’s own software, but also the app developers.

Apple though is in a way going back to its roots. The reason the company has always been ahead in terms of speed is the vertical ecosystem it provides — Apple controls the chipset, the software, and even has some control on how apps are built. As a result, the entire system works in better sync than the Android ecosystem, where apps have to be built keeping the cheapest and weakest smartphones in mind.

If iOS 13 can speed up the whole system, it’s possible that Apple’s already powerful A12 Bionic SoC (system-on-chip, or chipset) may do wonders on its current flagships. Of course, the next generation chipset will take advantage of this too. And as any iOS user will tell you, the operating system is already impressively smooth to use on a day-to-day basis.

One more thing

Another reason why all this is important is because Apple’s OS updates are sent even to phones that are three-years-old. For instance, iOS 13 is coming to the iPhone SE, which was launched back in 2016.

As a result, users have often complained that a new OS update slows their phone down. That’s because new operating systems, and subsequent app updates for that system, often have to discount older processors, since technology moves on. There are new processes that increase the load on a processor, consume more memory and so on.

By reducing app download sizes, update sizes and load times, Apple could make iOS 13 a more suitable update for older iPhones as well. That, definitely doesn’t mean your phone won’t still be slower than it was, but it’s possible that the device won’t slow down any more than it already has. Here’s a Reddit post explaining how the iOS 12 update didn’t affect the iPhone 5S much.

What does all this mean?

Over the past two or three iOS updates, Apple has usually focused on new features, services and apps. That remains the case here as well, but by specifically mentioning how much faster iOS 13 is (as it did with iOS 12), the company is at the very least, giving users hope that iPhones will once again reclaim their glory atop the smartphone market, at least in terms of performance. Especially the 2019 variants, expected later this year.

The real world implications can only be gauged once the final version of the operating system rolls out this fall, but things are indeed looking up.