I found a similar question, but it's a few years old, and the answer wasn't definitive. Here's the question:

I need an iOS 9 device (for access to some old apps) since my iPhone 6 got caught in an Activation Error loop. I was gonna buy a sealed iPhone SE, since those originally shipped with iOS 9.3, but wanna be sure they never left the factory with anything higher, and if they did, how I can tell which is which.

4 Answers 4


The iPhone SE originally shipped with iOS 9.3. However, if you pick up a model that was manufactured more recently, it will come with a newer version of iOS preinstalled. For example, I bought an iPhone SE in early 2019 which came with iOS 10. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the SE—an iPhone 6S I bought in 2017 also came with iOS 10.

Luckily, you can use the serial number on the box of an older iOS device to predict which OS it will have preinstalled, to a reasonably high degree of accuracy. Just enter the specified digits of the serial number on this website: https://repo.bearlike.net. Note that for newer devices, Apple has announced they will transition to randomized serial numbers in mid-2020.

Unfortunately, you're going to run into a different problem after acquiring a device. According to an FAQ in the Jailbreak subreddit (Jailbreakers have reason to keep track of these things!), as of this writing Apple's servers will refuse to activate an iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S+ or iPad Air 2 that's running iOS 9.

You might have more luck with an iPhone 6 or iPhone 5S. These devices aren't listed in the FAQ, which could mean that they work, but could also mean that no one has tried them and documented the result.

The other option is to buy a device that can't be upgraded past iOS 9, although as I'm sure you're aware, these models will run more slowly.

Lastly, the checkm8 exploit may eventually allow iPhone X and older devices to be downgraded to any compatible iOS version. However, no one has actually built software to do it as of this writing. And, any future tool that does will break touch ID, and require you to connect to your computer in order to boot your phone.

  • 1
    Oh my god, that's probably what happened to me -- something (I think Find My with no SIM) confused the phone enough to try and activate, and the servers just refused. Showed up as an "Activation Error" though, and Apple Support through Tier 2 and the genius bar made no mention of a policy change. That is...infuriating. So I've basically gotta find a device that is already activated on iOS 9 and either have a slow device or always run the risk of some error being unrecoverable. Great. Thank you so much for the info, though, now I feel less crazy.
    – msyeed
    Feb 11, 2020 at 17:47

While the iPhone SE originally shipped with iOS 9.3, you'd most likely not find find a recently manufactured one coming pre-installed with iOS 9.3 (or a later version of iOS 9.x).

iPhone SE models was discontinued on March 21, 2017 (16 and 64 GB variants) and September 12, 2018 (32 and 128 GB variants). Either one of these models, which you'd most likely find with a reseller who is still selling them, would most likely come pre-installed with either iOS 10 or later (but still below iOS 13).

If iOS 9.x is what you are looking for to access iOS 9 exclusive apps, here's the list of iOS devices that can't be upgraded past iOS 9.x. Getting access to one of them could serve your purpose:

  1. iPhone 4S (latest operating system: iOS 9.3.6).

  2. iPod Touch 5th generation (latest operating system: iOS 9.3.5).

  3. iPad 2 (latest operating system: iOS 9.3.6 (Wi-Fi + cellular (CDMA)), iOS 9.3.5 (Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + cellular (GSM))).

  4. iPad 3rd generation (latest operating system: iOS 9.3.6 (Wi-Fi + cellular), iOS 9.3.5 (Wi-Fi).

  5. iPad mini (latest operating system: iOS 9.3.6 (Wi-Fi + cellular), iOS 9.3.5 (Wi-Fi).

Source: List of iOS devices

  • Yeah, that's what I was afraid of. Was hoping someone had actually tried it to confirm, but it's such an edge case... Was also hoping to get the fastest device I could to run it, since a lot of the listed devices started running sluggishly even on iOS 7. Maybe I'll dig up a 6 or 6s.
    – msyeed
    Feb 10, 2020 at 7:52
  • @msyeed Sadly, a 6S could also come with a newer version of iOS—see my answer below. Feb 10, 2020 at 15:49
  • @Wowfunhappy Oh, I was aware, but the odds that if I find a sealed one it would have the right OS were higher since they were discontinued sooner. But with the activation problem...totally hosed. I don't even need to use it as a phone, so I'm not sure why it's even asking for activation with no SIM inside, but whatever.
    – msyeed
    Feb 11, 2020 at 17:55
  • @msyeed If you don't need to use it as a phone, you might want to look into an iPod Touch. Those don't need to be activated. Feb 11, 2020 at 22:54

In case anyone else comes looking, I still don't have a definitive buying guide, but here's a little more info. Any phones manufactured before September 2016 are more likely to have iOS 9 pre-installed. If you're able to get someone to provide you serial numbers from a sealed box, you can decode the manufacture date with the 4th and 5th characters. This website breaks down the code: https://beetstech.com/blog/decode-meaning-behind-apple-serial-number


iPhone SE support latest iOS version till now, and it's 13.x is running currently. If you really want an older version you should downgrade by downloading iOS 9 firmware from third party site (https://ipsw.me/ )and install it via iTunes.

  • 2
    Welcome to Ask Different :) It's not possible to downgrade the version of iOS at will. A version of iOS can be installed only as long as Apple signs the IPSW. Apple routinely stops signing the previous version of iOS a few days after it releases a new version. So while iOS can be generally downgraded to the immediate prior version until a few days after Apple releases an update, it's NOT possible to downgrade at will. (If you pay attention to the iOS version listings on the download page for a device on the ipsw.me site, you'll notice the older versions shown in red).
    – Nimesh Neema
    Feb 9, 2020 at 8:07

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