Why iPad didn't ship with iOS 4

iOS 4.2 is a whole new iPad?

It's been 2 weeks since Apple released iOS 4 (technically iOS 4.2.1) for iPad -- almost 5 months after iOS 4 for iPhone and 7 months since iPad was first released with iOS 3.2 -- and one of the more extreme criticisms hurtled its way is "why didn't iPad ship with iOS 4 to begin with?!"

Short answer: because the iPad hardware was ready and iOS 4 wasn't.

Long answer: keep reading after the break. (You've been warned).

Opportunity cost means if you only have $2 and you buy a soda, you can't also spend that $2 on a chocolate bar. You have to choose. Likewise if Apple has finite resources and time and they spend them on feature A, they can't also spend those same resources and time on feature B. They also have to choose.

Users, of course, want what we want and now, and this is nothing new to iOS. When the first iPhone shipped in 2007 it was lambasted in some quarters for not having the functionality of Palm's Treo. If someone's old Treo could do something, like MMS or copy/paste, why couldn't Apple's shiny new iPhone? Never mind iPhone could do something the Treo couldn't do -- run a stable, easy to use, multitouch UI. If Apple had spent their time feature matching the Treo or Windows Mobile, if they'd done MMS or copy/paste and not done multitouch, then in 2007 we would have gotten an Apple Treo or Windows Mobile device, not an iPhone. They chose -- forgive me! -- to think different. Or re-think different.

The same is true for Palm with webOS -- people complained about missing features like video recording, but what existing feature of webOS would they have given up for it? Cards? Synergy? Android had limited app storage and inconsistent UI but should Google have traded those for their mobile services innovations? Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, instead of re-treading the Windows Mobile of old for the umpteenth time, is a fresh, innovative take on the smartphone that's criticized for missing 3rd party multitasking and copy/paste (sound familiar?).

But Apple, Google, and Microsoft (and even Palm now with HP) have billions and billions of dollars. Can't they just throw engineers at any problem? Double teams? Triple teams? Unfortunately great engineers aren't robots (don't tell them!). You can't manufacture engineers, they don't scale linearly, and the competition for them between those billion dollar companies is fierce. Bigger groups don't always better products make anyway. Added complexity does not efficiency promote.

Apple runs like a startup. Small groups, intensely focused, engineers often moving to projects as priorities and schedules dictate. They spend far less money than most of their competitors and earn far, far more profits. So it seems to work for them. (Or at least under Steve Jobs it reduces the bureaucracy, internecine feuding, and design-by-committee that has plagued some competing products.)

What about time? Couldn't Apple have taken more time and waited to release the iPad until they had iOS 4.2 ready for it? Couldn't they have released the iPad in November 2010 in time for the holidays rather than April? Sure. They could also have waited until June 2010 to release the first iPhone so it would have multitasking out the gate. They probably wouldn't have lost first mover advantage -- no one was really moving in the smartphone or tablet space pre iPhone and iPad -- but who would that have benefited? Not the hundreds of millions of iOS users and the 7-million odd iPad users who bought their devices prior to iOS 4. We would have lost months or years of use and the market inarguably would not be where it is today absent the push Apple's iPhone and iPad have given it.

"Great artists ship," is a favorite quote of Apple CEO Steve Jobs, and the iPhone with iOS 1 and iPad with iOS 3.2 were fantastic, groundbreaking devices when they shipped. The hardware was top notch, the user experience revolutionary, and in many ways years and months later the industry is still catching up.

That's why -- crazy as it sounds -- it took 1 year for 3rd party apps, 2 years for copy/paste, and 3 years for 3rd party multitasking (1st party multitasking on iOS has been phenomenal since launch in 2007). And that's why it will probably (and hopefully only!) take 4 years for elegant notifications.

Moreover, iOS 4.2 was and is a free update. Apple didn't make anyone buy new software or new hardware or pay anything more than the internet bandwidth to download it. When iPad hardware was ready, it shipped. When iOS 4 for iPad was ready, it shipped.

Apple deserves criticism for many things -- why throw in AirPlay and AirPrint when they didn't have time to finish them by their self-appointed deadline? -- but not shipping iOS 4 for iPad back in April 2010 isn't one of them.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 37 comments. Add yours.

larryw says:

Just waitin' for the jailbreak so my orientation lock can go back to operating as advertised...c'mon, what were they thinking: change it to a mute switch when the volume controls are right there? Hello?

Visi says:

Rene. Time to write bull....s again?

