Apple made headlines last week by announcing it’s iOS 9.3 update, which included some fairly notable features.
Typically, major new features are only introduced with new versions of iOS - announced during Apple's annual developer conference - while smaller updates generally address bugs. However, it's possible that Apple might be experimenting with a new upgrade cycle. Dan Moren, writing for Macworld, outlines the downside of the “once a year” update.
The thing about major OS releases every year is that they’re predictable. That’s both good and bad: good because there’s a clear, if unspoken, target for Apple and third-party developers alike; bad because of the sheer nature of predictability: we know when new features are going to drop, and we often have a decent idea of what some of those features will be. More to the point, we know that during the rest of the year, new features and capabilities are unlikely to materialize. Christmas only comes once a year.
Sustaining users seems to be Apple’s strategy, according to Moren. He notes that earlier releases of iOS addressed the “low hanging functionality” like cut, copy, and paste (which amazingly was not introduced until iOS 3). Today, however, the smartphone is a mature product category and an essential part of our daily lives. Perhaps it’s time for a more frequent software upgrade cycle. Moren uses game developer Bungie to outline how this iterative approach can be advantageous.
I’m thinking in particular of the path I’ve watched game developer Bungie take with its massively multiplayer online game Destiny. The company has said in the past that it has a ten-year plan for the game... Bungie has spoken of its plan to change from releasing downloadable expansions to instead focusing on having in-game events occur from time to time. Rather than simply adding new story content or items to the existing game, these events take more offbeat forms… While those updates may be ancillary to the main thrust of the game, they keep players engaged and—more importantly—coming back.
Getting users to continue to see value in a platform is key. With a yearly upgrade cycle, there is a lot of down time for the user consider alternatives. In an annual release cycle, users might get tired of their device and starting looking at other platforms. It gives users time to think about switching to other platforms that seem more exciting.
iOS 9.3 has bucked that trend. Moren posed the possibility that Apple could announce iOS 9.5 (instead of iOS 10) at the next developer conference. While it’s possible that Apple will stick to it’s current release schedule, such a strategy would allow the company to focus on software reliability.
The last few years have been a game of catch-up for Apple, as Android had surpassed iOS on many fronts. However, in the process of adding major features, iOS has lost some of its reputation as the more reliable mobile OS. A more steady release schedule could restore that faith in users by focusing on quality, while also bringing new features in a piecemeal fashion.