Smartphone Updates: Redefining "Obsolete"

Smartphone Updates: Redefining "Obsolete"

Summary: I must take enthusiasts to task for a misconception that is propogated every time a gadget doesn't get an available software update. I'm referring to claiming said gadget is obsolete.


Tech enthusiasts, and I count myself firmly in that group, have a desire (or obsession) for having the latest and greatest. That desire covers not only the gadgets we love, but the software that makes them what they are. As much as I like having the latest and greatest of mobile tech, I must take the enthusiast group to task for a huge misconception that is propogated every time a gadget doesn't get an available software update. I'm referring to the misstatement that once a mobile platform sees an update, all gadgets that run an earlier version of the platform software are immediately "obsolete". It simply isn't so.

You know what I'm talking about. Platform X gets an update that takes it from version 1.1 to 1.2 (or perhaps 1.11). Immediately, owners of gadgets that shipped with 1.1 start clamoring for the update, and when it's not made instantly available start moaning on enthusiast forums that their device is now obsolete. Perhaps we should take a look at the actual definition of the term.


Obsolete: no longer in use or no longer useful. Of a kind or style no longer current; old-fashioned.

As much as I like having the latest version of system software running on my gadgets, it is a stretch to claim they are no longer in use or useful until I get any updates. Based on this definition my gadget is certainly not obsolete without the update.

I suspect it's the second definition of the term that gets everybody tied in knots. It seems it is the mere thought that a gadget is no longer current (or worse, old-fashioned) that makes it OK to claim said gadget is of lesser value, or not as good as it was the day before the update was released. Never mind the fact the gadget still does everything it did prior to the release, it is no longer current.

As much as we enthusiasts would like to see things change, the fact is that not every device on a given platform will get every update that comes along. There are too many factors, all of them involving additional cost to the providers of the hardware, to see that change. We will continue to gripe and moan when a platform update is released but not for our device. But let's be realistic, the gadget is not suddenly obsolete. It's just not current. It still does everything it did the day we bought it. Just not as fashionably.

UPDATE: Colleague Matt Miller has a differing view to mine which he's presented eloquently on his ZDNet blog.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Smartphones

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  • RE: Smartphone Updates: Redefining 'Obsolete'

    While I usually find your insights and information way ahead of the pack, I am sorry to say I must strongly disagree with this very poor custom focus and limited viewpoint. When a company PROMISES to update (as Samsung has for over 6 months), when their product has designs issues (GPS, FS, etc), when the next and same basic product has the newer update AND lastly, due to unfair and CEO direction to have at its core a product road map that does not either match the underlining OS (Android OS open like Nexus) and then insult their customer by then releasing such a device, Yes I am targeting Samsung and their GalaxyS as that is what I know to be so, wheresoever, I am sure this holds so for other phones. The removal of their CEO is the only honorable thing left for them to do. <br><br>IMHO, if they would release open phones at $50 more in price (millions sold) as well as both the "bricked" issues and customer base issues could be removed from this debate.
    While your use of the term Obsolete is a correct statement, it is when you refer to software updates that your point is not customer focused. It is their WORD being broken and POOR customer focus that the majority of folks are upset at. If honor, one is only is good as their word, would be the focus AND they would say when selling this is a NO UPDATE device, no problem.
    • RE: Smartphone Updates: Redefining 'Obsolete'

      @davidhere -- I have a Samsung Fascinate, and while I agree with you about the frustration regarding the updates and fixes, James is really talking about something different. The Sammys aren't "obsolete," they're "broken."

      But, the slow OS updates are pushing the phones toward becoming obsolete. Case in point: Chrome to Phone. Can't run it without 2.2, which the Fascinate doesn't have. In that sense, 2.1 devices are becoming "obsolete."
    • RE: Smartphone Updates: Redefining 'Obsolete'

      @davidhere If a vendor promises an update and then defaults, that is different. Bad situation and should never happen. I'm referring to simple expectation, and belief that a gadget is obsolete when update doesn't come along.
  • RE: Smartphone Updates: Redefining 'Obsolete'

    "I?m referring to the misstatement that once a mobile platform sees an update, all gadgets that run an earlier version of the platform software are immediately ?obsolete?. It simply isn?t so."

