Error-Plagued Update Process Mars Apple’s iOS 5 Launch

It’s happening again: three years after myriad problems derailed a massive relaunch of an Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) Web service, Apple’s servers were inundated with traffic Wednesday from those trying to upgrade to the newly released iCloud service and download iOS 5 for their iPhones and iPads. The crush left many unable to update their phones, and in some cases the new software appeared to delete applications or turn iPhones into shiny paperweights.

The process appeared to go smoothly for many depending on their timing, but it wasn’t hard to stumble across someone complaining about the iOS 5 upgrade process on the Internet Wednesday. “So far, the iOS 5 update has rendered my iPhone 4 into useless hunk of glass and plastic,” said Loyd Case, a freelance technology writer, on his Twitter feed Wednesday afternoon. Different people reported different problems, but the process of updating one’s iPhone with the new operating system appeared to be extremely slow at best and downright impossible at worst.

Several people reported losing applications that they had previously downloaded, and the process of getting those applications restored from backup copies did not seem to be going very well. “I have not had so much trouble with a software update from Apple. Ever,” wrote GigaOm’s Om Malik on his personal blog.

The problem was widespread enough among Twitter users to vault “ERROR 3200” into Twitter’s trending topics list, as people tried to figure out what the message they received during the update process actually meant. And Apple’s discussion forums were swamped with those complaining about the error and attempting to get help for their problems.

Apple has to be pleased with the demand for its products, but it’s another black eye for its Internet-services group and won’t sit well with early-adopter iPhone users. In 2008 server crashes knocked the MobileMe service–which is being replaced by iCloud–offline for days, prompting then-CEO Steve Jobs to convene an angry meeting in which the leader of the group was fired on the spot. Apple also opened a new modern data center in North Carolina this year that was supposed to help the company handle the increased load from iCloud, but it doesn’t appear to be working Wednesday.

At least Apple can take some comfort in the fact that the BlackBerry service is still down.