Has Apple quelled smartphone buyer expectations for finished products?

Has Apple quelled smartphone buyer expectations for finished products?

Summary: I have been spending a lot of time with my T-Mobile Touch Pro2 over these last few weeks and it has made me pause and think a bit more about firmware updates and how they relate to mobile phones. In the late 90s and early 2000s we never really thought much about upgrading our devices and we purchased them knowing exactly what their functionality and capabilities were while paying hundreds of dollars. If you look at the feature phone market, buyers still appear to think this way when they purchase the latest messaging, touchscreen, or camera-focused mobile phone. With the launch of the iPhone it seems people have started making purchasing decisions on whether or not a phone could be upgraded and have features added later in the lifecycle. This mentality has resulted in kudos for the iPhone, WebOS, some BlackBerry, select few Windows Mobile, and many Android devices while slamming Symbian, T-Mobile branded Android (who may not get future updates), Windows Mobile (selected devices may be upgraded), and BlackBerry devices. It seems to me that modern smartphone makers may have suckered us into thinking that upgradeability is always a good thing.

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I have been spending a lot of time with my T-Mobile Touch Pro2 over these last few weeks and it has made me pause and think a bit more about firmware updates and how they relate to mobile phones. In the late 90s and early 2000s we never really thought much about upgrading our devices and we purchased them knowing exactly what their functionality and capabilities were while paying hundreds of dollars. If you look at the feature phone market, buyers still appear to think this way when they purchase the latest messaging, touchscreen, or camera-focused mobile phone. With the launch of the iPhone it seems people have started making purchasing decisions on whether or not a phone could be upgraded and have features added later in the lifecycle. This mentality has resulted in kudos for the iPhone, WebOS, some BlackBerry, select few Windows Mobile, and many Android devices while slamming Symbian, T-Mobile branded Android (who may not get future updates), Windows Mobile (selected devices may be upgraded), and BlackBerry devices. It seems to me that modern smartphone makers may have suckered us into thinking that upgradeability is always a good thing.

I purchased my original 8GB iPhone for $599 and was pretty pleased by the slick UI and media playback functionality, but there were a ton of issues that made it less functional than most every feature phone on the market and as we later found out it wasn't really a killer device until Apple rolled out support for 3rd party apps and the App Store. As a smartphone goes, the original was more of a beta product than a full release product. Google and HTC showed us the same thing with the G1 and while I think it was a pretty amazing device at launch, there were a few key functions that were added just a couple months ago with the Cupcake update. The Palm Pre rolled out and within the first couple of days an update was released to fix some issues and add some functionality. The Nokia N97 had several performance issues (still has some due to limited RAM and processor) that were recently addressed in a firmware update. While the HTC Touch Diamond was a pretty amazing piece of super compact hardware, the firmware update that HTC provided several months after its release greatly improved the TouchFLO functionality. Have we come to expect that every high end smartphone we purchase is in "beta" until the developers or manufacturers tweak it with firmware updates?

My T-Mobile HTC Touch Pro2 may get the Windows Mobile 6.5 upgrade, but as I pointed out HTC already added in enough special sauce to give me just about everything WM 6.5 is going to add and there is not really a compelling reason to upgrade so it shouldn't make or break your purchase decision. Microsoft and the Windows Mobile team have been taking a beating over the last year regarding their super tanker slowness to maneuver and respond to the market while providing timely updates to their devices. I won't get into the details of how diverse the Windows Mobile marketplace is (form factor, carrier, specification differences) that makes it virtually impossible to provide updates across the board. However, as I look at my T-Mobile Touch Pro2, T-Mobile Dash, and various other Windows Mobile devices I have purchased over the last couple of years just about every one of them has performed well and provided me with the functionality that I knew they provided when I purchased them. I had no expectations or yearning for an update to make the device usable and enjoyable. Do the folks at Microsoft, HTC, Samsung, and others spend more time testing and working out the bugs before they ship their devices to the consumer? RIM BlackBerry devices perform much like these Windows Mobile devices and while there are some updates provided to the BlackBerry models these updates generally are tied to carrier versions of the devices and are not as needed as those we have seen on the iPhone. I know that there are some WM and BlackBerry devices that have been buggy too, but the majority have been stable and functionality has not really changed with updates.

The upgrades for the iPhone have been essential and provided functionality that was needed, but couldn't Apple just have completed the iPhone in the first place and launched it with these capabilities? Do the folks at Nokia push devices out fast to get them on the street without fully testing them out? It seems that just about every Nokia S60 device that has been released over the last couple of years has had "buggy" performance and required a firmware update just to fix bugs without any real new functionality. Can you really tell me that these smart people at Apple and Nokia were unaware of these bugs and issues when they released these devices? Can we ever again expect a full and complete device at launch when we fork over our hard-earned cash for a new smartphone or do we pay for it and bet on future updates to give us what we really paid for?

