Application Launches

On the iPhone 3G running 4.0.2, application launches were unbearably longer. This is what really tells the story about how much slower the iPhone 3G was on 4.0.x compared to 3.1.3, and what really contributes to the perception that 4.0 is slower. Playing around with a 3G running iOS 4, everything feels dog slow, but counting by seconds for things to launch is unacceptable anymore.

We’ll start out with the messaging app. For this test, I time from opening the application to when the compose message screen fully appears. With lots of messages, I’ve been on iPhone 3G devices that have literally made the messaging application launch time in the 10s of seconds, so any savings here is a dramatic improvement under those conditions.

Thankfully, iOS 4.1 brings messaging launch time nearly down to 3.1.3, but it isn’t quite there. 

Next up is the camera. We noted in our original iOS 4.0 walkthrough that the camera application launches felt much speedier on a 3GS with 4.0 than 3.x. Here we see a similar story for the iPhone 3G.


Dramatic improvement over iOS 4.0.2, which previously took a whopping 5 seconds to get from tapping on camera to the capture live preview. 

Next is maps. For this test, I time from tapping on the maps icon to when the entire preview of the United States has loaded. 

iOS 4.1 again dramatically improves on 4.0.2 speeds, but can’t quite come close to 3.1.3 for whatever reason. I’m puzzled by this and ran and re-ran the tests, 3.1.3 is still faster at maps.

Up next is settings, again I time from tapping on settings to when the application is fully loaded.

Again a definite speedup from 4.0.2, but still not quite 3.1.3 speeds.

The phone application is one of a number of iOS applications that always run in the background. In theory, launching the phone and dialer should always be snappy, after a slower initial run. We test the initial run from tapping on the icon until the dialer pops up.

Dramatic improvement from 4.0.2 to 4.1. I tested and re-tested, and it’s close between 3.1.3 and 4.1 here. Again, subsequent launches of the phone application are almost instantaneous because it’s always running in the background (along with Safari and iPod) and always has been.

Speaking of Safari, how fast does it launch? Here we test launch from tapping on the icon to bringing up the default set of bookmarks. Remember that after bookmarks pops up you’re finally free to enter a URL. 

Here we see another case of iOS nearly bringing 4.1 into parity with 3.1.3, though a whole 3 seconds is still a long time, but not nearly as long as the nearly 4 it used to take.

Weather is an interesting case - it’s a simple application that’s been around since the first iPhone without much change. iOS 4.1 doesn’t make much difference:

Here we tested from tapping on the icon to when the default Cupertino result fully loads. It’s clear there’s not much Apple could do to make this faster.

The App Store is an important application, as it often feels like the most sluggish default Apple program on iOS. We’re connected over extremely fast WiFi, so network throughput should be negligible. Here, we’ve initially installed an application and are coming back to the application detail page accessed through search, and time from tapping on app store to getting to that result.

Again we see that iOS 4.1 is better, but still not as fast as 3.1.3. Admittedly the App Store has added a few things since 3.1.3.

Overall Performance Comparison

How do things look if you total up all of these application launch times? Better than 4.0.2, but still not quite as fast as 3.1.3:

On the whole, application launches are an average of 15% slower on the iPhone 3G running iOS 4.1 than iOS 3.1.3, down from nearly 44% on iOS 4.0.1. 

There's another general performance test that runs on virtually all iDevices called Geek Bench. I ran it on the same devices and got a similar order of scores:

There's not quite enough dynamic range to really see how much 4.1 improves from 4.0.2 unless you dive into individual scores that are composited into this average GeekBench Score, but it shows a similar story. 

Introduction and Browser Tests Typing and Conclusions
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  • chdude3 - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    The author of the article doesn't appear to address the issues that I (and several friends, and seemingly a LOT of people posting on the interwebs) encountered when trying to use iOS4.X on a 3G phone. Yes, things became a little slower to launch/open, but the OS itself would frequently pause for inordinate amounts of time.

    I'd launch Safari which would open just fine, but attempting to scroll down a page would cause the phone to freeze for up to 30 seconds before it would become responsive again. This behaviour was all over the phone - it would frequently pause and stutter all the time and rendered my phone nearly unusable.

    I could have dealt strictly with an extra 2 seconds to open the Settings menu, if my phone wasn't constantly freezing and stuttering to the point that it would not allow me to answer an incoming call before the caller gave up and hang up!

    Basically, I want to know if 4.1 will make my phone an unusable mess again, or should I stick with my 3.1.3 downgrade!
  • Brian Klug - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    That's a good point. I haven't really seen safari freeze for a full 30 seconds, but there's some stuttering and pausing for certain on 4.0.2 on the iPhone 3G.

