Last week Apple launched a slew of products including the heavily anticipated iOS5 and iCloud software offerings as well as the iPhone 4S hardware. Historically Apple’s iOS hardware releases typically seeing long lines of fans with festive atmospheres, but Apple’s software releases have had been far less successful, with the MobileMe launch even being panned by Walt Mossberg and Steve Jobs reportedly blasting MobileMe management in a town hall meeting.
Apple’s iOS 5 has been heavily anticipated ever since it was previewed at WWDC earlier this year. The software includes tons of updates, including the ability for iOS devices to be completely iTunes-free once upgraded, a new notification system akin to Android, iMessage (Apple’s response to BlackBerry’s messenger), WiFi syncing, integration with iCloud, and more.
Just like Apple’s previous iOS updates, Apple released the update at 1pm ET on Tuesday, 10/12. However, many people who tried to upgrade their devices during the first few days of availability were greeted with various errors: from Apple’s servers not being reachable to a cryptic “3200″ error, to a “-50″ error. I don’t think anyone who I talked to could successfully upgrade any of their devices iOS 5 without encountering an error during the past week. The number of errors, and the crypticness of the numeric error codes, leads me to give Apple a failing grade for their iOS 5 launch.
iOS 5 Launch Grade: F
iCloud didn’t have nearly the anticipation around it that iOS 5 did, but that didn’t mean that its launch was glitch-free. In fact, Apple had to limit the number of customers transitioning from MobileMe to iCloud for a time because they were unable to handle the load.
I’m going to be very unsympathetic in this rating. Despite the “iCloud” branding, Apple has yet to prove they actually know how to do cloud-oriented programming. Apple supposedly is using both Amazon’s EC2 and Microsoft’s Azure – both of which are perfectly capable of handling extremely high (and “peaky”) traffic. If Apple had done good engineering of iCloud, the service would simply have scaled with the demand and spawned more instances (and then destroyed those instances when demand let up). Also, Apple should have expected the surge of MobileMe users switching to iCloud and done as much data setup before launch as possible. Currently, it appears as though all the switch processing happened once the user initiated the switch, which puts a heavy burden on Apple’s servers on-demand and not a batch process beforehand.
Apple needs to seriously get smart about cloud computing if they really want to provide online services. The only way Apple avoids getting a completely failing grade here was that their customer communication was better than it has in the past.
iCloud Launch Grade: D-
The one semi-bright spot in an otherwise dismal week for Apple’s launches last week was the launch of the iPhone 4S. The iPhone 4S broke all sorts of sales records over the launch weekend and Apple’s stores were decked out in their customary festive atmosphere. Woz was reportedly even first in line at one California Apple Store to get his. Activation issues which have been a nuisance for every iPhone launch were once again present, however they don’t take too much away from an overall well-executed launch.
iPhone 4S Launch Grade: B