OS Upgrades: Why it's easy for Apple, harder for some

Posted on by Mike Evans

Horace Dediu's article on mobile device OS upgrades struck a chord with me. Since I abandoned my old Palm Treo Windows Mobile smartphone in 2008 I have taken it for granted that OS upgrades come automatically and are installed without fuss or problems. It wasn't always so. Often we weren't aware of upgrades and, in many cases I would have a phone for a year or so and never think of upgrading the operating system. It seems, though, that the happy experience of the tens of millions of iPhone and iPad users still isn't the norm in the industry at large. According to Dediu,

The problem of upgrade failure is a symptom of a deeper dysfunction inherent in immature modular business architectures. It’s not just that the brightest at Microsoft or Nokia or Google can’t make an upgrade stick. It’s that the upgrade is not universally beneficial to the value chain. To remedy this, licensors have to resort to contractual obligations to ensure upgrades, but enforcement is non-trivial and can lead to aggravated relationships.

Apple have one big advantage here—a total lack of fragmentation. Other OS vendors have to worry about dozens, if not hundreds, of hardware variations. This has always been the problem with Windows in relation to the hundreds of PC manufacturers and it's no wonder there are often teething troubles.

Outsiders often criticise the Apple eco-system of one product, one operating system. They condemn it as a closed shop which stifles innovation and leaves the big A to pull the strings. I understand the argument. But all I know is that since I moved to the iPhone (and since I moved to Macs, for that matter) the update process has been faultless and painless. I know which I'd sooner have.

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