Android manufacturers might want to focus more on updates, less on new devices

multiple motorola android phones - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

The vast device choice in the Android world is usually a great thing. In fact, one of the big advantages of Android is that instead of only having a few devices to choose from, there are a vast number of different hardware configurations, prices, and manufacturers to choose from when you buy, meaning that you can get exactly what you want.

However, while that choice is usually very good for consumers, sometimes the number of devices can get a bit out of hand. Especially when you have manufacturers like Samsung making a new smartphone or tablet almost every other week, it starts to seem like companies might be putting too much time into making so many new devices for every possible niche. Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if they had nothing else to do, as innovation and new hardware is always quite cool. Unfortunately though, the fact is that often many Android devices get updates quite late, or don’t get updates at all. So, I’m here to propose that perhaps, instead of putting so much effort into making new devices all the time, Android manufacturers might want to put some of their resources towards supporting their existing devices.

Now, this is in no way saying that manufacturers should stop trying to innovate and build newer, better, and faster hardware, or even that they should stop making keyboard/slider/budget/fill-in-whatever-form-factor-you-don’t-like-here devices. What I do think would be beneficial for manufacturers is if they put more of their resources toward making sure that current device owners are happy with their hardware, and that they can happily use their phone for the term of at least their two-year contract. (Although I don’t think contracts are a good idea to begin with.)

See, the problem is something that people call planned obsolescence. What this means is that a device basically has a built-in expiration date, or a time when it will stop being useful. Lately, this term has been applied to smartphones and computer hardware that don’t have the potential to be upgraded in the future, and as such will not be useful in a very short time. Obviously, this isn’t a very good thing for consumers. When you purchase a $200 smartphone (sometimes $300 from Verizon and over $600 off contract) you expect it to be good for at least a couple of years. Why, then, do smartphones feel outdated, sometimes in less than a year? A lot of the problem is the very fast pace of hardware, but that doesn’t mean that software won’t help.

Take, for example, the original Samsung Galaxy S smartphone. It was a pretty big deal when it was announced, back in March of 2010. That means that if someone signed a contract a few months after the release, then it would just be ending this summer. Even this flagship smartphone is looking quite dated by now with a single core processor and 800 x480 screen. The Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread OS doesn’t help either, because while most Android phones are still stuck on Gingerbread, the original Galaxy S is perfectly capable of running Ice Cream Sandwich. Almost since the software release, open source projects have Ice Cream Sandwich ROMs that run on the device quite well.

What, then, is preventing Samsung from updating the original Galaxy S? If I had to venture a guess, I would have to say they are interested in making more money off of customers. Even though the Galaxy S is an example of fairly good long term support, the device is still practically dead now. That means that if you want to have a current smartphone, you will need to buy a new one, which Samsung hopes will be a Galaxy SIII. I’m not saying that it would work for everyone, but for many Galaxy S users a nice Android 4.0 update  would allow them to keep using their smartphones for a while longer.

My point here is this: it is great for manufacturers to make new and exciting devices, and even to build new budget or niche devices. However, before they go all out moving into the future of hardware, they need to make sure that existing devices get updates and are supported for at least two years. Very few people are going to buy a brand new phone after just a few months, regardless of how much better it is then the previous version (here’s looking at the Droid RAZR and RAZR MAXX, and even Galaxy SII to Galaxy SIII). As such, I think that in the interest of both consumers and even profits, manufacturers should start putting more of a focus on long-term support and updates for smartphones and tablets. There’s no need for manufacturers to have flashy hardware announcements, if they manage to keep their existing customers happy, when the customers finally do upgrade they will likely choose the same company and its solid hardware. And by all means, manufacturers should keep on pushing the boundaries with awesome new hardware and features, it would just be nice if some of that effort could be transferred to supporting your existing customers and devices.

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Aaron Orquia

Aaron Orquia is an associate editor at Pocketables. He has been using Android and Linux since he bought his first computer years ago, and his interest in technology, software, and tweaking both to work just right has only grown stronger since then. His current gadgets include a OnePlus One, a Pebble smartwatch, and an Acer C720 Chromebook.

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3 thoughts on “Android manufacturers might want to focus more on updates, less on new devices

  • This is a far bigger issue to you or me, as enthusiasts, than it is to the average consumer… ‘Specially in the long run. Most consumers just don’t see their device as obsolete just because there’s a newer OS out there unless you go out of your way to point out feature X or Y that they can’t have, and Google has increasingly been decoupling major functionality from the OS (see: Gmail, Chrome, etc). A year or two from now OS development will have slowed down significantly and I’d be surprised if we still see a major OS revision every year (probably every two tho, which will conveniently coincide with smartphone contracts). As it is we’re already starting to see a bit of this, Gingerbread was more of a refinement of Froyo than a complete upheaval, and I’d be surprised if Jelly Bean is a major departure from ICS. I’m not sure where the whole concept of free OS updates thru the life of a device originated anyway, consumers certainly don’t expect that from PCs (enthusiasts or not). Sure it’d be great if Google could deploy updates a-la-Apple, but it’s just not realistic. Even MS just shafted a whole generation of Windows Phone users by telling them WP8 isn’t in the cards just 1 year after WP7 devices came out, and MS has a much tighter grip over the platform!

    • I hate to be that guy but if semi-guaranteed software upgrades are a big thing for you… Then maybe Apple’s ecosystem is for you. Just now that even in a wholly vertically integrated ecosystem they still choose to leave certain key features off older devices just to push newer hardware (multi-tasking, Siri, etc.)… So you’re not completely immune from software obsolescence regardless of what you choose. Maybe your complaint shouldn’t be that manufacturers don’t take the time to develop and release updates, but that manufacturers lock down devices in a way that makes it harder for users and 3rd parties to update the devices when the manufacturer loses interest. If all mobile devices were a bit more open there’d be a thriving (maybe even commercially viable) ecosystem for 3rd party updates. ‘Course then you open a whole other can of worms regarding security, warranties, etc. The fact that PCs from 5 or even 10 years ago can still run current versions of Windows is a minor miracle imo (don’t laugh, I’ve seen Pentium III’s w/RAM upgrades easily rocking Win7 as PoS devices etc).

  • i totally agree .. i bought the galaxy note 3 months ago and now they are talking about note 2 while there are still major problems with the original note that they might have put some effort to fix, instead they are focused on the new note, in my case I’m not planning to replace my phone for a new one any time near (maybe even after 2 years from now)
    that’s why imo apple is doing fine, the iPhone 3GS still has their support with iOS 6 while it’s a three years old device.
    I really hope other companies focus more on their current devices and a little bit less on new ones.


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