Oh well says:

It's all really a moot point. People cry like babies when software is released too early and missing features or is buggy. They also cry when they have to wait because the developer wants a solid release.
Kudos to Apple for at least getting the software right, even if they did botch the design and engineering of the iphone4.

Bercanees says:

Excellent post! Though many would argue that this is the world of consumerism and competition is high, what leaves a lasting impression is the user experience Apple offers which others can't. Stats and testimonies speaks for itself!

Shrike says:

Software is much harder to do than hardware. Hardware for the most part is commoditized and modular. You pick and choose. Software on the other hand, is a spiraling nightmare. New features have unpredictable costs, resources and schedules. With ever more features, complexity increases exponentially. More and more bugs cannot be squashed. Development cycles increase. It's a decent bet that Apple simply cannot maintain a yearly release cycle after iOS 4. iOS 5 maybe will be released in June 2011. iOS 6 in June 2012? Maybe not. It could be 18 months between cycles then, while the hardware continues its yearly pace.
iOS 4 really needs a 1 GHz device with 512 MB of RAM. My 3GS is the bare minimum for iOS 4. Bare minimum. It's been awhile in the desktop world for me to feel the need for new hardware due to the software "slowing down the system". Not so with iOS. Definitely feel that iOS needs a 1+ GHz and 512+ MB ram to smoothly run. Full-on multitasking probably needs 1.5 GHz and 1 GB RAM, and virtual memory to boot.

Mike A. says:

The real question is why didn't Apple have iOS 4 ready in late June for the iPad? It took them 5 extra months. I believe iPad 2 will ship with some version of iOS 4 but I hope that when iPhone 5 & iOS 5 launch in late June 2011,
we don't have to wait for the Fall again to get iOS 5 for our iPad 2.

noaim says:

what you fail to mention is all the features in the iphone/ipad that still dont exist that should exist such as mark email as read where is that feature or ringtones for sms messages and email and any other service apple never listens to there customer and thats why they are slowly losing me as a customer

Myria says:

I seriously hope no one was paid to write this load of pointless drivel.

Rene Ritchie says:

@noaim: What feature would you take out to get one of those?
Apple doesn't listen to some specific customers immediately but they've shown they add features over time that many customers want, and create features many didn't realize they wanted until they saw them.

jasonact says:

@noaim:
Rene is right. Those may be features you want or even rely on, but that doesn't mean everyone does. Apple, arguably just like any company, tries to include features that customers want OR advance the field/brand, or preferably both. In order to have such a tightly integrated product, they have to focus on specific feature sets, usually to the exclusion of others. There really isn't any way to avoid that and still have the kind of rigor that Apple has about its products.
The moral of the story is look at the big picture; specific features may come at any moment, but we can't count on our pet features coming as soon as we want them.

benjitek says:

Slow news day? Really though, who cares? This rather seems like an attempt to come up with a blog entry when there's not much going on. Maybe next time just do an app review ;)

GinoDotCom says:

Rene, like someone else just said.. The more obvious miss for me is why didnt Apple have iOS 4 ready for the iPad when iOS4 was introduced to the iPhone and iPod touch? You didn't mention what was most obvious to me.
I don't blame Apple for rushing out the iPad months ahead of the nearest comptitior's tablet... But to have the iPad wait an extra season and a half for ios4 is just beyond me and wished you would of touched on that.

Derrick says:

No one expected it to ship with ios4. They just expected it to be released sooner than 5 months after the iphone4 and previous models got updated.

robCal says:

To all the people that are posting negatively about Rene, and his decision to write this article, please post a link with your blog, with better exciting stories... until then, shut it... Rene is a blogger, and is free to blog about what he wants, when he wants. Even if that is just blogging about his thoughts. good read on a slow sunday night if ya ask me.

Avenged110 says:

I agree with the guy above me all the way

benjitek says:

@robCal
Readers are free to post what they like, that's why these pages have text input boxes. Thanks for stopping by though... ;)

Tweger01 says:

@Rene
I support you 100%. I think you had great ideas and I usually enjoy your writings, but this really was the read of an 11th grade English paper.