Topics: Operating Systems, Wi-Fi, Software, Smartphones, BlackBerry, Apple, Mobility, Mobile OS, iPhone, HTC, Hardware, Windows

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16 comments
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  • Yes.....

    Yes, I would say they have. I to have had many devices over the years and my Windows Mobile Devices were the most complete out of the box and I would expect them to be because Microsoft is a software company that supplies software to many other companies. The fact that Apple charges you for an update that does not give much in the way of added features(in my case the ipod touch first generation)these features should just be a free update that would be good for consumers. it seems that as always you only have a year or two before any device is replaced by a better device with a better UI. so why bother with any update when you will just go get a new deivce. it would be nice if your old hardware had a longer update shelf life. all these companies want you to buy the next great product anyway.
    dpt308
    • Wait...

      .... is this the same Microsoft we are speaking... the one who is charging >$100 for Windows 7, which mainly corrects Vista's mistakes...

      ....is this the same company that release Windows Mobile versions without offering updates to prior phones, thus leaving any newer apps from the reach of old phones...

      ZDNet must stop its duality of overexposing Apple's problems and underexposing Microsoft's faults, or else they are in danger of becoming a Microsoft outlet...

      ...just as Fox News became Bush's press room... could ZDNet becomes Ballmer's personal agency... just wondering...
      cosuna
  • MO

    Pushing out products too fast seems to be the MO among companies. They want to make a buck, don't they?

    People seem to be so focused on features, features and even more features that some are blind to the obvious, that the gadget's first duty is to be useful and usable.

    What good are a thousand features if they are difficult to use, e.g. the less than pleasant experience to surf the web with almost any smartphone except the iPhone?
    Mikael_z
  • The iPhone was a complete product when it was

    first launched. It was a media phone with some PIM
    functionality and did admirably well as such.

    Then, because they could and because a market developed
    for it, Apple expanded the product capabilities without
    requiring you to buy a new unit.

    If you think this is rushing a product and being suckered,
    then you need to develop some critical thinking skills.
    frgough
  • Changing Market Conditions

    I agree that, at the outset, peopole may get the impression that a software product is not complete because updates come out after it is intially released.
    Google actually started this paradgim by widely releasing it's products with the "beta" label attached to it. My question here is - if it is working for you, what's the problem by not releasing something early? If anything I would argue that there is a greater need to smartphone OS/providers to demand that phones be able to be updated. If a developer were to really take the time to run every possible user test case scenario through an OS before they released it they would long miss the market condition to take adavantage of availble opportunities.
    That being siad - there has to be balance; obvisouly you cannot release a smartphone that just doesn't work - period. What happened with the Palm Pre (immediatly releasing an update after GA) is example of "could have tested more". On the flip side though - because the user is able to receive an update they can now keep their phone longer and still be able to take advantage of new features that the OS developer creates. Imagine if you have to buy a new laptop every time an OS update came out? You'd be screaming "FOUL!" like crazy.
    My argument is that smartphone OS developers should release a stable, usable system and continue to improve that system on a routine and regular basis by applying updates - and in the case of new features and functionality - even charging for those updates is warranted.
    possmann
    • In other words...Apple hardware! (NT)

      NT
      No More Microsoft Software Ever!
  • Nope

    All of the smart phones shipped with advertized funtionality. They
    all (fro BB to WM) have room to improve.
    Bruizer
  • I don't know what's worse...

    ...the writing or the thought process.

    Nothing ships without bugs in the 1.0 release. Not that there's an excuse for it, but it's true. I don't know if one company is historically better than any other in this.

    But thank goodness we can get updates to fix bugs and thank goodness we can even get brand new features, whether anyone opines that the features should have been in the 1.0 release or not.
    rynning
  • I thought we were talking smartphones

    I think that lets Apple off the hook with its iToy.
    tonymcs1
    • Call it what you want...

      I met someone last year who called my iPhone a "myPhone" thinking that was cute too. He then proceeded to show off his Windows Mobile phone by demonstrating an app that would let him manage all processes running on the device. I am not kidding. I guess one man's toy is another man's easy-to-use mobile tool that "just works."
      rynning
  • RE: Has Apple quelled smartphone buyer expectations for finished products?

    Well, the first iPhone lacked even many normal cell phone features, and hardly qualified as a smartphone at all. It had a few basic features made user-friendlier than the competition (that had been there for some years) had. Not bad, but hardly revolutionary.
    koekayttaja
  • WM needed many updates to get this far

    I think you are not as well informed as you might think Matthew. WM devices went through a whole set of upgrades until they got to be as usuable as they are now.

