Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) insists on releasing super-duper software updates designed to make my iPhone faster, smarter, and even more entertaining. But in reality, the updates don't address the issues I have with the phone and invariably seem to create new ones.
At least Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) gives customers the option of accepting or rejecting its unending string of fixes, patches, updates, and upgrades. And it also offers something else that Apple does not: the ability to restore your device to its pre-improved state, just in case things don't work out as you had intended.
Update your iPhone, and you're stuck. Literally... on Websites that will not load or revert endlessly and without warning to the home screen, or, even worse, on a black screen, the Apple equivalent of the infamous Windows Blue Screen of Death.
Apple released its biggest iOS mobile operating system update ever last October. The release of iOS 5 brought, according to Apple, "enhanced notifications to iOS devices, iMessage, wireless updates and iTunes syncing, widgets, Twitter integration, improved camera and photo support, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, enhanced reminders and a whole host of new and impressive features." In reality, the global rush to update overwhelmed the company's server, leaving many iPhones about as useful as bricks, according to ZDNet:
...people started complaining on Twitter and forums that they were seeing long delays in downloading iOS 5 and that the update wiped their apps and contacts. They also reported it had 'bricked' their device, meaning the handset stopped working completely, until a factory reset was performed.
Those who did manage to install iOS 5 gained the ability to make future updates via the cloud. It allows users to use a new Software Update feature in the iOS software itself, downloading updates via the device's WiFi connection, and automatically applying them without the need for a physical connection.
And that brings us to now. Days after the latest update, I'm still trying to determine whether this helpful seamless ability to update is a good thing or not.
A few weeks ago, Apple updated its iOS to correct more than 80 vulnerabilities, including a flaw that allowed Siri, its voice-controlled personal assistant application, to be used even when the phone is locked. Security experts said the flaw opened the door for someone to send an email from a locked phone, under certain conditions. The other bugs related to the platform's Web browser engine, which someone could reportedly exploit to execute malicious code.
Yes, I should care. But I don't have Siri on my iPhone 4. And I'm worried less about malicious code than my ability to comment on a Website or, get this, use the phone to make a call. So I wasn't waiting with baited breath for the update.
Too bad Apple was so persistent. One reminder after another kept telling me that a software update would be installed "in nine seconds."
Sure, you could hit "later" instead of "confirm." If you're fat-fingered, you may end up hitting confirm anyway. And even if you don't, the reminders will come back again and again, like a six-year-old trying to wear you down for a piece of candy.
And just consider how sweetly Apple tries to draw you in. "Apple's software updates for iOS introduce new features and improvements that let you do even more with your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Updating the software on your device is easy." That's what it says, right on the Apple Website.
It wasn't lying, not completely anyway. It was easy to install the update.
It's just been using the iPhone ever since that's been hard. My phone has trouble finding the network, making it hard to place calls. More annoyingly, it exits Websites and applications without warning, forcing me to redo the same tasks repeatedly.
I shouldn't complain. My daughter's phone simply stopped working post-update. She couldn't even get it to turn on. (Did I mention it was one day out of warranty?) She's managed to get it back -- to some extent -- following a full restore. But it's still acting buggy.
Are we alone? Not if you search for iPhone update problems online. But ask anyone who works in an Apple store, and you'll get a blank stare. "This is the first time I've heard anyone say anything about this problem," a clerk at Apple's store in Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan told me yesterday.
But the fact is Apple has had a long and checkered history with its updates. Two years ago, a California woman accused Apple of purposely turning the iPhone 3G and 3GS into "iBricks" with its iOS 4 software update, resulting in frustrated owners having to upgrade to the iPhone 4.
In a lawsuit filed in San Diego in 2010, Bianca Wofford accused Apple of "unsavoury, dishonest, and deceptive business practices," resulting in the iPhone 3G suffering "significant and extended lost of functionality, application loss, loss of use and substantially degraded performance."
A year later, she struck out in court. A federal judge concluded that Apple's software upgrades are free and do not qualify as a sale or lease under California's Consumer Legal Remedy Act, so the act she sued under did not apply.
Apple assured affected 3G phone owners that later updates would fix their iPhone problems. Did they? Who knows? I'll bet most of them just bought newer-model phones, and found other uses for their bricks.