Why are Apple iPhone Users Slow to Upgrade?

Apple and Google have traded jabs over who’s registering more users, but Android wins the upgrade race—at least when comparing two of the most popular phones, the Apple iPhone 3GS and the Motorola Droid. Two weeks into the upgrade cycle, almost twice as many Droid users had upgraded to Android 2.2 than iPhone 3GS users who upgraded to Apple iOS 4. The reason? iPhone upgrades require connecting your phone to your computer. Which raises another question, will Apple eventually offer over-the-air upgrades to iPhones and (especially) iPads?

Localytics mined its mobile app analytics reports to study the upgrade rate for two of the most popular smart-phones in the US, the Apple iPhone 3GS and Motorola Droid. Both had big upgrades this summer: Apple released iOS 4.0 on June 21 and Motorola released Android 2.2 (aka Froyo) on Aug 12. For each day over the next two weeks, we recorded the percent of users who had upgraded to the new release.


Apple enjoyed an unsurprising and early spike with 30% of iPhone 3GS users upgrading in the first two days. Droid owners had to wait patiently for their over-the-air (OTA) upgrades, which were rolled out slowly at the start and then fully released around August 20, more than doubling the number of total upgrades in just one day. By the end of the first two weeks, 96% of Droids had been upgraded to Android 2.2 while just 56% of iPhone 3GS were running iOS 4. Two months after the release of iOS 4, over 20% of iPhone 3GS users still haven’t upgraded to iOS 4.


Smart-phones Become More Independent

Not long ago, phones had to be connected to PCs/Macs to sync emails, contacts, install apps, etc. Smarter phones and cloud-based services make connecting phones to computers virtually unnecessary. Mobile apps can be downloaded and upgraded (iTunes App Store, Android Market), contacts, calendars and notes are easily synced (MobileMe, Evernote), music and videos can be bought or streamed (iTunes, Netflix, Pandora), and it’s easy to share pictures (Facebook), documents (Google Doc), and recipes (Epicurious) without ever connecting your phone to your computer.

But upgrading an iPhone or iPad requires connecting to iTunes on a computer. There are good reasons to do this: Apple’s upgrade process is very easy and virtually foolproof. This works well for users who regularly plug-in their iPhone. However, the upgrade numbers suggest that many iPhone users are not regularly plugging-in, instead using their phone more independently of their Mac or PC.


Implications for the iPad and App Developers

The extent to which the iPad is or isn’t cannibalizing PC sales is being debated. But it seems reasonable to assume that even fewer iPads will be plugged into computers than iPhones, suggesting that iPad upgrades to iOS 4.2 later this year will lag iPhone upgrades. At some point, Apple will probably need/want to provide OTA upgrades to both the iPad and iPhone, at least over WiFi.

For Android developers, be aware that your entire customer base can migrate to a new OS in just days! For Apple developers, be aware that you’ll likely have a good mix of current and older versions of iOS running simultaneously. The good news is that mobile apps can already be upgraded OTA and staying under 10 MB means that apps can also be downloaded over mobile networks.