Mptrh336 says:

Apple does a fantastic job with their ui. Its no secret that they pioneered many of the standard features that a full on touch screen device contains now. For that they deserve full credit. However, they are guilty of forcing many of their customers into annual upgrades to obtain the newest features or software enhancements. They could've released the iPhone 3g in 2007, but what motive would anyone have had to buy again in 2008? What about waiting on video recording or mms? Simple features that even non smartphones with no real processing could do, the first 2 iPhones could not. Initially. How is it that the jailbreak community could give us feature sets long before the multi-billion dollar company could? You blame it on time vs talent? I say greed and a great understanding of the consumers willingness to spend for the next upgrade. Why is it that dell can offer the newest Intel processors in their basic laptops at half the price of the MacBook? The i3 & i5 are available in the 15 & 17 inch versions but not the 13. Why? Incremental upgrades are a must. I really like the ios ui. Its very intuitive, and the benchmark for which its competition is measured for a reason. Hopefully the stiff competition will make apple rethink their practices and ios 5 will be the hardware, software and carrier combination weve been waiting on since 2007.

SockRolid says:

Hardware is easy. Software is hard. That's why there were so many tablet-format devices at CES last year. The wannabes just mashed together components to "beat iPad to market." This is before iPad was announced, so actually it was "beat the Apple iSlate to market."
They did beat iPad to market, their software sucked, and now they're gone. (Remember the Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid Notebook? Or the Que e-reader? How 'bout the Notion Ink Adam Smartpad? No? Innovative Converged Devices Vega and Ultra Tablets anybody?)
Sure, people get angry at you if you ship your software late. If it's solid when it finally does ship, people will be happy. But if you ship buggy software, people will hate you forever. Even if it's on schedule.
As an aside, I think Steve will wait for CES to be over before saying word one about iPad 2. The media will compare every product at CES to any Apple product that remotely resembles it. Free non-stop Apple publicity during CES, and Apple won't even have a booth there. CES will just build hype for iPad 2.0. And all the wannabes will be forced to announce their products in the dark before iPad 2 is announced. Brutal for the wannabes. Beautiful for Apple.

Dexter says:

Love it or hate it, Apple sets the trends in the mobile software & hardware world whether you believe their iOS isn't feature rich or not. Apple leads and everyone else follows. You can hate all you want but nothing will change this truth in this day and age of mobile technology.

mervb says:

I really like how apple has handled their product rollout. I think if 4.2 was released earlier for the iPad there would have been more bugs and problems. They had to launch iPhone 4 and put up with the antenna gate issue

cardfan says:

You knew what OS the ipad was running when you bought it. You knew when 4.0 would be out as they stated it up front. If someone complains, they only have themselves to blame.

maclovn says:

@Cardfan, well said. To all of us it seems simple. For those that have to implement there are a lot of different variables to consider. It is not just a simple plug in to activate features, but a more integrated approach. Apple has a concept and has to fit features consumers "need" into that concept.

Lui says:

Good blog entry Renee. Snobby azz commenters irk me though.

TTR says:

in wait for ipad 2 :P

Scatabrain says:

This is an excellent post but there is another angle that I am not seeing getting any press:
The 4.2 release was delayed by wifi issues. For some users there us a big wifi issue after installing. If you have the problem you experience one or both of the following:

  • slow internet (thought to be dns related) slow email and browsing and videos that time out
  • wifi that hangs 5 minutes of no internet activity. Turning airplane mode on and off brings it back until the next time you sleep your screen. This is related a combo of the following: your router and settings, amount of interference, strength of signal, the iPad hardware itself and how sensitive to signal strength.

Rolling back to 3.2.2 fixes it entirely. To see how big the problem is you can do a quick search if rpthe apple forums. Thevgood news is that apple has engaged some users and collected info about their setup. So hopefully a fix is in the works.
The bad news is that no one is writing about the issue that is effecting a lot of people. This would help to getva fix faster. The other badcthingbis that apples support staff are not aware of the issue. And worse posts in the apple forum to show people how to downgrade temporarily are being removed as are some posts asking people to elevate the issue with the press.
Imagine the headlines:
Apple releases update with some users having big wifi issues
Or
Apple not acknkowledging big flaw in latest iPad update removes posts telling people how to downgrade to be able to use their broken devices
Ok I'm not a writer but you get the point.
Cheers.

cardfan says:

It's blog entries like this that make TIPB worthwhile. Anyone can rehash news items. If you feel its trash or BS, then say why. Otherwise, you appear clueless.

Bryan Agoncillo says:

I love the new updates that Apple has added into this device. However I am not in favor of the side button become a mute option & making the screen lock a software based button.

Mike P says:

That's what happens whenever you buy an Apple product. They don't want to give you everything all at once. They need a reason to get you to upgrade to the next release. Look at the original iPhone to the iPhone 3Gs. Nothing major changed that should not have been included in the original. Same will happen to iPad. Don't buy one until iPad 4 is out.

