The 4G iPod touch, iPhone 4, iOS 6, and FaceTime

I was going to write an article about what a great value a used 4G iPod touch was for grandma or someone else who wants to video chat with family members without paying for an iPhone and mobile service. But Apple killed that idea.

4G iPod touch

4G iPod touch

It turns out that the certificate for FaceTime in iOS 6 has expired – and that’s the last version of iOS that the 4G iPod touch supports. It shipped with iOS 4.1 in September 2010, iOS 6 arrived in September 2012, and the last update – version 6.1.6 – was released in February 2014.

Apple promoted the 4G iPod touch as a FaceTime device, as in the photo on the left, and also promoted the iPhone 4 the same way. But when the certificate used by FaceTime expired on April 16, 2014, any device limited to iOS 6.1.6 or earlier ceased to be a FaceTime device. Any device that could not run iOS 7 lost FaceTime support, and many iPhone 4 users chose not to upgrade because of the significant performance penalty of the new iOS version.

Low Quality FaceTime

Granted, the 4G iPod touch was not the greatest FaceTime device that Apple ever produced. In fact, it was probably the worst with its 640 x 480 VGA front-facing camera, microphone on the back of the device, and limited volume through the speaker when used for QuickTime. Even with iPhone ear buds that have a built-in microphone to provide better audio quality, the video quality was the lowest ever offered in a QuickTime device.

It’s a shame that Apple allowed the device certificate in iOS 6 to expire, making it impossible for these iPods that had worked with FaceTime to suddenly and unexpectedly lose that ability in April 2014, less than four years after the 4G iPod touch had been introduced.

Apple Just Move On

The iPhone 4S, introduced a few months earlier, supports iOS 7 and thus continues to work with FaceTime. The iPad 2, released in March 2011 (six months after the 4G iPod touch), which originally shipped with iOS 4.2, can run iOS 9.2 and supports FaceTime.

In the end, iPod touch and iPhone users limited to iOS 6 brought a class action suit against Apple, and this week part of it was finally allowed to go forward – but only for iPhone 4 owners in California. One of the revelations in papers filed with the court is that “internal documents suggest that Apple knowingly broke FaceTime for tech holdouts because it was costing it money.” That’s pretty damning.

iOS 7 Changed Everything

Apple had been using unlicensed technology from VirnetX in its original implementation of FaceTime, and when it released iOS 7, it switched to an entirely different and incompatible technology. iPhone 4 owners were told they needed iOS 7 for FaceTime. 4G iPod touch owners were given no option. Here’s what yeterday’s article in The Register says:

“In the middle of all this, in its determination not to pay VirnetX, Apple starting rewriting its code to avoid the patents altogether, and killed off the use of peer-to-peer FaceTime calls, instead routing them through a relay. That relay, run by Akamai, cost Apple money.

“The new system using peer-to-peer systems that didn’t infringe the VirnetX patents went live in iOS 7, meaning that iPhone users that continued to run iOS 6 for FaceTime were costing Apple money.”

The class action suit is limited to iPhone 4 users in California who are not using a jailbroken iPhone. The rest of the iPhone 4 users in the world, not to mention those with a 4G iPod touch, are simply left hanging after all these years.

Publisher’s note: This article was started in April 2016 and has been languishing in “drafts” ever since. With the class action suit against Apple going forward, time to publish!

Further Reading

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