Macmobile OSMobilitySmartphonesWorkspace

Apple Gets Loyalty By Making Upgrades Easy

Wayne Rash is senior correspondent for eWEEK and a writer with 30 years of experience. His career includes IT work for the US Air Force.

Follow on: Google +

Users will follow apple for its easy-to-understand upgrade path, says Wayne Rash

The opening keynote at the Apple World Wide Developers Conference in San Francisco’s Moscone Center West featured the usual hoopla, plus a few new touches. There was a stand-up comedy routine from Siri, the madcap personal assistant, which took shots at Android. There were the usual demos with the usual bombast.

There were some important facts worth paying attention to within the hype. But perhaps more important than the individual product announcements is the fact that Apple is doing something that its competitors aren’t. Apple is releasing major upgrades to its mobile platform software, and it’s doing it in a way that’s highly accessible — in some cases free — and in the process is providing significant value to its customers. This is something that Apple’s competitors, Google and Microsoft, haven’t managed to do.

Google is fractured, Apple isn’t

Google’s fractured, fragmented and inconsistent practices of managing updates to Android is already causing some long-time users to drop Android for mobile operating systems with more consistency. Microsoft, meanwhile, provides consistent updates, but charges a lot, which makes it difficult if not impossible to upgrade.

Apple, as demonstrated at the June 11 WWDC keynote, is gaining owner loyalty by making it easy and inexpensive to stay up to date, while providing incentives to move to new devices. Your iPad 2 will get iOS 6, for example, but if you want Siri, you’ll need to get a New iPad.

The keynote at WWDC was an all-mobile event. The expected desktop Macs with their quad-core Xeons were a side show. But showing instead was a new MacBook Pro with quad-core Sandy Bridge i7 processors, a Retina display, 768 GB of flash storage and extreme thinness. The new MacBook Pro weighs just over four pounds and is .71 inches thick. This computer may measure like an ultrabook, but this is no ultrabook. Instead, it’s the notebook, re-imagined to borrow Apple’s term for it.

Apple also introduced two updated versions of its existing MacBook, the Air and the original Pro, both with Sandy Bridge processors and USB 3.0 ports, but the same screens as before. The new MacBooks will be less expensive than last year’s models. Coming on the heels of the new MacBooks is Mountain Lion, which is the latest iteration of OS X. Mountain Lion arrives in July, and will feature support for the Retina display, integration with iCloud and some new messaging features. Mountain Lion is designed to allow better integration with iOS devices as well.

Probably the most anticipated news is iOS 6, which will arrive for the New iPad and the iPad 2, as well as iPhones from the 3GS onwards and iPods from the 4th generation on. iOS 6 brings Siri to the New iPad. It also brings a new 3D mapping program that includes turn-by-turn navigation. The new version of Safari includes shared tabs that let you start browsing on one device and continue on another. The tabs are shared between all devices with the new version of Safari, so you can share tabs between your iPhone and your MacBook, for example.

FaceTime and Siri will eat data

FaceTime gets access to cellular networks, so iPad users with LTE or 3G and iPhone users don’t need to use Wi-Fi to work with FaceTime. And you thought your data usage was high before?

And in case you didn’t think your data usage was high enough already, Siri is getting an upgrade along with its move to the iPad. Siri can now give you sports scores and stats, restaurant reviews (via Yelp) and tell you what’s showing at the movies. Siri can also launch apps.

Passbook is something new to iOS 6. It’s an app that keeps track of everything from boarding passes, rail tickets and your Starbucks card. It will also keep track of hotel reservations, plane reservations and pretty much anything that requires a pass, a ticket or a reservation Even better, it can display the required bar code so you can get to the endless airport security line even sooner and charge your coffee at the airport Starbucks.

This app is location sensitive, so when it detects the fact that you’re at the airport, it will display your boarding pass automatically. Likewise, when you enter a Starbucks, it will display your account information barcode. It’s not clear what happens when you walk into a Starbucks located at the airport.

There’s also a phone app that can remind you to return a phone call or can screen your calls for you. And Facebook is now completely integrated, which may be a feature or a bug, depending on how addicted you are to Facebook.

Availability is all

What’s probably the most important thing about both Mountain Lion and iOS 6 is that Apple is making these significant upgrades to their operating systems easily and cheaply available. iOS will be upgraded for free and Siri will come along for free if you have compatible hardware. Mountain Lion is either free (if you buy a new MacBook) or it costs $20.

This kind of constant improvement at a reasonable price is one of the ways that Apple is growing its market share so steadily. Compare this with Microsoft, where your upgrade to Windows 8 won’t be anything like free unless you buy a Windows 7 computer starting about now. If you have a slightly older computer, a move to Windows 8 will cost a couple of hundred dollars, perhaps more. Windows Phone 7.5 devices are stuck – they won’t get a Windows 8 upgrade.

And then compare that upgrade process against whatever it is that Android is doing. That’s hard to tell, since it seems that every device from every maker has a different upgrade path. This, of course, is much of the reason for the Android Fragmentation problem that’s driving users – not to mention IT managers – nuts.

While it’s too bad that I won’t be able to upgrade my 2nd generation iPod (assuming I can find it), Apple at least includes the ability to make the upgrade to a new OS fairly seamless and highly cost effective. Imagine if Microsoft had this policy and made upgrades from say Windows XP reasonably priced and also possible. Even on machines with the hardware able to run Windows 7, an upgrade from XP is extremely difficult unless you buy something like LapLink’s PC Mover, which is reasonably inexpensive and highly effective, but buying PC Mover alone costs more than the upgrade to Mountain Lion.

Essentially, at today’s WWDC keynote, Apple demonstrated one thing besides some cool mobile products. It demonstrated why Apple customers are so fanatically loyal.

How closely have you been following the iPhone? Try our quiz!