When iOS 8 rolled out last September, it was shaky. Updates came fairly quickly. One, 8.0.1, lasted barely an hour before Apple pulled it. You see, it nearly bricked an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus by making it impossible to make calls and use Touch ID. Apple got a torrent of negative publicity as a result about this, but only a small number of users were impacted. A Restore would set things right.
The very next day, Apple rolled out 8.0.2, which fixed a problem attributed to a bad or defective “wrapper,” whatever that’s supposed to be. Regardless, the updated was in good shape, although some media pundits exaggerated the situation beyond belief. It’s not as if Google and Microsoft haven’t released broken updates. It also had little to do with any skepticism over Apple’s current management, since problems of this sort have occurred from time to time over the years.
Regardless, it was perceived that iOS 8’s issues resulted in fewer upgraders, with the migration rate falling somewhat behind iOS 7. To be fair, iOS 7 had far more visible changes, and thus may have been the more compelling upgrade. But there were other issues that reduced the download count. If you had an iOS gadget without a few gigabytes of spare storage space, an in-place update on your device might fail because there wasn’t enough room.
Apple’s choices about what information prompts to display weren’t helpful. The best solution, until Apple reduced the size of the updates, was to use a Mac or PC with iTunes. That installation process was more space efficient. For iOS 9, Apple is promising the upgrades will require roughly one third the space of iOS 8.
Yet another reason for lower upgrade numbers is that some older hardware was no longer supported. But even the older supported hardware may not be upgraded, simply because performance was known to be noticeably inferior. For iOS 9, Apple is supporting the very same hardware, but with the added promise it’ll be better optimized for the target platform.
Now when iOS 8 came out, the migration rate for iOS 7 had exceeded 90% of the user base. Based on the baggage of its successor, I predicted iOS 8 would exceed perhaps 80% by the time iOS 9 arrived.
Well, it seems my prediction was just a little off. You see as of this week, some 85% of those visiting the App Store, according to Apple’s stats, are using iOS 8. To be fair, people with older gear may not be as quick to visit the App Store, thus skewing the numbers and making them somewhat higher than the actual user base. At the same time, Mixpanel Trends, a mobile analytic firm, keeps a running total, and it’s exceeded 89%.
In contrast, the user base for the various versions of Android Lollipop is about 18%. That’s not at all bad for Google’s mobile OS, because of all the fuss and bother in deploying those upgrades to eligible hardware. So Google releases the update. It then goes to the hardware maker to customize for their products, after which it goes to the carrier who must do their own testing and customization since they often toss their own junkware onto those handsets.
But if any of Google’s partners decide not to bother, the update never becomes available. Here’s where it gets dicey, because if there is a security problem, most Android users will never see a fix. Indeed, most Android users never see any OS updates, or if they do, they will appear months after the actual release.
Yes, there are occasional reports of security issues with iOS, but Apple will deliver updates within days or weeks, most times, and they will be available to hundreds of millions of users. Forget about the argument about Apple’s alleged walled garden, and restricting you to a single software repository and somewhat restricted features because of possible security concerns. Imagine having a smartphone or a tablet that will never, ever, receive a critical security update, or even bug fixes. Never, ever!
This is not about whether Apple’s updates are always perfect, and we know they are not. But Google has a broken upgrade system. They promised some years back to do something to fix the problem, and nothing’s happened. The goal towards a supposedly more open mobile platform has shortchanged customers who deserve better.
Sure, most people don’t care about updating their gadgets, or even on doing any settings beyond the basics, such as configuring an email account. But when it comes to things that can hurt your experience, Google should be doing more to make the system work. Of course that requires the support of manufacturers and carriers. Maybe it would involve redoing contracts and such, and perhaps there’s the fear that some of these companies might go to Microsoft instead.
Or maybe this isn’t one of Google’s major priorities, and little that’s come from their executive team demonstrates a serious intent to fix the update problem.
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