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Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

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CNET Editor

Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies. Twitter: @Joseph_Hanlon

Loud and Clear

Would you buy a phone if you couldn't update it?

The Nokia 800 will not be able to receive an update to Windows Phone 8.
(Credit: Nokia)

Being able to upgrade a phone's firmware is one of the great leaps forward that's been made in mobile phone technology over the last few years. A phone is now more like a computer than ever, and a major software update can make an old phone feel like a new phone, if implemented correctly. So its not surprising that tech-savvy phone shoppers now look for phones that can be updated in the future.

Despite this, Nokia and Microsoft are wandering down a dangerous path this year, with the Lumia-branded Windows Phones. These phones are the latest and greatest from Nokia, but they will not be compatible with an upgrade to Windows Phone 8 due to an incompatibility of hardware — a software update that is expected to be announced later this year. Lumia phones offer a great selection of features, but should someone avoid buying one today, knowing that they will definitely miss out on the enhancements of tomorrow's software?

Manufacturers also face similar brand-loyalty woes for older products in the market. Recently, Motorola posted on a customer-facing blog, explaining why many of its recent releases won't be upgraded to Android Ice Cream Sandwich. In its own words:

You may be wondering why all devices aren't being upgraded to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Here's the deal: we work very closely with Google and cell phone carriers for every software update. And obviously we want the new release to improve our devices. If we determine that can't be done — well, then, we're not able to upgrade that particular device.

The cynical among us will assume (probably correctly) that this is Motorola's way of politely saying that it doesn't want to spend the money upgrading these devices, but this post begs an interesting question. Do all phones need an upgrade? If your phone is running smoothly, and it handles the tasks you need it to handle, do you really need new firmware? Are you entitled to it?

There are hardware limitations to consider, too, as Motorola alluded to in its statement. HTC attracted the ire of fans this time last year when it announced that the popular Desire handset would not be upgraded to the Gingerbread version of Android, citing insufficient memory to support the update. Fans responded through social media channels, and convinced HTC to reconsider, which it did, building a version of the update with several memory-heavy features removed.

Overall, it's become one of the biggest tech headaches for everyone involved; manufacturers, telcos and customers alike. Customers want the latest firmware for their devices, as they want to feel that their tech investment is running as well as it can. For manufacturers and telcos, the process of updating firmware is time consuming, and therefore costly, so it's not surprising that many updates are shipped late, if at all.

These businesses would also agree that updates are still extremely important, especially for building brand loyalty and attracting return customers. Vodafone, for example, has developed an Android Software Update blog to keep its customers in the loop on when updates are being tested and delivered. It may not speed up the process, but at least it attempts to be more transparent, and it recognises that its customers feel that this is a big deal.

The Android examples are different from the Lumia example, though. With the Windows Phones, Nokia and Microsoft are upfront about the compatibility issues; customers who buy a Lumia 800 or 900 should be aware that they cannot upgrade their phones. People using Android phones now assume that their device will be upgradable. But for how long is it reasonable to expect this? Is it sufficient to expect a single major platform update, or should a phone be updated until it is no longer for sale, or until your warranty has run out? Should the manufacturers define an update period when the phone is launched, so that we know what to expect in advance?

I'd love to know what you think about this. Do you feel you've been burnt by a manufacturer's update schedule? Have you updated your phone, only to discover that its performance suffered somehow? Let us know in the comments below.

Add Your Comment 34

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JohnS22 posted a comment   

I wish I read this article before I bought the phone. I bought it after being recommeneded by an o2 salesperson. I was not told about the new Windows Phone software that would not be available on this phone.

I am now left with a 7.8 which is very disappointing and unfulfilling as I can't get many things that WP8 users can get.

And there's nothing I can do unless I buy a new phone. However I like my phones to last me a long time, and as I spent a lot of money on Lumia 800, I can't afford to do this any time in the near future.

I definitely feel burnt by the manufacturer's update schedule. So, so disappointed.


AaronRothschild posted a comment   

Who cares!! The Lumia is just a great- hang on -make that Super- phone and even with the Windows 7.5. It is slick and feels fully optimised to the OS. Its a winner and will make big inroads on word of mouth recommends. For social media or for business it is streets ahead of anything else.

Windows 8 will no doubt be good as well. The proof will be in what the major manufacturers will adopt. I predict Samsung, Motorola, Acer etc will dump Droid for portable devices to jump to the Windows platform

SIngle core, dual core, or quad -harry113- again doesnt matter. The droid and IOS devices dont true multitask so they have a core(s) effectively sitting idle. Threads in the cores in use are underutilised simply because the OS's jettison tasks for memory management. The "single core" Lumia will do true multitasking. I have had up to three open word docs and two apps open on a Lumia client all at once and moving info and data between all five. Try that on a iPad or Droid tablet!

You cant because they wont


AussieSlayer posted a comment   

There should be a class action suit for false advertising by phone manufacturers that said they would update to the next OS, e.g. Android ICS but then retract it.

I believe this is fair to consumers, why release so many different handsets to support very few or none of them with updates.

Apple iOS and Windows XP are 2 successful products due to their long term support

Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Symbian need to offer more back to the consumer, as hardware wise you can buy more powerful hardware e.g. laptops and tablets for the same money or less and often with better support


kalval posted a comment   

Seeing as neither Nokia nor Microsoft have confirmed one way or the other I can only assume the reports above about the lumia are bait to try to get MS to make an official comment on the matter. Seriously though, if you have a legitimate source please let us know, otherwise this is merely a rumour and should not be reported as fact.


seamac37 posted a comment   
United States

When my son, wife,and I all bought a Samsung Droid Charge a year or so ago, it was with the understanding (from Verizon) that when ICE was released, the phones would be upgraded. I have since been told by Samsung that it was not true. Needless to say, I was unhappy and informed the Samsung Rep, (as if he cared) that we would not replace the phones with Samsung. The end-user has no other clout. Agreed?


gregory.opera posted a comment   

It's been one year since Android 4.x ("Ice Cream Sandwich") was announced and the vast majority of manufacturers have not made the upgrade available to the their customers... A trend that follows past Android releases.

Prior to that, "dumbphones" (sometimes called "feature phones") - many of which have suppported firmware updates and upgrades for YEARS - also rarely saw updates or upgrades and if they did, it was usually well into the life of the "dumbphone"!

The point is, updates and upgrades have always been delayed or abandonded, so any that refuses to purchase a product because it may not get an update or upgrade is just making life difficult for themselves, whilst potentially missing out on a great product...

Buy a product that meets your needs physically (i.e. with regards to the design and hardware features) and if you get an update/upgrade, great; if not, well it's no different to how it's always been in the industry.


dan_rox77 posted a reply   

Not true – see: iPhone

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