The vast majority of people appear not to be bothered about them. Perhaps more accurately they don’t fully realise the consequences of a device that is not fully up to date. Others though, particularly the more tech-oriented likely to read this article, are all too aware of the issue and scream at manufacturers to bring them quicker.
I expect you will also understand I am referring to Android-powered devices here. Certain brands in particular drag their feet when it comes to ensuring their phones can access the latest features.
Brands like BlackBerry have made excellent strides in this space. All recent BlackBerry phones based on Android are part of a promise to match Google’s monthly security releases. This includes the Priv, DTEK50, 60 and upcoming KEYone. Pure Android models such as the Nexus line and new Pixel also receive this treatment.
Premium devices from Samsung, Sony and LG also often get major updates, just often a few months later.
However many lower-tier models from these brands are left far behind. Some of the budget manufacturers also struggle to ever update at all.
Updates cost money to develop
The reason is often cost. A Bloomberg report highlighted costs which may runs into the hundreds of thousands when supporting a large range.
This is where the old bugbear of Android fragmentation rears its head again. This was once an issue where devices from differing manufacturers had wildly different feature sets. This has since been calmed down.
Now fragmentation happens within product ranges. Consider a global manufacturer such as Samsung. They produce multiple phones a year. Some have variants for global regions; within this there are also carrier-branded, locked or SIM Free models. Each runs ever so slightly different firmware which requires developing and testing. The costs soon mount up alongside the time for all this.
Profit margins are certainly not what they once were even a few years ago. At some point a manufacturer has to make a decision as to if and when a device is updated.
Budget phone = no updates?
Devices that sell in the hundreds of thousands get all the publicity. Generally they will get regular updates because they provide the manufacturer with value. They are making money and have a large customer base which justifies putting the work in.
Smaller manufacturers with less devices and resources will need to evaluate software development time. Can the costs be justified or is time and money better spent on the next big release?
Now there is a difference between security patches and full software revisions (such as Android 6.0 to 7.0). Big revisions will obviously be more work but with either there are processes and costs. Google’s monthly security patches for instance, still have to be reviewed and integrated into your firmware by professional developer(s).
With ever decreasing time between major product releases, companies working on thin margins and tight deadlines may make the decision not to bother updating a range, or at least put the work off for a while.
Not every budget phone is guilty of this however plenty are.
Would you pay for regular updates?
It is generally assumed a well-supported device will receive major updates over a 2-year period. Security patches are potentially delivered for a while longer. This is a similar model to desktop OS’ albeit with a shorter timeframe.
Is it fair for consumers to expect this though? There is no explicit contract with the manufacturer or provider. It is in some ways a gesture of goodwill that the phone maker offers.
On the flip side, consumers are also unable to make an informed decision. When buying a phone you have almost no idea how long it will be supported.
So the question is would you pay to bring updates faster?
I feel that the vast majority would emphatically answer no. Also by no means do I advocate this is a method to solve the issue. However a fee could mitigate a manufacturer’s worry about costs, plus introduce an accepted level of service they then have to answer to.
I am not setting out the mechanics for how this should work, but would you be prepared to pay a few £ a year for regular updates? Lets say ‘premium’ customers get the fastest releases. Lower tiers and non-paying people then receive them slower or only get essential security patches.
In some ways many of us already pay. If you choose to own a flagship phone, you have absorbed the cost of future development in the initial high price.
Maybe that could go further. Perhaps Samsung provide ‘free’ updates with top ranges. For the budget ranges though – phones that are otherwise excellent value – perhaps £5 for this year’s updates would be acceptable?
Let me know your thoughts.