Perhaps the most popular article I've ever published is a tutorial about downgrading an iPhone from iOS 7 to iOS 6, a process that is now regrettably difficult to perform. One of my most unpopular, by contrast, is a video extolling iOS 7's virtues, and advising users to stick with it. Some of the comments on there are not suitable viewing for a family audience.

All of which might give the impression that iOS 7 is a hated failure - the Apple equivalent of Windows Vista, or New Coke. But in most scenarios, and to most users, it's not; the adoption rate has been extraordinarily high, much faster than you'd expect among Google Android or Windows users. (Granted, the latter is an unfair comparison, since Microsoft still charges to upgrade your desktop OS. But iOS 7's speed of adoption is put into perspective by the fact that Windows XP couldn't be shifted from the top spot for five years after Vista launched.)

In case you're wondering, not all of those are captive users: unlucky upgraders who made the leap without realising how hard it would be to go back. (For the first couple of weeks after launch, indeed, going back to iOS 6 was a reasonably simple operation.) Lots of people have jumped on board, taken AirDrop and Control Centre and the other new features in their stride, and never looked back. Trapped upgraders are just a significant vocal minority. Really, really vocal.

Master iOS 7: Get to know iOS 7.1 with these tips, plus 49 tips for iOS 7

iOS 7 is what you'd call an opinion divider. Some love it; others can't stand the colour scheme, the iconography, the animations, perhaps even the feature set. But Apple isn't deaf to user complaints. Belying the haughty, 'users don't know what they want until I show them' image Apple nurtured in the Steve Jobs years, the company has addressed a few of the more widespread concerns leading up to the software's first major update, iOS 7.1, which at time of writing has been on the street for about a week.

iOS 7's colour scheme has been toned down (more 'demure software interface', less 'toxic chemical spill'). An increasing number of animations can be switched off or simplified, in response to the understandably unhappy response from users with visual impairments and vestibular disorders. Lots of legibility issues have been tackled. But most significantly, it's not as slow on old devices.

iOS 7 and iOS 7.1: colour differences

I can't help falling in love with hue. Top: iOS 7.0. Below: iOS 7.1

No iPhone left behind

Wait - iOS 7 made iPhones slower? Yes, it did; mainly the iPhone 4, the most elderly iPhone that could run it. Noticeably slow; horribly, screen-punchingly slow. An iPhone that’s three generations old isn't the sprightliest device in the world in any case, but this was something else.

Mind you, this is par for the course: new software, launched into a world of faster processors than its predecessor and kitted out with slick graphics and exciting features, tends to make old hardware struggle. But while we in the trade get used to this sort of thing, I suspect it sounds insane to someone new to the world of consumer technology. "The phone gets new software, and it makes it slower? And people choose to put that on their phones?"

There are pay-offs, of course, and most of the people who upgraded their iPhone 4 to iOS 7 did so in the happy spirit of discovery. They want those lovely new features (not that the iPhone 4 got anything like a full complement of iOS 7's new capabilities), and the chance to see their device decked out in this year's look. It may even be worth the sacrifice for many. But an operating system has one duty above all others, and that's to get out of the way and run a device smoothly. And iOS 7 on the lowest rung of compatible iDevices doesn't achieve that.

iOS 7 multitasking

Apple was right, then, to look at performance, although it's worth noting that an iPhone 4's speed on iOS 7.1, while faster than on iOS 7.0, is still slower than on any version of iOS 6. Which raises the question of why Apple should be so firm in its refusal to allow backtrackers an easy way to reinstall the previous OS on their (comparatively) antiquated hardware. And puts me in the invidious position of agreeing, although on an unrelated topic, with YouTube commenters who've made allegations about my butthole.

Apple should have either made it clearer to upgraders - iPhone users, after all, encompassing plenty of non-techies - that iOS 7 would cause a substantial performance hit for older models; or allowed upgraders, even after that initial honeymoon period, to go back more easily.

How to speed up a slow iPhone 4 or other older iPhone

The older generation

Another question this situation brings to mind is companies' obligations to support older hardware. And even what that entails.

We talk about the iPhone 4 as if it's outdated, but the device was launched as recently as 2010. In most sectors a product bought four years ago would still be in its prime. Only the relentless pace of tech innovation and the churning update cycle common in the world of smartphones have rendered it semi-obsolete.

Cynics sometimes claim that new software is designed specifically to tax old hardware and encourage users to buy the latest model; and as usual, the cynics are probably at least half-right. The mobile phone market got saturated a long time ago, and if nobody bought a new model a lot of companies would be in trouble. But this also motivates tech manufacturers to constantly push forward the boundaries and come up with positive reasons to upgrade.

Then again, I think we have to allow that the tech industry is a unique, or at least an unusual case in this regard, steeped as it is in a culture of rapid change. If a car slowed down appreciably after less than four years, we would consider that unacceptable. But the technological differences between today's cars and those of 2010 aren't comparable to those between the equivalent sets of smartphones.

Mobile technology is full of examples of early obsolescence (our friends the cynics might use the phrase 'planned obsolescence') but the reasons for this are more positive than sinister. The iPhone 4 became obsolete when Apple found it was able to produce a smartphone for the same price that could run apps twice as quickly. That was then compounded on an individual level by the degeneration of electrical components, and globally by the proliferation of ambitious, demanding apps - two things that are inevitable and wonderful respectively.

Infinity Blade 3 review

Try running Infinity Blade 3 on an iPhone 4

It's a great shame that the iPhone 4 isn't the speed demon it once was, and Apple could have handled the situation with iOS 7 more compassionately. Maybe it could even offer an amnesty for downgrading to iOS 6, since many of the regretful upgraders have been talking in intemperate language of taking their business to a rival company; although this isn't the first time we've heard that.

Ultimately, however, we should probably accept that rapid ageing is one of the consequences of rapid innovation, and that phones built to last for decades rather than years would cost a lot more for a lot less short-term functionality.

And for all the talk of planned obsolescence, iPhones don't age too badly: buying every other model, or even every third generation, should be more than enough to maintain a solid user experience. It's the dazzling new features that persuade us to upgrade more often than that - and halting all innovation forever would be a high price to pay.