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. 

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  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    Put Pandora on each of them, run it, and then see what happens. One of my biggest iOS4 woes on my 3G was Pandora. I think it made the phone overheat, because it would play for an hour or two, then lock up. The buttons did nothing, but if you waited about 10 minutes, it would just reboot and be fine again. The phone did feel rather warm afterward. Went back to 3.1.3, and those problems are gone.

    I'm not going to 4.1 until I get a general "all clear" from all the testers out there. I should have waited on 4.0.
  • bobjones32 - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the analysis as usual, guys at AnandTech. It's honestly quite pathetic how little coverage that 3G performance has gotten in tech blogs. Not you guys, I don't come here for tech news in the first place and it isn't really your intended coverage.

    But the popular tech blogs that do cover every new gadget and news article...shame on them. They're so totally obsessed with the latest and greatest shiny gadgets that it never once occurred to them that their readers might *gasp* hold onto their iPhone 3G for the entirety of their 2-year contract, if not longer.

    I got my iPhone 3G in October of 2008. Every single subsequent OS update has significantly lowered performance, with iOS 4 being the icing on the cake. Particularly because iOS 4 does almost nothing at all to improve the 3G in the first place.

    Even worse? My 3G started exhibiting functional problems with the few buttons on the device too, but since it was out of warranty, Apple wouldn't do anything for me without an expensive repair. So they give me shitty software upgrades that are mandatory for application compatibility, then the hardware malfunctions and they want me to pay for it.

    It got so bad that I finally sold my 3G for parts on eBay for a decent amount, and bought a used 3GS for a decent price too. The Apple Store recommended that I just re-sign my contract to get an iPhone 4 for $200, but fuck that, I'm never directly giving Apple another single dollar for a piece of hardware.

    I've been a long-time Windows user and still use Windows, having no interest in purchasing a Mac. The iPhone was Apple's chance to win me over. They almost did. But iTunes is a piece of crap. The 3G was slowly transformed into a piece of crap. Their customer service wasn't helpful. Therefore, they will be getting no more money out of me.
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    "Even worse? My 3G started exhibiting functional problems with the few buttons on the device too, but since it was out of warranty, Apple wouldn't do anything for me without an expensive repair. So they give me shitty software upgrades that are mandatory for application compatibility, then the hardware malfunctions and they want me to pay for it....Their customer service wasn't helpful."

    Do you honestly expect ANY company to do repairs for free out of warranty? Seriously?

    I'm not getting an iphone, but smartphones have so many more points of failure, and cost $500 ($800 for an iphone) without a subsidy. You think the iphone is bad, you should have seen the issues Palm had with the 700m from the tech support side. Perhaps the iphone is just as bad, but at least I don't hear people complaining about it losing the ability to ring (common WinMob issue with only one fix, a hard reset).
  • et01267 - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    With the 4.0.1 "update", my 3G suddenly became so slow that if I was running an app (like the NPR programming stream) and got a phone call it was not possible to answer the call before it went to voicemail. Ring ... Slide the slider to answer... (doesn't move) slide again (nothing) Ring... slide slide slide Ring slide Ringing stops.... (later) bing, you have a voicemail.

    In effect, they have ruined the primary function of a phone -- making and receiving phone calls.

    So rather than taking the chance on 4.1 making the phone usable, I just jailbroke/unlocked my phone so I can use it with other SIMs in the (civilized, not under the tyranny of ATT) rest of the world.

    But I still might get an iPhone 4.
  • Stuka87 - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    Uhm, and how did jail breaking your phone make it faster? That doesn't make any sense. 4.1 should make your phone quite a bit faster from what I have read. But going to other provider isnt going to change the speed of the OS. Why not just downgrade back to 3.x?
  • Relegant - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    On 4.0x the phone goes out and fetches mail every time I open up the Map app. Sometimes a few seconds to do it, sometimes I'm past what I was trying to find. It never did this on 3.x. I don't know if this is due 4.0 or a change in the map/Google software.
  • chromal - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

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

    You have exceptionally low expectations, don't you? Given that people are being sold these products with 2 year cellular service contracts, Apple had goddamned better support them for the life of the contract. I agree with the 'planned obsolescence,' there's no reason for my iPhone 3G to perform worse at basic functions than when I bought it in 2008, and that is really that, period, end of line, end of story. Thank GOD I didn't trust iOS 4.x enough to update mine 3G.
  • Stuka87 - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    Don't bother ever getting an Android phone, because most of them stop within 6 months of release.
  • gcor - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    Good point. I so wish I hadn't "up" graded to iOS4.

    Apple has definitely killed a large chunk of my trust in their reliability with this. It's that trust that put them above other vendors for me in the past.

    If Apple is no more reliable that the rest, I guess it's time start checking out alternatives for my next contract.
  • gcor - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    As previously posted, 2 years is the plan life of phones today. Given large numbers of 3G's are still on contract, I hardly think Apple is "Caring for the Elderly" by breaking peoples' phones!

    My Sony Ericsson 810i (~5 years old) still functions just fine. It's not a smart phone, but it can still make calls smoothly, doesn't freeze and the built in apps keep me organised with better performance than the 3G on iOS4.

    Shame on you Apple, iOS4 should never have been released for the 3G.

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