Analysis: C'Mon Apple, Fix Your Lousy Upgrade Process

But every time Apple's iPhone platform is due for an upgrade, you hear audible gasps of another kind when the smart phones must first sit through a grinding, slogging and painful iPhone backup process via iTunes before the upgrade can actually begin.

So, too, does this happen with the upgrade path to Apple's iOS 4 software on the iPhone platform.

(Note: This is not a review of the actual iOS 4 software itself. But it's a look at how Apple has built the upgrade process to be maddening.)

It's so slow, kludgy and balky of a process that it actually might have some pining for the good old days of Windows XP-to-Windows Vista upgrades.

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Here's what happened when we tried to upgrade an iPhone 3G (16 GB) to iOS 4:

We needed to upgrade to the latest version of iTunes, which took a couple of minutes. No problem. Then the iPhone went into "backup" mode -- a process that took about three-and-a-half hours. The backup was finished, but then an alert told us on iTunes that the backup failed. There were no warnings or alerts throughout the three-and-a-half hour wait. Only at the end were we told that the backup failed and the phone had been restored to factory settings.

The backup failure wasn't catastrophic, because all files and applications had already been backed up on a PC days earlier. But it was unnerving and, again, time consuming as it took about another two hours to re-synchronize all those files from the PC back to the iPhone. After that, the upgrade finished in a few minutes and the phone was useful once again.

For a company that is capable of producing software as elegant, useful and dead-on simple to use as Time Machine, it's inexcusable that it provides us with such a lousy upgrade process for the iPhone. As long as Apple is going to control every aspect of the upgrade process and keep the iPhone and iTunes locked down, giving nobody else an opportunity to make it easier, here is what people on the other end of the iPhone need to see during the upgrade process, Apple folks:

"Press to start backup. Backup completed. You are now ready to upgrade your iPhone. Upgrade completed. Have a nice day."

The good news for Apple corporate is that the software the company usually produces is so good, backup nightmares are generally forgotten soon afterward. A first look at iOS 4 itself shows lots of promise which we'll get into soon.

But when Apple is horrible at something, it's really horrible. It makes arguably the world's worst ear buds -- even though has sold tens of millions of iPhones and iPods. MobileMe, when it launched, was a disaster (although it has improved of late.) The pre-order process for iPhone 4 handsets was a joke. And now the upgrade process for iOS 4 is simply not worthy of a company that does so many great things.