Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

Summary: Apple changed the firmware update game in 2007 and today smartphone owners expect and require updates to keep their devices current. Manufacturers need to keep up or get out of the game.

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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.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility, Samsung, Smartphones, Software

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15 comments
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  • RE: Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

    Good take on the situation, particularly the Galaxy S situation. To be fair, I never stated that updates shouldn't be provided, I want them as much as anyone. But I will mildly disagree with the take that most gadgets are instantly obsolete until they get them, which was the premise of my post.

    As much as I want updates to be instantly and freely available, it's not realistic to believe that will ever happen. The ecosystem (OEM, platform, carrier, 3rd party app developers) is too vast for it to happen as we want it to.
    JamesKendrick
    • If Apple can do it, why not others?

      @JamesKendrick Apple seems to have little problem getting out updates and a major focus was made with WP7 based on the premise that they provide updates too. I know Apple has limited hardware, but think all need to make it happen.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
      • RE: Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

        @palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller) I hope we get there, but fear we never will. Too many factors involved with multiple companies involved. It doesn't help they often all have different objectives.
        JamesKendrick
      • Vertical integration allows Apple avoid that kind of fragmentation

        @palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller): BlackBerry with its OS, Nokia with MeGoo and Samsung with Bada will allow reliably regular updates, too.<br><br>But not Samsung with Andoid, HTC with Android, Motorola with Android, et cetera.<br><br>By the way, did you or James tried <b>Samsung Bada phones</b>? Some say that it promises to be no worse or even better than Andoid.
        DDERSSS
      • JamesKendrick, I agree

        [i]Too many factors involved with multiple companies involved[/i]
        It may be alot easier for MS to update WP7 devices as the OS isn't going to be as tweakable as Android, (more variations on the same os with Android), but Apple has one OS, and no carrier control so they have the ability to do that.

        It might be interesting to see how Apple updates their OS now that it's in a CDMA phone and GSM.
        John Zern
    • RE: Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

      @JamesKendrick I agree with you. Take for example, my Archos 5IT, still running Andorid 1.6 but fully functioning and used almost every day to either check email, twitter or hook up to tv for the kids to watch movies. No updates and not obsolete;)
      plwweasel
      • RE: Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

        @plwweasel That's exactly my point. I want every device to get every update available, too. But I don't agree that failure to get an OS update makes any gadget "obsolete", which is all I said.
        JamesKendrick
    • RE: Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

      @JamesKendrick Disclaimer: this is all unconfirmed, but according to at least one report, Samsung is claimed by an unnamed insider as taking the position that lack of updates helps to drive planned obsolecense. See: http://androidspin.com/2011/01/12/breaking-t-mobile-internals-confirm-samsung-is-holding-the-android-world-hostage/#
      DBEvans
      • But that also would allow someone the incentive to

        @DBEvans
        buy a tablet or phone from someone else. The last thing Samsung would want was forcing someone to sample their competitor's product.
        John Zern
      • RE: Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

        @DBEvans <br><br>It also drives their customers away.... Like to HTC which has upgraded their phones to 2.2
        Freddy McGriff
    • RE: Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

      @JamesKendrick

      But Samsung devices are instantly obsolete because they release product that does not work as advertised. Case in point is the failure of the Galaxy S devices to use GPs and the Samsung Transform (Which I unfortunately bought and did not discover the ugly truth till after 30 days) which after a firmware update the Bluetooth dies and cannot be resurrected.

      I will never buy another Samsung device because they respond to the demands of fickle consumers whether the devices work or not and then promise the fixes without following through on the promise. The providers don't stand behind the falsely advertised products and they leave the customers holding the bag for faulty product that does not work as advertised. Maybe it is time for the FTC to certify product and not allow the fraud which is being perpetrated by Samsung upon an unsuspecting but fickle consumer.

      With two year subsidized upgrade intervals it is a very long time for me to have to deal with inferior, poorly designed product or pay full price to buy product that works. With the safety concerns related to Bluetooth/hands-free failure, I would think that their would be a larger awareness. They recall cars if the brakes don't work, they should recall phones when the Bluetooth doesn't work.
      Freddy McGriff
  • RE: Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

    Using the Galaxy as the reference is probably not fair to Samsung since the rest of the world seems to be getting the 2.2 update just not the US and I would say its not Samsung but the collection of US based carriers that are holding it up.
    jfp
  • RE: Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

    Apple seems to have hit a sweet spot between maintaining a software update program that allows a consumer to at least play out the end of a two year contract before the new iPhones become irresistible. I had a 3G that with the updates that came out with the 3GS kept me happy till the 4 came out last summer. Frankly, the features of the 4 were not totally compelling enough to roll my 3G, as Apple even kept it on the updated list and I was able to updated my software and acquire some of the new feature set of the 4. I'm glad I did upgrade to the 4 however. In our family such things get recycled so that my 4 yr old Grand daughter is now happily playing away on my old 3G.
    dheady@...
  • The problem is the usual handset maker doesn't do software

    Most of these companies experience is with products that once made, they don't have to deal with again. And as they churn out more or different handsets every few months it's going to keep getting worse.
    GoPower
  • RE: Smartphone software updates are expected and devices are obsolete without them

    Here here! We Droid 2 users are waiting patient for our Gingerbread. Run, run as fast as you can! You can't catch me. I'm the Gingerbread Man!
    OmegaWolf747