Apple vs. Microsoft: A tale of two mobile updates

You can learn a lot about the positives and negatives of Apple and Microsoft by the way they update their mobile platforms

It's remarkable how much you can learn about a company from something as seemingly simple as a point update to its mobile platform. Two perfect examples: the latest updates to Apple iOS and Windows Phone 7.

On the one hand, you have Apple, which quietly rolled out iOS 4.3 with the precision of a Swiss watch. The update came a day earlier than expected, in fact. Clearly, Apple has its mobile act together. It has its partners in lockstep. And it has seemingly maintained its typical shroud of silence and censorship to perpetuate illusion of perfection.

Then there's Microsoft, which is handling the latest update to Windows Phone 7 with the precision of a digital watch you might purchase with a few cereal-box tops. The company has belatedly managed to push out an alleged February update to just some users and has further delayed a March update. But one thing you don't get from Microsoft is silence, just lots of excuses.

Take this patch and shut up
Apple was slated to roll out the update for iOS 4.3 on March 11, but it was available for download on March 10. Among its improvements are an improved Safari experience via Nitro JavaScript, high-def viewing, personal hotspot capabilities, and the ability to play contents of your shared iTunes library on a Mac or PC.

Part of Apple's ability to roll out an update early stems from its monopoly on what hardware runs iOS, as well as the fact that it doesn't rely on carriers to push out updates. But it's also pretty typical of Apple to be on the ball and stick to deadlines. It certainly has enough experience in the mobile space to have this down pat.

Also typical of Apple, though, is its tendency to quash controversy by any means necessary. As reported by Sophos, the newest iOS release does not work on iPhones that predate the 3G S. This means users of the iPhone 3G don't benefit from "a number of critical security patches, some of which are designed to prevent vulnerabilities being exploited that could lead to malicious code being run on your iPhone or iPad."

Whether or not Apple should be responsible for providing a security update for the iPhone 3G is a whole other debate, but evidently not one Apple wants to engage in or even see discussed. According to The Reg, the company has banned discussion of the subject from its online forums.

We're sorry, but it's really not our fault
Microsoft, by contrast, continues to have problems in connecting Windows Phone 7 users with much-needed platform updates, such as that elusive cut-and-paste feature that has been gathering dust in Redmond since December. Just this week, Microsoft finally broke the silence as to why not all owners of WP7 devices had received an update that was supposed to come out in February and why an update slated for early March has been pushed to late March. Unfortunately, Microsoft filled that silence more with noise and excuses than actual information that users would want to hear.

In terms of excuses, Microsoft's general manager of customer experience engineering Eric Hautala lamented that pushing out an update is really, really hard when you have all these different hardware and carrier partners to sync up with.

It's tough to muster too much sympathy for Microsoft here. In planning to re-enter the mobile fray, did the company fail to realize that, in addition to features like cut and paste, users would require timely updates? Can't a company with Microsoft's muscle and influence lean heavily on partners if they are, in fact, to blame for these delays?

Speaking of excuses, Hautala also alluded to the February update that didn't quite reach for all users and that didn't quite work for those who attempted to install it. Well, there wasn't really an explanation as to what happened, but we're assured Microsoft is studying the process and will apply its lessons to future updates. Maybe after the delayed March update?

To Microsoft's credit, it does seem to be accepting the slings and arrows from critics and dissatisfied users, such as this one from a user with the screen name vanmardigan:

Eric and his team, and you and your PR staff, should apologize, for starters. Apologize for the missed deadlines, the bugs, the very serious issues being reported in these very comments. Then you'll give us a full change log of the update that's coming (allegedly) at the end of this month. Then, you will give us a target date, thank us for hanging tight and not throwing our phones out in the direction of Redmond. Then you will apologize again. The self congratulatory, condescending, long-form blog post above should never have been written. There is absolutely no new information in that blog post, nor is there any sort of action plan there that tells us users that you've got a fire lit under you that won't be extinguished until we are happy.

This story, "Apple vs. Microsoft: A tale of two mobile updates," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.