Incremental device updates: Are they good or bad?

October 16, 2012
25 7 11

We live in a world in which technology is moving very rapidly. While this can be great in terms of innovation, it can be extremely annoying for consumers. We also live in a world where most smartphone users are locked into multi-year contracts. Why is it that the contracts we are forced to abide by don’t line up with the rate in which new technology is being released?

There has been a new trend forming lately that causes smartphone manufacturers to release incremental updates to their most popular phones. Samsung, for instance started with their popular Galaxy S3 device, and then released the Galaxy S3 Alpha with only one new notable feature. Additionally, HTC released the One X, and then followed it by releasing the One X+. On top of all that, Motorola has even introduced several different incarnations of it’s popular Droid Razr device.

While it’s understandable that companies are constantly making adjustments and adding new features to their arsenal, why are these features being released so soon? Any time a company releases a specific feature, other companies feel as though they have to compensate. As a result, we get new brandings of familiar phones just to fill in a minor feature gap. The worst part is that some of these updates come just months after the initial product launch.

Not only is this unfair to consumers who have just purchased the original device, but it also causes confusion within the ecosystem as to which phone is which. If manufacturers choose to do incremental updates like this, then the carriers need to change the ways by which they do things. They need to stop locking customers into lengthy contracts so they don’t have to wait as long to get the latest technology. Additionally, it won’t be a bad idea to make devices a little cheaper to allow a customer to purchase an incrementally-updated phone if they so choose.

For some reason, manufacturers tend to re-brand a device when they introduce it in a new territory. This only adds to the confusion, as we see a flush of devices that look and function exactly the same, but have different names. But what’s odd is that sometimes the same phone will be referred to by a different name depending on which carrier it is on, even if they are in the same territory.

Why can’t manufacturers release a device with one name, across all territories? If the problem is in the difference in cellular technology, then that surely isn’t enough of a difference to justify a new name. Manufacturers should be working hard to create a unified experience no matter which country you’re in or what carrier you’re on.

So what do you think? Do you think manufacturers should release phones that only have a couple new features? Or should they wait and only release phones when they have a major upgrade ready?

Comments

  • MrBaun

    i agree. the releasing of these phones is just getting ridicules. if they would strategically release the flagship every two years rather 8 months, maybe the sales would increase and the company will perhaps save some money

  • http://profiles.google.com/nicandro.m Nicandro Filho

    They should release Phones only when they have a major upgrade. And reduce the number of devices in production. Sony anounced a whole alphabet of Xperias:
    T, V, L, G, U, S, P, J, SX, GX, TX, SL and TL!

    And other with names: Tipo, Tipo Dual, Miro, Sola, Advance, Go, Ion, Neo L, Acro S.

    Only this Year!

    They should have focus! Many of this Xperias are practically the same. How they can make fast updates for this crowd of devices?

    In this, everybody shoud take Apple as example. Don’t need to launch only one phone per year. But they could put on the market a well selected range of configurations (Mostly the size) and three or four specifications of hardware to diferent sizes of bank accounts.

    With a narrow assembly line, they could reduce the costs of the devices, and focus on software updates and the development of the next year products.

    Everybody Wins!

  • http://yellowrex.com YellowRex

    I would much prefer fewer, more significant, updates, and consistent phone model naming.

    For essentially that reason, I’ve given up buying phones on contract from T-Mobile and only plan to buy Nexus devices in the future. I’m excited to see what this fall’s announcement brings.

  • Vyrlokar

    First, I may be wrong, but I believe that the carrier-named device variants are a mostly US thing. Here in GSM-land (Spain, but AFAIK, it’s the same in the whole EU), it seems that the devices carry the same brand on all territories and all carriers. How many versions of the Galaxy SII are there in the US? Here in Spain, on all carriers, it’s called Galaxy SII, and you get a sim lock, some crapware, and a carrier logo on both the splash screen/boot animation and the exterior of the device. You still need to wait for the carrier to approve updates (unless you’re like me, you can do math, and went for an unlocked device and a MVNO), but at least there’s no confusing branding (no Samsung Galaxy SII Epic 4G Touch).

    • Kassim

      “I believe that the carrier-named device variants are a mostly US thing”

      Yeah, I think so too.

  • DrCarpy

    Agreed. This incremental update/upgrade only benefits no one. Buyers are frustrated or feel cheated when a bigger battery or some other feature is added to a device they bought 2 months ago. Manufactures get bad reputations on blogs for doing this, so they don’t benefit. Make a 2-3 phones a year that is amazing.

  • Kassim

    The US is a unique ecosystem all of it’s own for no more apparent reason than the use of different business models. I’m not sure but it can’t possibly be to benefit the consumer to NOT harmonise things like the mobile network infrastructures…can it?

    My theory is that by using different infrastructures leading to all those carrier specific variants of phones, they can’t share costs of maintaining the network with other carriers which would reduce the costs of contracts.

    That’s why apparently, on average, mobile contracts cost US consumers something like $1000 (ÂŁ600) per year!

    In general, I would say EU (at least UK) tariffs are less than this – probably at an average of $600-700 (ÂŁ400 or so) a year because of that shared infrastructure costing each carrier less to maintain.

    This is just my own (non-researched) view so, I’m probably wrong but, food for thought nonetheless.

    Barking up the wrong tree on this or could there be some element of truth in this?

    • Kassim

      Case-in point:

      [url="http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/uk-networks-come-together-to-accelerate-4g-rollout-1105260"]Techradar[/url]

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamie.cottrell.92 Jamie Cottrell

    in south africa, one carrier has introduced one year contracts. i think this is an excellent idea as if manufacturers slow down the incremental updates somewhat to ounce a year we can have the latest technology without 2 or 3 different updates a year

    • Kassim

      Aah, the 12-month contract.

      It almost feels as if contracts of this length have gone extinct in the UK…at least, operators (carriers) never push them as hard as the 24 month contracts. Most people probably think they don’t offer them anymore – that’s how non-existent their advertising of them is.

      Seeing as the longer they keep you tied up to the contract, the more profit they make from you, I don’t think we’ll get decent 12 month contracts being the norm in the UK again.

      At least not in the middle-term future…

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