When reports appeared last month that the next generation of iPhone would likely debut in September—complete with larger screen and higher resolution—I was giddy. But for my beloved but battered iPhone 4 (age 102 in smartphone years), September is a long way off.
Most of us treat our mobile phones as expendable, and for good reason: The average lifespan is 18 to 24 months, and the latest software isn’t usually available after a few years. When iOS 7 was released last year, Apple only extended updates back to the iPhone 4—the 3GS, which sold from 2009 to 2012, was rendered a dinosaur. Thanks to carriers’ upgrade discounts and the dangers inherent in being a small object subject to constant abuse, many flit from one phone to the next without an eye on resources required or waste involved.
But prolonging your phone’s life beyond the two-year average doesn’t require the tech equivalent of an M.D. If you need your “legacy” iPhone to limp through to September and beyond, there are methods to keep it on life support. It’s time to break out the bandages, scrub in, and patch up your patient by following these steps.
Triage the patient. It may seem obvious but it’s worth repeating: Purging unused apps and downloading those selfies to your computer can give your phone an extra spring in its step. Removing several gigs’ worth of music, podcasts, and unused apps seems to be the best thing I’ve done to improve my phone’s performance.
Check its vitals. Battery life is the problem child of every smartphone. With life cycles never quite seeming to reach the purported number of charges, batteries do not age gracefully. BuzzFeed and Gizmodo both had good, overlapping guides for diving into your phone’s innards to squeeze out more battery life. But in a wonderfully sharp post on iPhone battery woes, former Apple Genius Scotty Loveless approaches hemorrhaging battery life with a scalpel rather than an ax. Loveless recommends examining your phone’s usage (Settings > General > Usage) to get a feel for your phone’s battery performance before looking at settings for specific apps (such as Facebook) that can stress a battery more than others. Loveless and others have also noted that manually managing multitasking (hitting your home button twice to get the list of open apps, then swiping up to close ones you don’t need) isn’t necessary to preserve battery; Loveless actually discourages it, which took this multitasker by surprise.*
Juice! If your battery still won’t last the day and you’re tired of lugging around an extra cord or jousting for outlet time at the coffee shop, a few third-party products offer options for charging a draining battery. Chargers, such as the Mophie Juice Pack or Skiva, act as both a protective case and can charge your phone’s battery in a pinch. But until the 30-second charger hits the market, there’s also an array of portable chargers available if you don’t want to shell out for a battery replacement.
Bring out the crutches. When I found Assistive Touch a few years back, I found the black circle always hovering over the app I wanted to open to be more annoying than useful. Then my iPhone’s home button died. Hidden under Accessibility features (Settings > General > Accessibility), Assistive Touch works as a makeshift home or power button. It’s not seamless, but it helps you navigate when one of your smartphone’s essential parts is out of commission.
Go back for checkups. Many iPhone 4 users complained that the iOS 7 upgrade did more harm than good to their phones. Unfortunately, once you’ve upgraded, you might be stuck. But if you pulled the trigger on iOS 7, do keep installing updates. They fix critical security flaws and can sometimes help increase speed in small bits.
Call in the crash cart. Restoring your phone to its just-out-of-the-box settings is a hassle, but it’s one option for dealing with persistent or drastic problems. Make sure all your valuable data—photos, music, purchased apps, and so forth—are synced before pulling the trigger. Plus, starting anew means you can decide what gets to go back on the phone, so your spring cleaning is built in.
Announce time of death. Sometimes, they just can’t be saved. Your phone had a good run. Mourn its loss, and move on. Don’t just shove it in a drawer, though—many carriers and other services allow you to trade it in or recycle it (just make sure to wipe it first) to get credit toward a new phone. Then congratulate yourself on being the hippest tech consumer—for the next six months. That’s a decade in smartphone years.
Update, April 9, 2014: This article has been updated to clarify that hitting the iPhone's home button twice to manage apps is not strictly multitasking, by a technical definition of operating systems. (Return.)
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