    In fact, one of the more irritating problems with 4.0.2 has been the turn on/turn off lag from the power button. It's so bad that I'll mash buttons to turn it on, then it'll turn on and quickly turn off. On 4.1 standby and resume seem much smoother.

    I hesitate to say it's gone entirely because I believe a bit of that becomes pronounced after using the OS for a while, but I will say that during my time with the iPhone 3G on 4.1 I never saw any inordinate stuttering. That appears cleared up.

  • Colin1497 - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    No, the author doesn't address the real issues at all. But he does manage to be a jerk. So far I'm doing OK with 4.1 on my upgraded phone. I'd do 4.1 for the features at this point.
  • Botia - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    "Apple deserves credit for keeping a device just over 2 years old fully updated and supported."

    Considering a 2-year contract, I would expect 2 years to be the bare minimum, with 3-5 years being more appropriate.
  • gunblade - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    Tell that to HTC. My less than a years old Hero is totally abandoned and forgotten.
    Tell that to Samsung too, apparently most of their non flagship (Galaxy -S) device are no getting any support at all.
    I would hope android users hold our vendors to the same standard as Apple.
  • solinear - Friday, September 10, 2010 - link

    I think that the big problem is quantity of products.

    HTC has a large number of designs and devices, supporting every single major provider. They are running devices with many different processors, operating systems and networks.

    Apple is supporting 4 devices (iPhone, iPhone 3G, 3Gs, 4) on one carrier. Throw in those four devices on as many carriers (verizon, t-Mobile, Sprint) and you're looking at significantly more complexity.

    I'm not saying that the other vendors need to only have one device line or one OS or anything, I'm just saying that the other vendors have a lot more complexity to deal with than Apple does.

    Honestly, I think that it's a lot like the old laptop problem with video driver updates. I think that the vendors should support the device for one year, but after that, leave it up to the OS vendor to support and update. If the customer wants to update, then they should be able to without "bricking" their phones. This way I can continue to get updated software, if I want to chase it down and do the legwork.

    As for 2 year contracts, you can upgrade after a single year with the same discount as you could after 2 years with many of the carriers. I upgrade my phones after a year and every time am very happy that I did.
  • CZroe - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    And the fact that it has the exact same performance as the original iPhone means that they have no excuse for not updating it too (same CPU/memory). So, just because it isn't a 3G device they block it from the 4.0-only apps and restrict their potential market. WHY?! Oh yeah: To enforce an upgrade cycle. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that the effort to maintain two kernels could have gone farther.

    When Apple implied that the original phone couldn't handle it, they were lying. Edge vs. 3G does not factor in to iOS performance and it's the same hardware otherwise (minus GPS, of course). It's just like when Apple lied about A2DP not working on the original iPhone due to hardware differences and numeric battery indicator on anything prior to the 3GS (enable either manually using A2DP Enabler or SB Settings; both work fine).
  • gcor - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    I totally agree. I still have 3 months to run on a 3G contract. I don't see that Apple deserves any credit for fixing something they broke. The additional functionality is paltry compared to the phone freezing up frequently.

    I spent a good chunk of change getting TomTom and a cradle to run on my 3G. It was great under iOS 3 and now is completely unusable under iOS 4.0.2. Reverting to iOS 3 is a problem as I can't restore all the info I've put on it since "up" grading to iOS4. So, till now I've had to choose between hacking around to get the phone to function properly again vs. keeping my data.

    iOS4.1 MAY get me running again, but it feels like yet more hassle and a good chance it won't address my problems.

    Apple prides itself on consumer devices that "just work". The 3G iOS4 saga most certainly did not "just work". "Just fail" is a much better description from my experience.
  • matthoffman - Friday, October 1, 2010 - link

    This is an old article now, but I can't help it -- this phrasing really gets to me. Saying it's a "2-year old device" is disingenuous at best -- it was being actively sold until just a few months ago, so the majority of buyers are still well within 2-year contracts. So "Apple deserves credit"? No, Apple released the 4.0 update with only 3 hardware versions to test it against and yet somehow still managed to make one of those three unusable (calls unanswerable because the slider won't respond, safari and email locking for 20 seconds at a time, most apps not loading 1 time out of 3...). And now they've failed to fully fix it, or provide a supported downgrade option.

    And saying, "just pick up an Android phone" is infuriating. 'Just pick up' a $380 phone? 'Cause that's how much a Droid 1 is now, without a contract...much less the 1ghz phones Brian's actually recommending. And most people with a Iphone 3G are on contract. If I got in the habit of "just picking up" things (it sounds so trivial and carefree!) that involve that much money, I would "just pick up" a foreclosure in short order, I suspect.
  • wm.duncan - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    Also Brian, the 3G doesn't have the "s" for speed.

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