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What to do when your old iPhone or iPad doesn't run iOS 13 or iPadOS

Make use of your ageing Apple kit

Old iPhone and iPad
(Image: © Shutterstock)

Late September 2019 saw the release of iOS 13 and iPad equivalent iPadOS 13. Although Apple is better than most about supporting older equipment, not every device made the cut.

If your device is older than an iPhone 6s/SE, an iPod touch 7th gen, the 5th-gen iPad, the iPad mini 4, or the iPad Air 2, the most recent operating system it’s ever going to run is iOS 12. This article provides a guide regarding what to do with your older hardware, from offloading it to repurposing an iPhone or iPad into a dedicated unit for a specific task.

Recycle it

If you don’t want old devices hanging around – or yours is no longer working well –you can simply recycle it.

You might be aware of Apple’s credit program in the USA, UK and other territories – but you won’t get any money for a device that won’t run iOS 13. However, Apple will at least dispose of your old kit for free, leaving you with that warm, fuzzy glow of knowing you haven’t messed up the environment by tossing it in the trash. (Of course, your local recycling center may offer similar services.)

Sell it

Apple products keep their value more than most. You must, though, be realistic regarding the return you’ll get on years-old kit that can no longer be upgraded. Still, it’ll be more than nothing.

Prior to selling your iPhone or iPad, take a back-up if you’ll later need to restore it to a new device. Once that's done, go to Settings, tap your name in iCloud and sign out, then go to General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings.

As for where and how to sell, we’ll go into that in more depth in another article (it can be quite complex), but in (very) brief: cash-in-hand is the best bet for hardware, and if you sell online, be wary of scammers.

Reset iOS device

Log out and reset your old Apple device before selling it (Image credit: Apple)

Update it as much as possible

Should you decide to keep hold of your device, there are two big issues to be aware of. First, it will get few – or perhaps even no – future security updates. On that basis, ensure it’s running the very latest iOS update available, and plan to primarily use the device offline.

Secondly, you will at some point start to find that apps and services require a more recent iOS/iPadOS than your device can run. So you’ll have to resign yourself to using older versions of some apps/games, and missing out on certain services. For example, Apple Arcade requires iOS 13.

Create an emergency backup phone

If you’re the kind of person who can’t do without a cell phone, an older device will still do in the case of an emergency. Consider resetting your old iPhone to factory settings, and then just having it hang around in case your other phone breaks.

Be mindful of differing SIM card requirements, though – you may not be able to just swap a SIM between your new and old iPhones. If that’s the case, consider getting a dedicated number for your backup phone, on a no-contract pay-and-go carrier service. Check the terms and conditions, in case you need to make a call every so often for your credit to remain intact.

Turn your device into a reader

Any reasonably recent iPhone, iPod touch or iPad will have an excellent screen, and that lends itself to reading. Whether you favor iBooks, Kindle or a different service for your digital reading, an iPhone or iPod Touch makes for a great pocket-sized option when you fancy picking up a book – without grabbing one made from dead tree.

Old iPads, though, are where it’s really at, with their bigger displays giving prose more room to breathe. And if you’re into comics, an iPad makes for a superb standalone comics reader too – install Chunky Comic Reader, pay the one-off IAP, and you can easily transfer your favorite graphic novels across from shared folders on networked PCs, Macs, or hard drives.

Chunky Comic Reader

The Chunky app can transform an old iPad into a perfect comic book reader (Image credit: Michael Ferenduros)

Make a portable games machine

You won’t get Apple Arcade on any iPhone or iPad that can’t run iOS 13/iPadOS 13, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play superb games on older devices. Many thousands of titles exist for Apple mobile devices, from entirely free options to high-end premium fare.

Again, older kit may lack the most recent updates – or struggle to run some more demanding titles. But that still leaves you many thousands of games to choose from. And with a controller like the SteelSeries Nimbus for iPad or Gamevice for iPhone, you could turn an iPad into a dedicated gaming rig, and an iPhone into a handheld console.

Use it as an alarm clock

Even if an old iPhone’s battery barely charges, it can still have uses. Install The Clocks – which works even on pretty ancient versions of iOS – plug the thing in, and stick it on your nightstand (possibly using something like Ikea’s Bergenes phone stand, which costs a mere US$3.99/£1.99/AU$3).

Now you have a clock you can use at night, and multiple alarms to wake you up in the morning, without having to use your current iPhone. (This in itself can be a very good thing, getting the device with all your apps and games out of the bedroom, and away from late night/early morning temptation.)

The Clocks

The Clocks for iOS transforms an old device into a useful alarm clock (Image credit: Meanterm Inc)

Turn it into a music player

Similarly, old devices can make great standalone music players. Even when offline, you can play music transferred to an iPhone via iTunes (or via Finder on macOS Catalina). If you want to risk going online (Wi-Fi use on your own home network should be fine), you’ll be able to access several streaming services too.

This tip can be combined with the previous one, resulting in a nightlight/clock/music player creation that helps a child feel secure at night. (And when they’re old enough to read a digital clock, you can – with luck – keep them from rampaging about the house until a particular time!)

Keep it docked

There are other great uses for a docked iPhone, whether you’re in a home or office environment. It can be used with a focus timer, such as Forest, Bear Focus Timer, Focus, or Tidur, and anti-stress tools like Oak and Pocketcoach.

If you suffer from distraction or hearing issues, use an old iPhone specifically for White Noise+. Alternatively, give your eyes and ears something to do by way of the ambient music/art generators by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers: Scape for iPad, Bloom: 10 Worlds, and Reflection.