Would you pay for a phone update?
If you could pay for an update, knowing it would solve fragmentation, would you part with the pennies?
Android manufacturers have gained a pretty bad reputation recently, delaying Jelly Bean and even Ice Cream Sandwich updates on devices, but what if you could speed up the process by paying for the update?
The manufacturers claim they delay updates so they can thoroughly test every single feature, across all networks and that's a good thing- it will certainly ensure you get the best experience from your phone.
However, by delaying updates, manufacturers and networks are increasing fragmentation, which in short, is a buzzword for some phones getting updates and some not getting updates, and Android is the worst offender.
The reason as to why it’s a bit of a pain is simple. When you’ve just paid for a device it should be supported with software enhancing, security hole removing updates for a reasonable length of time. In fact, the length of your contract would be ideal but it's rarely the case.
There are some good reasons why the issue exists in the first place. Some devices are just too old to bother with, and although it doesn’t seem like a difficult task, getting an update to run on a device costs money because of testing and any extra coding needed. And companies have to be through because the backlash of a phone-killing update would be substantial.
Let’s remember, though, that all device manufacturers want you to upgrade to line their pockets with oodles of cash. Developers want you to upgrade so they can avoid the hassle of developing for the most out-of-date devices, which still represent a large portion of the total Android community. And you want to upgrade because you want the latest features.
So what if manufacturers gave you the choice to pay for updates? Apart from turning the process of updates into a business, which could prove profitable for those holding the keys (i.e. the companies involved), it could, in theory, relieve the pressures of fragmentation. If you want Android Jelly Bean or Windows Phone 8, is it so unreasonable to expect to pay £5 when it guarantees you would get it when you want?
Knowing there’s a pool of money available, phone companies would have no excuse not to cover the associated costs. In fact, it would actually be an incentive because getting customers to upgrade would add yet another revenue stream, which phone manufacturers could also be a part of - and, of course, Google.
There are a few issues with the plan, though. Popularity for a device update can only be gauged once it has been offered so there’s an element of risk to get over with the fronting of costs. Okay, so total sales figures for a phone would give you an indication of success but would the uptake make it worth it? There’s only one way to find out – and who wants to take the plunge first and be seen as the bad guy? We’re guessing: no one.
Also, as manufacturers can choose which phone can or can’t get a paid upgrade, the problem is merely shifted from one bottleneck to another – a classic case of curing the symptoms, not the problem.
Paid updates would only really work if they came directly from manufacturers or the owner of the operating system because otherwise networks could decline the option delay the proceedings, which would probably render anyone on Vodafone in tears, a company that is notoriously slow with the whole process.
So there are a fair few giant brick walls between ‘fragmentation’ and paid updates, but is there some method in the madness? Is this system a case of telling consumers what they need? As Henry Ford famously said, ‘If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse.'
We’re not so sure. Asking our followers on Facebook, the general consensus was negative. Out of the responses, most said variations of the word ‘no’. ‘NO, already paying over the odds as it is! Updates MUST stay free!!!,’ one commenter vented. Another said 'No way! We pay enough for our phones alone, updates MUST stay free!'
Not off to a good start, then.
However one commenter said ‘it all depends on how much they are asking’, which raises an interesting question. If consumers could be coaxed (or, more likely, forced) into the idea of paid updates, what sort of price would be acceptable?
For some reason our initial thought was a couple of quid. We then thought a network could offer update support as a hook for signing you up, or even as a bolt-on for under a fiver. 18 months of updates for a tenner - that sort of thing.
The more we thought about prices, though, the more we started to head into the Apple vs Microsoft update price debate. Apple likes cheap releases whereas Microsoft seems to favour a bigger lump sum, although it looks like Windows 8 will start to reduce the gap judging by early price rumours.
Even though phones are like PCs, and becoming more so all the time, the justification is there but it’s a tough sell, especially for Android and its land of the free ways. At the end of the day, the mainstream probably doesn't care about updates, if it even understands them at all, and everyone else seems to have become comfy with free updates with an element of risk attached.
It all depends on how much you value being up to date. If you've been burned a couple of times with an expensive but now outdated brick of a device, suddenly a few extra pennies doesn't seem so bad. But we just can't shake the feeling that it's a dangerous can of worms to open.