    In my personal experience it took them till WM 5.5 to get PIM functionality and synchronising really up to speed and stable.... and it was a long wait from WM 4

    They final update from 5.0 to 5.5 really made my smartphone a usuable tool. So well that I passed on the iPhone until OS 3 came into play, that's when I jumped on the iPhone bandwagon.
    Mind you I was computing on Apple all these years but in my view the iPhone was lacking functionality like GPS and internet tethering, which is a deal breaker for me.

    but as far as APPLE has been quelling our expectations for finished products?
    No my friend that road has been paved by clearly unfinished products from Redmond. I clearly remember you never upgraded to any MS product until AFTER they released an upgrade...
    |-Jabba-|
  • Even tin cups attached by string can be upgraded

    Face it dude, the more complex our toys get, the more likely they will have room for improvement and a need for fixes.
    NJSteveK
  • RE: Has Apple quelled smartphone buyer expectations for finished products?

    Do we expect our PCs to be personalized when we buy them?
    Your IPhone didn't need replacing, you just added the upgrades. I
    had an expensive win mobile device before my blackberry which I
    replaced with an IPhone. The win device was ok for the web
    (mobile sites were scarce), but email sucked. The blackberry was
    great for email, but surfing sucked. I hate Apple Corp, but the
    usability of the IPhone is the best currently available. Nobody can
    afford to hold a product off the market till it's perfect, they would
    give up all market share to another platform and lose all their
    development costs.
    hdc77494
  • The human factor... learning curve and tech support...

    First.. I agree with frgough's post above..

    Second... Apple released a revolutionary device
    that had most of the functionality locked down
    tight. They delivered on the advertised promise
    of what the iPhone was and did... But most
    morons failed to realize everything that it
    was.

    It always has been a locked down mobile
    computer running OS X... Apple only need unlock
    something and all of a sudden, it does a little
    bit more than it did before. Killing the
    competition is only an update or unlock away.

    But releasing all functionality at time of
    launch would have been a disaster. People
    couldn't acclimate to the learning curve fast
    enough and would claim it was broken for any
    and every pebkac issue they faced. Applecare
    would have been slammed with an outrageous call
    volume. It would have been a PR disaster.

    What Apple did was smart, they kept it sane and
    real. They took their time and did it right.
    And they are still doing it and morphing the
    iPhone more and more into it's full potential.

    I don't know if you have had a chance to see
    and use the Augmented Reality "Monicle"
    functionality within Yelp on the 3GS, that
    functionality is friggin incredible. I show
    that to people and they are blown away.

    In the enterprise the iPhone is trumping the
    snot out of the crackberry... Yes to those of
    you in denial, it actually is.

    http://www.apple.com/iphone/business/

    No need for a BES server or the fees, The
    iphone has extremely logical administration,
    set up is incredibly simple, it's fast, secure,
    and best of all, it's free. Tons of bells and
    whistles including remote config and wipe,
    over-the-air push email, calendar, and contacts
    from your Exchange server, not to mention all
    the apps.

    One example... Doctors and medical staff are
    able to use them to order prescriptions and
    access volumes of medical information on drugs,
    disease, treatments, etc.

    There are far more than just the .99 cent fluff
    apps and games available for the iPhone.. With
    Cisco on board with VPN and WebX, and the admin
    utility... It is an awesome device that is a
    win/win for any size business.

    The iPhone has proven itself best in class as a
    consumer smart phone and best in class as an
    enterprise smart phone. Anyone who thinks
    otherwise is simply ignorant or in denial...
    All the info is out there for anyone paying
    attention.

    And to all you crack-berry-fairy IT guys out
    there...

    Seriously... Do your homework... Ignorance is
    no excuse...

    http://www.apple.com/iphone/business/

    i8thecat
  • RE: Has Apple quelled smartphone buyer expectations for finished products?


    Truly. It?s like every rollout that I've ever been a part of
    within my own professional life (logistics at a major
    teaching hospital). You bring in all the stakeholders in the
    process; list all the known possible problems to the
    process. Hold everyone's feet to the fire to take care of
    their part of the process. Test your solutions a in a limited
    test environment. Meet for a final summary, and roll them
    out, with plenty of human resources on hand to deal with
    problems. Most of the time things go pretty smooth, but
    there are always a few outliers that were anomalies.
    Change is good, but change is difficult. Success is
    measured by the selection of the team, the effective skill
    sets of the team, and proper allocation of fallback
    resources during the rollout. Apple does a better than
    most, job at this.
    jjmfe