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Business News/ Technology / Meet the Never-Updaters: Why Some People Refuse to Download New Software
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Meet the Never-Updaters: Why Some People Refuse to Download New Software

wsj

Love of the status quo or fear of unknown issues? Some phone and computer users are holding on to earlier OS versions for dear life.

There are a lot of reasons people don’t update, even when they should. Premium
There are a lot of reasons people don’t update, even when they should.

Some people regularly update their phone and computer software. Others take their sweet, sweet time.

Ashley Mwitanti is in the latter camp. Her iPhone 11 is behind by about two full versions of iOS. She says she’s stuck because she would need to delete a few gigabytes of data to update the device. No matter how many random pictures and screenshots she deletes, she can’t seem to free up enough space.

There are a lot of reasons people don’t update, even when they should. If it requires too much work or hassle, as in Mwitanti’s case, many will put it off. Some just don’t want to learn a new system. And still others delay for fear of new bugs or issues.

“Change can be scary, even if it’s at the micro level," says Patrick Long, senior principal analyst at technology research firm Gartner.

But Mwitanti, a 23-year-old recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, has discovered that her older software has given her a superpower: She can see unsent messages.

During a group text exchange, someone made a pun about a friend’s cat. When no one reacted, the failed comedian unsent the joke. Unsending messages was a perk of iOS 16. Mwitanti’s phone, which runs iOS 15.5, still showed the misfire.

She’s now pleased about the iOS lag, because she likes keeping an eye out for unsent messages. “It’s funny to think that someone thinks that it’s just going away," she says.

Operating-system updates introduce new features, bug fixes and security patches that can improve user experience, change the way people interact with their devices and protect a person’s digital life. Apple offers iPhone, Mac, iPad and Apple Watch updates free, making owners feel like they have a new, or at least revitalized, device. Microsoft generally provides free updates for Windows PCs. Android users also get free updates, though they often have to wait for their phone maker or carrier to roll them out.

About 40% of adult smartphone owners say they update their smartphone OS automatically, according to Pew Research Center’s data-privacy report released in October. Only 3% say they never update, the study said.

Flaws and all

Francesca Bevens, 31, hates updating her devices. The stay-at-home mom in Redlands, Calif., says she doesn’t like when the features change. “I just want things more simplified in my life," she says.

Her MacBook, iPhone and iPad run older software. In the past couple of months, the Messages app on her phone has started to freeze and shut down unexpectedly. She suspects it might be because she’s behind on updates.

“It’s punishing me!" she says. But it isn’t enough to make her want to change her ways, mainly because she’s worried that other unknown issues will arise if she does update.

Not all software updates are critical security fixes that need your immediate attention. When security updates are included, updating a device is crucial, says Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital-rights group.

Along with bug fixes to address issues such as device overheating, Apple recently released one of its more significant security patches for iPhones and iPads. Researchers at the University of Toronto found a flaw in iOS 16.6 that could let people hack into devices without interacting with the user.

“There are all kinds of criminals and people who are after your financial information, your account information," Galperin says. “All of those hackers are people who look for devices that haven’t been updated."

Risky security

Lynn La, a Bay Area journalist who works for the nonprofit news organization CalMatters, hasn’t updated her iMac in almost a decade. It runs OS X Yosemite, which was new when she got the computer in 2015. She doesn’t want to buy a new computer because the hardware works fine, though she admits the newer features seem pretty cool.

La mainly uses her iMac to back up photos from her Android smartphone, search the web and draft documents. The iMac is her secondary machine, because she spends most of her time on her newer work laptop, but lately, the old workhorse has become more of a liability.

A few years ago, a friend gave her a Bluetooth keyboard as a birthday gift. She soon learned that she couldn’t connect it to her iMac wirelessly because the keyboard’s software wasn’t compatible with the computer’s older OS. She ended up plugging it in via USB—defeating the purpose of the gift.

Other software has started to go kaput: Her updated Signal app won’t open, and her Chrome browser gives her security warnings telling her to update. Facebook Messenger doesn’t display correctly in the browser.

“I feel like I’m hobbling it because of this whole software thing," says La, 36. But even if she wants to update, she has fewer options now: Apple stopped supporting her iMac in 2021. The current system, MacOS Sonoma, only works on standard iMacs going back to 2019.

When a device no longer gets the newest OS, it’s time to upgrade to a new machine, says Gartner’s Long. Apple’s latest version of iOS works with iPhones up to six years old, while Google guarantees seven years of updates for the new Pixel 8.

After three of Mwitanti’s friends invited her to join a popular new disposable-camera app called Lapse, she considered updating. Ultimately, she stuck with the status quo.

“I would just be clearing out storage to update my phone—just to put in a new app that’s gonna take up more storage," she says.

—For more WSJ Technology analysis, reviews, advice and headlines, sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Write to Cordilia James at cordilia.james@wsj.com

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