How Much Does a Free iPhone Update Cost?

This morning I downloaded an update on the software for my iPhone. As so often happens with software updates, it completely screwed up the device, requiring me to spend an hour with tech support trying to get things fixed.

One frequently faces the choice of whether to update software or not. The gains are some extra features. The out-of-pocket cost may be zero (as with the free iPhone download) or it may be substantial.

But in all cases there can be a substantial opportunity cost of one’s time, a cost that is often much larger than one expects (since in many cases things will not work right away).

Moreover, this opportunity cost is a fixed cost — it doesn’t seem to be any greater whether I download a new version shortly after its most recent predecessor, or if I wait for several new versions before updating. While the gain to updating rises the longer one waits to update — and the monetary costs may be higher too — the fixed costs of updating are constant.

That being the case, one needs to consider both types of cost before going ahead to update. I was attracted by the slight potential improvement to my iPhone, but I forgot about the fixed costs and paid the penalty of an hour of wasted time.


What about the opportunity BENEFIT, you gained an article from the experience.

Meagan Call

I was under the impression that many upgrades included some security patches. We're about to fly into an era of increased phone hacking so I'd think by not updating there would be a much bigger potential cost than whatever opportunity cost you pay with your wasted time?



Yeah, it's just an Apple thing. Apple products are the only ones that have issues with software updates.

Do they let you leaave the house?


I've never had such problems. But the post seems to assume that problems are endemic to software updates. This has apparently been the case with Windows Vista, but to my knowledge has not been the case with Apple's products (provided that you aren't participating in some sort of rogue iPhone project) in which case such problems are a distinct possibility, but give you no right to complain.


Yeah. That has happened several times with my iPod so I am very scared when I see that there is a software update. I usually say NO from now on because of the time it takes to reset and reload my iPod every time I get download the update. I feel your pain!


I have had similar problems with my iPod and my iPhone. I guess it is just an Apple thing. For all the Apple fanboys out there, I sure haven't had a good experience with them.

Keeping up to date with updates is often necessary to patch security holes in older versions.


This happened to me with my good 'ol ipod that had faithfully worked for 3 years. The day after a software update the hard drive crashed and burned. Instead of buying a new one, I replaced the hard drive to perfect results. I diligently avoided software updates for months and everything worked great. Then, with my ipod plugged into its dock and rushing out of the house I chose to install all updates on my computer--including the ipod update without thinking. The next time I went to plug the ipod in? Total crash. I couldn't have been more disappointed. Now, I can charge the ipod and use it with the music that's already on there, but I can't update it with any new music. So sad. I guess I have had it for about 5 years now though.


I haven't had any problems either...then again I follow instructions and don't try to crack/hack/cheat/pwn my devices just to have a free app on my phone.


I'm very concious of these opportunity costs. I've been using the same computer for five years not because I can't afford a new one, but because I dread the thought of the week it would take me to re-locate and install all the software I need. Sooner or later I'll be forced into it and will appreciate the huge performance gains, but I still will hate that first week!


Wow, a surprising number of trolls in the comments...While your comments about opportunity cost are interesting, I would be interested in seeing the statistics on how many people actually suffer a device failure after running a software update, which should allow one to calculate for any given update the relative chance that any given individual will suffer a failure, thereby allowing one to make a rational decision about when to update.


I disagree with the contention in paragraph four.

Skipping updates can have a non-zero opportunity cost too (even exclusive of security considerations) -- the combinatorial explosion of patch sets can result in certain sets that are not tested as well by the software deployment teams. A test team may do more testing on upgrading from original code versions and N-1 versions than they do from versions in between. For example, say you unbox a device at 1.1, patch it to 1.2 when you set it up initially, and then for whatever reason elect not to take 1.3. When 1.4 comes along your scenario may not be as well tested as 1.1->1.4 and 1.3->1.4, particularly with unusual configuration options or internationalized versions.

But that's not the whole story either. In many cases there's value in waiting some amount of time to let the early adopters stumble over the issues caused by new releases. In certain cases badly tested code can be unleashed on the public, and the manufacturer has to either release a bulletin explaining a workaround or in severe cases remaster a release (1.2 -> 1.2b).



I'm sure this iPhone problem was completely your fault. I've had one since iDay, and know tons of others who have one, and they never had problems with updates. You probably had no idea what you were doing.


I try to keep in mind opportunity costs, but when I start doing it too much I go crazy and end up not doing anything enjoyable. For example, I've probably expended two week's worth of income in opportunity costs reading this blog this year. I know that if that cost were up front and real (and somehow I could get the time back instead), I probably wouldn't subscribe to the blog. But I could say the same thing about most of my leisure activities, so in the end sometimes it is best to simply do what I enjoy.

Software updates and the ensuing glitches, on the other hand, drive me absolutely nuts. They have not only the opportunity cost of the time but the emotional cost of putting me in a bad mood for the rest of the day, which my girlfriend would probably say ends up costing her as well having to put up with me!


For a long time, my father did not update his software because of the problems he occasionally experienced. After a few years of this, the older software he was using began to be a problem. Operating systems no longer could run it, it could not open new file types, and the company that sold it no longer supported it. It was a very difficult experience to finally take his old files and port them to a new version. From this experience, I do not recommend that people skip too many updates. Waiting for an update to be vetted by the public may be a good idea, but not updating at all out of fear of the potential hazards is not a good idea.

Andrew M. Kasper

This is a very common problem among system and network administrators (the guys who make sure all the hardware and software in your organization works). In fact, at large enough companies, there's typically at least one person whose entire job is to ask that very question: what's the least-expensive way to make everything work? I doubt that a lot of serious statistical research has been done on optimal patch and upgrade roll-out procedures, but this is at least a question that professionals ask.

The real question (IMNHO) is how much thought do software companies give to the question of "how much does this really cost our customer?"


all thls over a measley hour wlth tech support? l mean, the beneflts of frequently updated software welghed agalnst a small chance that you encounter some error seems an easy cholce

how often do these updates mess up your phone? lts worth lt, but sorry you lost an hour,

John H.

I am not sure I would agree that the opportunity cost of any upgrade is fixed. If the only trade-off was time taken to install the update, then the reasoning would be valid. I would argue that time is not the only thing foregone with the decision to upgrade or not.

In terms of features, updates may package new services that enhance the utility of the device by saving time or adding functionality that did not exist previously. Using the iPhone for instance, older versions did not allow multi-recipient SMS text messages; the same message that had to go to five people had to be input 5 times. Newer versions now allow the messages to be typed once with the number of recipients governed by how many per message charges you wish to incur.

Features are not the only component in an upgrade. Bug and security fixes are also packaged into upgrades. The very same TIF exploit that allowed the earliest versions of the iPhone cracking scene to find success could also be used for malicious purposes. The benefit of closing off that vector for exploitation to save days of lost productivity is probably worth the 1 hour of tech support used to repair a failed update.


thinking for a minute, then typing

Buy a treadmill or do sit-ups when you call tech support. You can calculate the value of this versus what you would have done with unencumbered time and your "hour of wasted time" might then be considered only 18 minutes wasted..or eight...or 58.


I usually try to be a late adopter of such updates. That way bugs that are endemic to the software have a chance of being ironed out before I get the update. Then the bugs I experience should be related to only my device's setup.