By Ermal Hajrizi
Smartphone manufacturers need to stop short-handing consumers. What do I mean? I’m talking about not updating our devices. And I don’t mean delayed updates. I mean never updating them at all. It has been going on for years now, and I’ve had enough.
Let’s start with Apple. As we all know very well by now, the Cupertino-based powerhouse shook up the mobile hardware and software market with the much anticipated release of the iPhone way back in 2007. No one can deny both its immediate and long term effect. Nonetheless, Apple has been a stubborn perpetrator of the no-update trend. Don’t get me wrong, their method of update delivery – which bypasses carriers completely, unlike some other companies (I’m looking at you Android) – is a blessing, and their timeliness is spot on. But there aren’t enough of them.
Take for instance the recently announced iOS 6: it’s a sizable and fairly feature packed new version of the time tested OS that powers the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. But if you don’t have either an iPhone 4S or the new iPad, you’re put of luck on some things. A couple of features reserved for these two devices (and no, the 4th generation iPod touch isn’t included) include things like Siri and FaceTime over 3G. If you’ve got a 3GS or an original iPad, you’ll unfortunately be left to watch as the higher ups use things like Flyover, turn-by-turn navigation, offline reading lists, and VIP Mail. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: why can’t my device get something as simple as offline reading lists? Obviously, the 3GS and original iPad are more than capable of running the two features without a hiccup.
So, why leave them out? Well, like nearly everything in this world, it’s all business. Bad business. Apple (stupidly) believes that by withholding many features, or entire OSes, from fairly new devices will encourage users to upgrade their hardware, raking in more cash for Apple. However, as a user myself, I can tell you this is not the case. Apple should be focused with developing a loyal user base, which it has done well in the past. But its recent disregard for certain devices really ups the ante in terms of loyalty. Just as example, the original iPad, release just 2 years ago, will not be getting iOS 6 at all. Zilch. Nada. None. You’re stuck on iOS 5.
At the same event at WWDC, Apple released a new desktop OS, too, called Mountain Lion. One of highly touted features was Power Nap, a program that ensured your data synced even when your laptop was closed and “sleeping”. Guess what? If you’ve got a 2011 MacBook Pro, you’re out of luck. You’ll get Mountain Lion, but one of the most basic features won’t be coming to your barely one year old device. Ridiculous isn’t it? Apple: please fix this, for your own good.
This is where things start to get personal. Why? Because I am an Android user myself. For the past year, I had been stuck on an LG Optimus V on Virgin Mobile USA. Pity me, won’t you? Anyway, the device was usable for my every day needs and chugged along (although barely) decently. The problem, once again, lies in the mismanagement of updates and all of the broken promises from LG. As a side note, none of this is Google’s fault: although they make Android, they aren’t responsible for pushing out updates to OEM devices. Instead, they just focus on their own Nexus line of phones. Back to the Optimus V. When I purchased it, LG had put out a statement basically saying that all LG Optimus One phones (that was the lines “parent” name) would be upgraded to Android 2.3, aka Gingerbread. Lo and behold, nearly all carrier iterations of the One line were upgraded, with the sole exception of the Optimus V. What great luck I have.
In a way, I felt cheated and ripped off. I had purchased the phone with the full belief and trust in LG that it would be upgraded to the latest and greatest OS. But no, LG decided not to do so, telling users that they could purchase a newer phone. Why? There’s no reason that it can’t run Gingerbread! Every other LG Optimus One does! If you can’t tell by now, it made me quite angry. I was upset to the point that I vowed to never buy an LG phone, ever again. I’ve now moved on to an HTC One S on T-Mobile. Way to lose business, LG.
One of the reasons that Android manufacturers have trouble pushing updates on time – or at all – is due to skins. Skins are overlay themes that companies put on Android to supposedly add features and style, but the only thing they really do is slow down the machine. Most major manufacturers have their distinguishing skin, such as HTC’s Sense, Samsung’s TouchWiz, and Motorola’s Motoblur. Every time Google releases a new Android version, these manufacturers have to recode their skins to make sure they work perfectly with the new OS. Obviously this takes quite a bit of time. The result is long overdue updates (I’m talking 6-8 months), or no updates at all. The point is, manufacturers need to find a different way to implement skins. A popular suggestion has been to make them available as apps on the Google Play store.
While skins are one problem, wireless service providers are another. When it comes to Android, carriers like to add unnecessary baggage known as “bloatware”, which are usually advertisements in the form of apps. This contributes to the wait time, as the carriers take quite a while to test out everything, eventually letting the update out into the wild. Even then, there are frequently delays and problems with sending out the update over-the-air.
With all that being said, I’ve to give credit where credit is due. Google itself has been on top of updates for its line of Nexus phones, which includes the the Nexus One, Nexus S, and its most recent Galaxy Nexus. Just yesterday, Google announced Android 4.1 aka Jelly Bean, and already users of the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S are reporting updates. That’s pretty quick if you ask me. Contrary to Apple, who also provides timely updates, Google really works hard to make sure that nearly all features work on all of its past devices that can reasonably support said features. This encourages users to the platform as they know that even with outdated hardware, they will enjoy the best software.
Microsoft’s newcomer has drawn critical acclaim for its innovative and well designed use of tiles. Its app store has been steadily rising in quantity, recently surpassing 100,000 apps. Manufacturers and carriers are expressing their support for the upcoming Windows Phone 8 version. Everything seems to be going well. That is, if you exclude sales and market saturation. If you look at those two areas, Redmond is doing, simply put, an abysmal job. The market for Windows Phone is weak, so Microsoft better do well with the introduction of WP8.
There is, however, one problem. When Microsoft announced WP8, they also brought along a bit of bad news for current WP users: they won’t be getting an update. Instead, they’ll be relegated to using WP7.8, and watered down software experience. To be honest, this completely stunned me. Even Nokia Lumia 900 owners – a phone that isn’t even a year old – won’t be getting the update. That is a slap in the face to all of the loyal WP users out there, and even worse, is very bad business. It’s understandable if a piece of hardware is outdated and can not run the new OS at a decent speed, because that would be an unsatisfactory user experience. But a phone like the Lumia 900, which features a 1.4 GHz processor and 4G LTE, can surely run WP8. No doubt about it. So why not update it? I have no answer, really. It’s just that shocking.
As you can see, all of the major players in mobile computing are responsible for some very disappointing ventures regarding software updates. Whether it be in the form of untimeliness, not a complete package, or just no update at all, it has to stop. Companies should be working to develop a loyal user base, one that can be depended on to buy later versions of a product. However, this can’t be accomplished through current standards. With multi-year wireless contracts, phones need to work throughout their lifetime, not just a fraction of it. We can only hope that the situation will change, and that one day, my poor old Optimus V will be avenged.