Shrike says:

@Mike P - Um, nothing changed from the iPhone 2G to the iPhone 3GS? That's just simply wrong.
The change from the iPhone 2G/3G to iPhone 3GS represents the biggest performance improvement that the device line will ever see. It was a real doubling of performance going from the ~430 MHz ARM11 based CPU and PowerVR MBX GPU to the 600 MHz Cortex-A8 CPU and PowerVR SGX535 GPU. You will never see that kind of performance improvement between generations ever again. This was real improvement for all applications and ops. The move to dual-core won't get you that.
You could not put most of the stuff in the original as it simply wasn't possible.

Shrike says:

@Mike A. - "The real question is why didn’t Apple have iOS 4 ready in late June for the iPad?"
It's answered in the article. Apple does not have infinite resources. You pick and choose how to best apply the resources you have. There are many basic rules of thumb about project management that you have to think about.

  1. The best programmers, engineers are 10x as productive as the average programmer, engineer.
  2. The best programmers, engineers are 10x as rare as the average programmer, engineer.
  3. Increases in manpower, resources will not have proportional increases in productivity.
  4. You become less efficient as the team gets bigger and generally will produce lower quality products.
  5. Increases in manpower may mean productivity goes negative. (Progress goes backward, not forward, even slowly).

iOS 4 wasn't available for the iPad in June because all of their resources were devoted to getting iOS 4 for iPhone/iPod touch out the door. And they didn't have enough time for that. They really needed another 3 months. You want your teams small with the best people. So Apple has to pick and choose.
This isn't a walk in the park. It takes real money, really talented people, and really difficult choices to get something designed, engineering, built, checked, shipped, supported and maintained.

Gregz0r says:

Things get released when they're ready to be released. There's only a finite amount of time, and you have to prioritise accordingly. Android didn't even have a video player when it first shipped with the G1.

west3man says:

I got distracted when Rene claimed that Apple had to choose to include feature A or feature B instead of waiting to release the product until it had basic features that defined the then-existing smartphone market.
Granted, they were redefine it, but that doesn't insulate them from a fair point of criticism.
I am also surprised (for some reason) to see statements like those that claim anyone who is disappointed in a product has only themselves to blame - as if research can ever replace actually experiencing the device.

west3man says:

Re: "Apple deserves criticism for many things — why throw in AirPlay and AirPrint when they didn’t have time to finish them by their self-appointed deadline? — but not shipping iOS 4 for iPad back in April 2010 isn’t one of them."
By the logic of the article, Apple did the right thing by releasing even half-finished products so that users could enjoy that half-functionality during the time it would've taken to finish baking them.
It's all worthy of criticism and it's all good for those who enjoy the product without the "essential" features or functionality.
Good for the latter. Too bad for the former...except that there were a number of people who became highly skeptical of the iPhone BECAUSE one ought to be able to assume that a modern device has certain features or will have them within what one might consider a reasonable amount of time. Again, like so many things, it's not just about the hard facts you dig up, but about trusting the sources of those facts and the object of them.
Two years for copy/paste exceeds what this user would call a reasonable amount of time.
This is inching dangerously close to rant territory, but I will mention the awful video quality over 3G. Most wouldn't know about that until they bought and used the device on 3G (as opposed to display models on wifi networks). It affects YouTube, Safari, the BBC News app, etc. Plenty of other smartdevices play YouTube video clearly enough to recognize text and faces over 3G.
It's all worth a gripe.

John says:

“Great artists ship,” is a favorite quote of Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
Better quote Seth Godin then. It originates from him.

deviladv says:

The post is factual and logical and well written, but unfortunately it's not very relevant after OS 4 is already out for iPad. I kinda wish you were able to write this a few months ago it would have made more sense.
If you'd like to learn more about Apple's development style, they use style called "Agile development," which basically consists of the stuff Rene described: "Small groups, intensely focused, engineers often moving to projects as priorities and schedules dictate." If you are interested in learning more, google Agile Development.
Rene, I hope you thoughtfully consider a possible article on something that's bugged me for a while, and that is why did it take 2 years for copy/paste or 3 years for user multitasking? It's bugged me that people continue to harp on it negatively, and that no one has actually addressed it that I have seen. I personally don't always agree with your posts (and sometimes I've been as negative as the people here today! :)) but you seem to be willing to actually approach these subjects which can be informative and entertaining. I personally believe the answer to this is in Apple's Agile development process, and that it's a Good Thing.

inflight says:

Why does this matter to anyone? Let me rephrase ... who cares?