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A couple of mobile OS update stories are in the news this week, You have likely only heard about one of them. iOS had a disastrous line of code that amounted to a major vulnerability. It also effected the Mac. Fortunately, Apple was able to quickly deliver a software update to fix the problem on both iOS and the Mac. In the case of iOS, it was a stand-alone patch. For the Mac, it was a major feature update. The other story was about Blackberry. But it was enough to get me thinking about all of the platforms with regards to software updates. iOS has an incredible advantage in this area. Here are a few things to consider:

Blackberry

BB10 has been available for about a year. It is a complete overhaul of the Blackberry OS. It takes the platform into the touchscreen world: a place they were dragged kicking and screaming. This software update was supposed to save the platform. The platform is still in need of salvation. What happened? 

The problem is that Blackberry cannot get many of its classic device users to move to the new platform. Blackberry users know about BB10 and BB10 devices. They just don't want the update. They would rather keep what they have. When they do buy a new Blackberry phone, which is rare, they buy a phone running the old OS. They have spoken with their pesos. They don't like BB10, and refuse to update to it. It is a lot like the Windows 8 problem. 

In response to this mass rejection, Blackberry has announced a new handset: the Q20, that dispenses with a major aspect of the new OS, and reverts to the way the old OS works. They have resorted to trying to sell the new OS by offering a version of it with a regressive experience. Blackberry users do not update because they do not like the update. That is a problem that can be solved if Blackberry offers its customers something they actually want. We shall see how that goes.

Windows Phone

Microsoft has done a much better job with their major OS updates. Windows Phone 8 was a nice advance from WP7. Users of WP7 wanted to get the update. Unfortunately, they couldn't. Their phones could not handle the update, therefore, they had to buy new phones. For many users, this was a bridge too far. An update simply was not possible.

Now, the platform is looking forward to the release of WP8.1. It is shaping up to be a major update with a lot of new features. There is little information on the update path for existing devices. I feel pretty certain that most high-end WP handsets being sold right now will be able to handle the update. The challenge will be the low-end phones.

The bad news is that the overwhelming majority of WP handsets being sold are extremely low-end devices. IF the Lumia 520 and 521 can't handle the update, then it will be unavailable to the majority of WP users. Sub-$100 phones do not make good landing points for high-end, feature rich updates that push the limits of the state of the art. Blackberry users don't want to update. WP users can't update. What about Android?

Android

While Android does a better job selling high-end phones than the other two platforms we have considered, Android manufacturers still make their living at the low-end of the market. The number of Android users with the very latest OS can usually be counted in single-digit percentages. Often, that would be fractions of percentages. 

At the bottom of the market, a lot of users don't want to update because they didn't buy the phone for advanced features in the first place. Had that been important to them, they would have bought something else. They also experience the problem of having phones that are too low-end to handle the updates. But in Android land, there is an even bigger problem:

Google has given all the power back to the carriers and manufactures. Neither of those groups have any incentive to offer free upgrades. They make their money by selling devices. If your phone can get the next big update, then you may not feel compelled to buy the latest and greatest new phone. Therefore, carriers and manufacturers make it very difficult to update an Android phone to the latest OS, even if the phone can handle the update. As a result, Android users are running an OS that is, on average, two generations old. Android users don't update because they are not allowed to do so.

iOS

When Apple introduced iOS 7.0.6 two days ago, everyone with an iPhone running iOS 7 could install it right away. That is just as true with major updates. Every update is available to everyone around the world at the same time. No carrier or manufacturer can stop an iOS user from updating their devices. 

Apple is the only mobile OS maker that pushes updates directly to the device. It doesn't matter if the carrier wants you to have the update. They can't do anything to stop you. When Apple makes it available, you can either get it directly on your device, or get it through iTunes on the desktop. There is no man in the middle attacking your right to update your device. The only limitation you have is the device itself.

When it comes to that, there are no devices on the market that are more updatable than iPhones and iPads. Though there is no specific amount of time, Apple typically supports devices with free updates for three years. That gets you through your typical contract, plus an extra year for good measure. No other handset provider comes close. That means that the vast majority of iPhones out there can handle the latest update. 

Also, Apple always makes some change or adds new features that people want to have. No one has to update an iOS device for it to be a great device. They do it because the updates are compelling enough that everyone wants to have what  Apple is offering. Unlike Blackberry people, iOS users want to update. Unlike WP owners, iOS users have phones that can be updated. Unlike Android fans, iOS users are not restricted from updating.

Unlike everyone else in the industry, iOS users are running the latex OS on all of their devices by an overwhelming margin. It is not even close. They want to, they have the capability, and no one can stop them. This goes a long ways towards explaining why the App Store is so far ahead in all the ways that matter. There is little chance anyone competitor will catch Apple in their update lead.

David Johnson

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