Aren't regular OS updates part of a 'premium' smartphone?

The arrival of iOS 7 hasn't been easy for iPhone and iPad customers. However, users of other smartphone OSes might like some of those troubles, according to a recent report from a Canadian news site.

Every month or so we read reports of another "iPhone killer" that will knock Apple out of its top spot in the premium segment of the smartphone market. Still, shouldn't the frequency and reliability of operating system updates be counted in the purchasing decision of a smartphone, premium or otherwise?

Apple released iOS 7 in Sept. and has pushed out four maintenance releases since then. The company recently posted on its developer support page for the App Store a chart showing the adoption rate of the new iOS. Almost 80 percent of iOS users (78 percent) are now on iOS 7, 18 percent on iOS 6 and just 4 percent on something earlier (obviously using hardware that can't be updated to something more current. This is important information for developers , both for backwards support in software updates or when developing new titles. It's been a quick transition. 

Aren't regular OS updates part of a 'premium' smartphone?

However, a recent post at the Patently Apple blog pointed to the Anguish of Updates, a report by Daniel Bader at Mobile Syrup, a Canadian mobile news site. It's all about the slow pace of OS updates in the mobile device space. He lauded HTC, Samsung and Sony. But Canadian mobile customers, he complains, are caught up in delays.

Here we are, another year almost gone, and I am weeping into my Cheerios. Not literally, mind, but a proverbial stream of lost opportunities cascades to the ground, one for every unconsummated Android update.

Another Mobile Syrup post observes that carriers appear to be the source of the delays in providing OS updates. However, despite its similar regression testing and certification requirements, Apple manages to hit the mark.

According to HTC, carrier devices go through four more steps than their Google Play Edition equivalents, and three more than the Developer/Unlocked Editions, which lends credence to the notion that wireless providers, though they do ensure the devices work properly on their networks, are the leading cause for update delays. Though iOS updates are subject to the same certification and testing scrutiny, Apple has somehow managed to expedite the process and deliver an update to all devices, in all countries, on the same day.

Somehow? For someone outside the Apple ecosystem, it is a mystery how Apple can update all iOS devices, in all supported countries, and on the very same day.

This reported irregularity of support on the part of manufacturer and carrier is not well understood by most customers of non-Apple smartphones, and certainly, doesn't play into the purchasing decision of consumers or businesses. It isn't included in the ROI calculation.

From my Apple market viewpoint, most PC owners base their mobile purchasing decisions with a PC mentality: the entry price is the most important factor since all phones are the same, cheaper is better, and any significant level of support from the vendor isn't expected. Software updates are something associated with PCs, not with phones.

Instead, customers should evaluate the entire ecosystem of their technology. The platform includes some things evident, and others less-so: the hardware maker, the OS vendor, third-party app developers, the tools available to developers, the OS makers support for developers, the app store and its arrangement with developers, and the security of the platform. These are just a few of the things that create the user experience over the life of a product. They are important, even if that lifespan will be just a couple of years.

Mobile Syrup named Motorola's Moto X as the top phone of 2013. Still, it observed the iPhone 5s "just works."

The iPhone 5s is a probably the best all-round smartphone on the market, hampered somewhat by its underwhelming battery and increasingly-cramped 4-inch display. But the phone offers a great ecosystem of apps and games that continues to overshadow Android in almost every respect, and iOS 7 drastically improves what was already a fast, secure operating system. Control Center alone, which provides easy access to commonly-used system settings, is beautifully integrated, and AirPlay continues to make the argument for a platform over disparate services.

Strangely, that "just works" quality continues to be a mystery to most of the mobile hardware and software vendors.