My fellow ZDNet mobile blogger, James Kendrick, made a post this morning about redefining obsolete and while I usually tend to agree with James I have to disagree with him on the premise of his post. Software updates ARE expected on today's smartphone devices and they ARE obsolete if they don't get some updates.
Back when Apple launched the first iPhone in 2007, we had none or very low expectations for software updates on our smartphones with Windows Mobile having a broken system, no Android or webOS devices available yet, and BlackBerry devices that just worked. Apple changed the perception though by launching a phone that began life as a feature phone (with less features than most feature phones) and through updates was transformed into a smartphone.
We then saw Android devices hit the street and right out of the gate we were told that future updates would add functionality to make the purchased smartphone better. Microsoft just recently released their completely new mobile operating system in Windows Phone 7 and again launched with missing features that were clearly stated as coming in a future update. Sorry James, but the game has changed and software updates to add features, improve stability, and make smartphone better are indeed expected and if a manufacturer doesn't keep up then they do make their smartphone obsolete.
A current case in point is Samsung with their Galaxy S devices. I bought a Samsung Vibrant on T-Mobile back in July, but had to return it after two weeks because it wouldn't get a GPS fix and had too many issues in the software even with the rather awesome hardware. Samsung stated back in June (Engadget link) that ALL Galaxy S devices would be getting the Android 2.2 (Froyo) update before the end of 2010 and here we are in early 2011 without this update while new Android 2.2 and even 2.3 devices are starting to appear. It would have been better for Samsung to just release these Galaxy S models without promising an update and leave it at that, but then again we now have update expectations and that trend cannot be reversed.
Shoot, even RIM BlackBerry owners today expect software updates and RIM has done a fairly decent job of providing these to owners.
Some of these software updates are required to use the latest applications so it isn't just a case of a smartphone working as good as when it was available. The lack of software updates on the smartphone can actually make it obsolete in regards to 3rd party apps.
The genie is out of the bottle and if software updates are not going to be provided then I doubt that phone will be popular and I think the buyers have a valid reason to complain. People pay good money (mostly in monthly carrier fees) for their smartphones and should be able to keep a device current for the life of the 2-year contract. The manufacturers created this monster and now need to keep feeding it.