Today Apple released both iOS 4.3.2 and iOS 4.2.7. The first was for almost all iOS devices except the Verizon iPhone. The second was for the Verizon iPhone. Like iPad last year, which shipped with iOS 3.2 and didn't unify with the rest of the iOS family until iOS 4.2, the Verizon iPhone shipped with iOS 4.2.5/4.2.6 and won't unify with the rest of the iOS family until some future update, perhaps not until iOS 5/5.x.
Yet despite this fragmentation -- or more properly bifurcation -- of the iOS software, Apple still delivered both updates at the same time, across the world, and across both major US carriers, AT&T and Verizon.
Compare this with Google who took weeks and weeks (and weeks) to bring Android Gingerbread to their own phone, the Nexus One, and even then released it as a trickle update that took weeks more to become available to all devices (including mine.) And that's nothing compared to how long it's taking for non-Google Android phones to get Gingerbread, to even get confirmation from their manufacturers and carriers that they're in fact getting Gingerbread.
Compare this with HP/Palm webOS where despite Palm's previous assurances, older devices probably won't get webOS 2.x, and even the just released Palm Pre 2 on Verizon sounds like it might never go from 2.0.x to 2.1, never mind a unified release across all devices, on all carriers, at the same time.
Compare this to Windows Phone which, despite Microsoft's claims of speedy and steady updates, pre-update updates have caused havoc, actual updates have been delayed, and everyone from the community to Microsoft itself seems frustrated to the point of fuming.
There's no money in free updates. Carriers and manufacturers would typically prefer you get the new software by buying new hardware. Google and Microsoft have to contend with this carrier and manufacturer disinterest. HP/Palm has to deal with carrier aspect. All of them have to deal with partners who lack incentive because they don't believe consumer good-will and customer service alone constitute incentive.
Apple has to deal with this as well. But they don't care. Since 2007 they've pushed out update after update, whole new iOS versions, major point updates, and minor bug and security fixes alike. They've been relentless.
Even over the last 2 years, with different branches for iPad and iPhone/iPod touch and now for most iOS devices and Verizon iPhone, they've kept pushing them out. They've been unstoppable.
That's what Apple customers are used to now. And it's something the competition shouldn't let become a competitive advantage.