Lots of Software Updates for Smartphones: Good or Bad?

The Jekyll and Hyde side of frequently updated software

by: - Last updated on: September 11th, 2017

Recently, our resident gossip monger, Tech Auntyji, put up a small GIF about how OnePlus users felt whenever a software update came to their phone. It was a funny enough GIF but it, like so many things, also triggered a slightly wider debate, wiz, were regular software updates a good or a bad thing?

software updates
Image: Lifehacker

As in so many things in technology and indeed in life, there is alas, no clear cut answer to this. On the one hand, yes, there is no doubting that software updates to devices or apps have their positive side. They show that the company is concerned about its product and is addressing issues affecting it. “Not like some big brands which launch a device and then forget about updating it for months,” a OnePlus user pointed out to me when I asked him for his take on the situation.

There can, however, be too much of a good thing as well. While it is all very well to have a brand releasing regular software updates to address functioning issues and bugs in its products as well as adding new features, it can get a trifle annoying when these updates become too frequent – for instance, we know of many OnePlus 5 users who are simply fed up of updating their phones. “It is like losing phone functionality for a few minutes, and honestly, I cannot tell much difference even after it has updated,” one user told us. The bigger brands who are accused of ignoring software updates, on the other hand, use this very frequent updating process as evidence of releasing shoddy and untested software. “We do not release software updates every damn month because we test our software so heavily before releasing it that the chances of errors are ruled out,” an executive from one of the bigger smartphone brands in the market told us. “We do not just put out half-baked software and then start cooking it while the consumer is using the device. Most of the newer players claim to be updating software to improve the consumer experience, but what they are actually doing is giving them buggy software and then fixing it as they go along!” (We do feel that it is unfair to level this allegation solely at “new players” – after all, the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have also issued regular (and often buggy) software updates.)

The truth, as always, is somewhere between these two rather extreme points of view. Of course, it is impossible for any company to release one hundred percent pristine products – bugs do pop up, even in the walled garden of the iPhone. And yes, software updates are a great instrument for a company to show that it cares for its product – Apple, Xiaomi, and Google are great examples of this. That said, we wish we had a penny for every time when we have seen a feature of a product being praised and hyped to high heaven, only for the company itself to release an update claiming to “fix issues” and “improve performance” on that very feature – the camera of the Nokia Lumia 920 was a great example. On the other hand, you cannot deny that the efforts of a company like Xiaomi to keep its MIUI updated with new features and bug fixes on a relatively regular scale are admirable. But then, we ourselves found ourselves surprised when the freshly released Mi A1 by the brand received a few software updates within a couple of days of our getting the review unit.

Yes, frequent updates do show a company’s concern for its users, but at another level, they are also beginning to indicate a lack of the same for the products they release. Some observers feel that this happens because of the “culture of leaking” product details and dates, which forces companies to work on stand out features that can be talked/ leaked rather than stability issues. Many times, a leaked beta feature turns out to be unstable but has to be included because the company itself leaked it out to generate “buzz” in the market, and of course, also because excluding it after promoting it implicitly would make people suspicious.

No matter which way you see it, the software tightrope is a tough one to walk. No updates may give the impression of not caring enough. Too many of them might seem like inefficiency. No one really knows what the golden mean is. Speaking for ourselves, we would prefer more updates than none. It at least proves that the product has not been forgotten. But try telling that to my mum who shakes her head in annoyance every time an update notification pops up on her iPad.

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