Apple's Big Day Mostly a Success


Like many of you, I have spent the better part of the last two days slaving over hot downloads. That's because Apple chose to release the latest updates to iTunes, Mac OS X Lion, iOS, the iWork for iOS applications, and a slew of lesser tools at almost the same time. Tuesday saw the iTunes 10.5 update become available, and that was what one might call the cornerstone of the lot; yesterday was the Big Day for Apple's update servers, with the rest of the pieces of the iCloud puzzle going live between 10 and 11am Pacific.


I'm still downloading updates as I type this post on Thursday morning; between machines in the eWEEK San Francisco lab and at my home office, I think it's safe to say that by the time all of the dust settles, I will have pulled down roughly 8-9GB of data in a 48-hour period, with the aim of updating five Apple notebooks, two iPhones, an iPad, an Xserve, and a ThinkPad running Windows XP. (After writing that last bit, I can't get "The Twelve Days of Christmas" out of my mind.)As is customary, a good chunk of the coverage since Tuesday has focused on the problems people have encountered when trying to install these updates; my experience so far has been far from painless, and I suspect that in that sense at least, I'm fairly typical. Others have wondered why Apple's product managers and executives thought it was a good idea to shove this bolus of updates at us all at once.

At the risk of sounding like a middle-aged, geekier version of Chris Crocker, I really do think that people need to leave Apple alone on this topic. Although I can't take sole responsibility for straining Apple's software servers, when you multiply me by a few million, that's several petabytes that Apple has to push onto the wire; and so far, it's managed the situation pretty well.

Let me start by reminding people that I'm hardly a cheerleader for Apple; at the same time, in almost 15 years as a journalist focusing on IT, my motto has been "Be tough, but be fair." I'm not sure how else the company could have rolled out these updates; iTunes was the necessary first step to allow people to update their iToys to iOS 5. Everything else in this tidal wave of software followed as a matter of course; because the point of most of these updates is to provide the enabling bits for Apple's iCloud service, what Apple's managers faced was a Hobson's choice. I haven't noticed anything more than intermittent burps in the download service, or the updating process, which is par for the course.

What I did see yesterday was a surge in the late morning as the first wave hit, followed by another in the mid-afternoon as people on the East Coast arrived home from work and began a second wave. Given that the iOS 5 update seems to involve backing up the device, wiping it, updating the operating system, and then restoring from the backup, I'm not at all surprised that this is taking some folks four hours or more to get from plugging their devices into the updated iTunes to a point where the device is prompting them to set up the new features of the OS.

The only point where I was ready to say that Apple had bitten off more than it could chew was early yesterday afternoon, as I was trying to update a first-generation iPad; this coincided with the East Coast rush, and I don't think it took more than an hour for things to sort themselves out. Given the number of downloads, the amount of data involved, and the time of day - what else were people supposed to do, turn on the TV and watch the rain delay in Detroit? - I have to award Apple a B+ for traffic management.

So far, I've only stumbled across one minor glitch with the iOS update, which tells me that as dot-zero releases go, this one is fairly solid. This morning, I was replying to e-mail on the aforementioned iPad when I realized that the cursor had disappeared, making navigation difficult at best. A soft reboot seems to have fixed that problem, and I haven't noticed it on the iPhone that I updated yesterday; that leads me to believe that whatever happened, I shouldn't expect to see it again.

The iOS update installer does seem to balk at one's first attempt, and that's something that a novice user might find scary. But the solution is simple: click "OK" and try again, while reminding yourself that patience is not only a virtue, it's good for your blood pressure.