    Or, for that matter, whenever new platforms arrive, all of the old platforms are "obsolete."

    Take PCs vs cell phones vs vs tablets vs other mobile devices. Every new platform is said to make the PC "obsolete," yet the PC is still one of the most used (and useful) platforms.

    Just because we have computers on the go (and they're getting very nice!) doesn't mean I don't like to sit down to my large monitors and full size keyboard anymore.

    While you [i]can[/i] do pretty much anything on a phone or tablet these days, they're not really the optimal platform for everything they do.

    When I'm at home, I still go to my PC because it's larger and far more comfortable to work on. No keyboard cramps on a small keyboard, no squinting at a small screen, no trying to use an imprecise touch technology for precise tasks.

    PCs are still the best when they are available.
    • RE: Smartphone Updates: Redefining 'Obsolete'

      plus they play starcraft 2 :)
  • RE: Smartphone Updates: Redefining 'Obsolete'

    Jk, I disagree..devices not updated to the latest version of the OS they are running are obsolete because, 1) many apps require new functionality in OS updates to work properly, 2) many updates fix bugs and vulnerabilities found in earlier versions of the software.
  • Let's track &quot;abandoned&quot; phones!

    Forget "obsolete". Let's instead keep records of exactly when each phone is abandoned by its manufacturer. I'd love better records on how many updates were released for each model. Take a look at this related to carriers: And this on manufacturers: This is a GREAT START.
  • Devices should at least be current for life of contract

    If wireless carriers demand that someone sign up for a 2-year contract to get a subsidized device, then that smartphone should be kept up to date so that the buyer can run all the apps and get the functions expected of that platform. This may be tough given the speed of the smartphone world, but then maybe we should hold carriers and manufacturers a bit more accountable for their pricing schemes.
    palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
    • RE: Smartphone Updates: Redefining 'Obsolete'

      @palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller) "If wireless carriers demand that someone sign up for a 2-year contract to get a subsidized device"

      Nice idea, but I don't see how that would be possible. What if you are buying a phone that has been on the market a few months. The two years would have to relate to the initial release date of the phone.
  • here's where you go wrong...

    <i>But lets be realistic, the gadget is not suddenly obsolete. Its just not current. It still does everything it did the day we bought it. Just not as fashionably.</i><br><br>yes, it does everything it did.. but it doesn't do everything that the new release would allow it to do.. the new release can have whole new features that change in a big way how the device is use... e.g. multi-tasking or folder that allow your 9 pages of apps to be shrunk down to two.. can change performance wildly and use of the device and really can effectively obsolete devices running the previous software..<br><br>by your definition a computer with an Intel 8086 still does everything they did.. so they are not obsolete.. it's not about fashion.. it's about real concrete use, performance, security and stability.. and access to new apps that require the new OS...
  • RE: Smartphone Updates: Redefining 'Obsolete'

    All good points but demanding OS updates indefinitely in case 3rd party apps get new features with later OS versions is not realistic. Should Windows XP systems get free updates to Windows 7 because 3rd party apps for Win7 are better?

    Bug fixes should always be provided for phones, but those can be done apart from OS updates, the subject of this post.
    • RE: Smartphone Updates: Redefining 'Obsolete'

      @JamesKendrick <br><br>The updates Miller and like-minded users expect are equivalent to the desktop release of a patch or service pack through Windows Update, not a completely new OS release equivalent to upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 as you attempted to model that that's what users are expecting. What users expect is something like the Windows Update program you find on the desktop, but for mobile.
  • The PC analogy point

    Well, for 8+ years now, Microsoft kept me and 10's of millions of people's XP up to date on many physically different manufacture's hardware, and this platform/OS analogy should be same for any hardware device I buy. If the oldest Pentium through the latest Core i7 hardware can still run XP, then why can't the manufactures of the mobile equivalent do the same. By the way, several generations of iPhone's enjoy the latest updates from Apple, so why shouldn't owners of Android devices have the same expectations???