Apple has done something very cool — old iPhone, iPad and/or iPod touch users can now download and use the last compatible version of an app from the iOS App Store. It’s a small yet significant change that extends the usable and, perhaps more importantly, salable life of the company’s ubiquitous iThings.

Previously, if someone handed you an old iPhone (i.e. iPhone 3GS) loaded with apps, the apps would keep working. However, if you wanted to set up that device as your own running off your own Apple ID (iTunes/App Store) account, all the app would be wiped and you could be left out in the cold, unable to download the apps you want.

The new app accessibility … allows owners of older Apple products like the iPhone 3GS or 3G to download a compatible version of an app if the most recent update does not support their device’s firmware. Previously, Apple did not offer downloads for older app versions, meaning users of legacy iPhones could not install apps updated past the handset’s last supported firmware, which in some cases is years old — AppleInsider

This is fabulous, right? I think so, too.

And, if you’re not a pundit or developer, stop reading here.

Last Compatible Version: Issues

Kyle Richter of Dragon Forged Software, developer of iOS and Mac software, has a bone to pick about with policy.

The likelihood of any complex app, especially anything API driven, working after several years of neglect [Ed old, unmaintained versions] are slim. Those that do work may be incredibly unreliable and buggy.

Why? Data models change, network protocols get updated or replaced, new features may require new hardware and APIs come n’ go.

Left unmentioned by Richter is the fact that big, well-healed developers can better afford to maintain and, this is important, publicly defend old apps.

Another important point is the fact that Apple just implemented policy — there was no announcement to either the public or developers. Seriously, we know about the change because “some guy” (a.k.a. AutumnStrings) discovered it and posted a screen cap on Reddit.

Mac and Windows PC developers have been successfully working this issue for decades, by benchmarking old versions of an app to specific OS and hardware versions.

That said, Apple should have announced the policy, set a cut off date for the necessary period of support and allowed developers to properly benchmark their apps.

So, yes, it’s great Apple is doing the right thing and providing a way for users to keep using their old iPhones, etc. However, the implementation of the policy, foisted on developers essentially in the dark of night, is just wrong…

What’s your take?

Images: iMore, Engadget