Normally, when an operating system receives what is called a “dot” upgrade, it’s usually considered a fairly major product refresh, in contrast to a “dot dot” upgrade, which is usually reserved for minor fixes.
So the release of Apple’s iOS 6.1 could reliably be expected to be a major upgrade compared with say, iOS 6.0.1. This means there were likely a lot of Apple mobile device users who expected some big changes when Apple shipped iOS 6.1 on Jan. 28.
But they were fated to be disappointed. The upgrade to iOS 6.1 includes some improvements that some might consider important, but nothing that will make an obvious difference in the operating system’s perceived performance or value. But perhaps that’s just the way Apple wants to do things.
Probably the most significant changes with Apple’s iOS 6.1 are a fairly long list of security fixes, mostly to Safari. There’s no question that these security upgrades are worth getting, but do they constitute an upgrade? With any other OS, this would be an automatic security fix and wouldn’t even be given a minor upgrade number. With Windows, this would be an average Patch Tuesday update.
In addition, Apple updated the number of carriers supported by 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) with some versions of the iPad and iPhone. New iPads especially got a vast selection of new carriers for data plans. The iPhone 5 likewise got a lot more LTE support for travelers. However it’s important to note that LTE iPads, whether they’re the third or fourth generation models, are unlocked, so travelers can put any SIM they wish into the device. But with third generation iPads, they might have to live with 3G rather than 4G.
There are other changes with iOS 6.1. Siri can now book movie tickets through Fandango. But that’s pretty much it as far as important application changes go. And despite rumors that the major upgrade of iOS 6 would fix Apple’s flawed Maps app, that didn’t happen.
I downloaded iOS 6.1 to my third generation iPad and checked to see if anything had been fixed from the last time I’d written about the problem with Maps. First stop, the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Last time the monument had moved to the banks of the Potomac. Now the iconic structure was back where it belonged.
Next stop, Boulder Dam near Las Vegas. There in the hybrid view the highway that in real life crosses a bridge downstream from the dam still plunged down the sheer canyon walls.
iOS 6.1 Fixes Security Flaws, but Lacks Essential App Upgrades
You’d think that after CES someone at Apple would have noticed that there’s actually a bridge there. Oh, wait. Apple wasn’t at CES.
My next test was to plot a trip from my office in Clifton, Virginia to Washington Dulles International Airport. This is about 12 miles, and there’s a freeway that leads directly to the terminal. While I realize that to Apple executives Dulles may not be as important as say, San Jose International, it’s still the international airport serving the nation’s capital.
But as in the past, Apple Maps routed me to the south perimeter fence at the airport, and told me to walk to the nearest runway. While this would give me a spectacular view of airport operations, I suspect that the representatives of the Transportation Security Administration would not have been amused.
Now, I realize that debating whether the iOS security updates were sufficiently important to call this a major upgrade is something of a quibble. After all, what difference does it make what Apple calls the new release of iOS as long as it delivers the goods? And that’s a good question, because it is after all, Apple’s product and they can call it whatever they wish.
But it does bring home the troubling trend I’ve been seeing at Apple lately. And that’s the failure to deliver the improvements that count. Just as I mentioned last week about Apple’s troubles with investors, the company isn’t instilling confidence by releasing a minor upgrade and calling it a major release. While the Apple loyalists will certainly tout the overall wonderfulness of such a release, to the rest of the world it looks like puffery.
Still, there is one area that is refreshing, and that’s the fact that Apple did delineate exactly what security upgrades it made. If you’ll remember, there was a time when Apple maintained that its products had no security problems and that it was impossible to create malware that would run on Apple products. This position has now changed. Apple does in fact perform security updates. It works to prevent malware and now it lets its customers know what’s going on.
So while I’m not sure why Apple is positioning iOS 6.1 as a major upgrade, it’s a relief to see that Apple is continuing the process of making its software more secure. If calling it a major upgrade is what it takes for Apple to make these changes, then I guess it’ll do.