Can you trust software update promises from smartphone manufacturers?

Buying a smartphone and keeping it for years has never been easier. If you buy a high-end smartphone like the iPhone 13 or Pixel 6, long update policies and powerful hardware will keep your phone running smoothly for years. Even the cheapest phones — think Samsung’s A-series models and Nokia’s X-series phones — also have their makers promising updates for over two years. While these are good policies, there are questions about how much you can rely on these assurances.

The compelling promise of better software support

In a move initially started by Apple, the phones come with the expectation that they will improve over time with annual updates and patches. iOS 15 and Android 12 came with a mass of new features for iPhones and Android phones, and we can expect iOS 16 and Android 13 to do so next year, and iOS 17 and Android 14 the next, And so on. In a perfect world, that means we could keep our smartphones for as long as they can physically hold on, but that world isn’t perfect.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

A false promise?

Apple, Google, and Samsung devices may have a schedule and stick to it, but everyone is a roll of the dice. A company may promise a certain number of years of its updates, and it may even want to deliver at that time, but a lot can happen in between. For starters, companies usually don’t control every part of their phone in terms of hardware. Any update policy should be developed in concert with the operating system manufacturer, chipmaker, carriers, etc. If any of these links in the chain break down, the chances of the update promise failing increase.

For example, we recently reported on HMD Global and its failure to deliver a promised Android 11 update to its flagship. Nokia 9 Pure View.

“Nokia phones aim to deliver the best possible smartphone experience, day in and day out. That’s something we pride ourselves on. That’s why we had to make the difficult choice not to offer the Android 11 software upgrade for Nokia 9 PureView Incompatibilities between camera and software have reportedly led to a compromised experience that does not meet our high standards,” HMD Global announcement, confirming the speculation that the reason HMD was unable to deliver this update was due to issues with one of the component manufacturers.

A broken promise for budget phones

There are also resource issues. It’s easy to promise and deliver three years of updates for your $800 flagship phone, but what happens when it’s a budget model that isn’t selling very well? Owners of Motorola’s cheaper phones have found it out for themselves, with slow updates often shipping a year or more late.

“Each device has its own merit in terms of where it needs to be updated and how many updates it receives. We are committed to updating an operating system, and obviously, “We are continuing to review it. If we find that the device has a longer life cycle in the market, we will obviously review to see if it needs more OS updates,” said a Motorola spokesperson. said earlier This year. Although the company later retracted that statement, it’s largely an accidental truth when you step back to see how companies actually update their phones.

And that makes a lot of cynical sense. Why would manufacturers waste time on a phone that doesn’t sell? What are the five customers who bought it really going to do if they stiffen up? It’s not like the updates aren’t coming. They’ll just be months or years late and might be buggier than you’d like. It’s a promise kept, technically speaking.

iPhone 13 Pro and Pixel 6 Pro in hand.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

How do you know who to trust?

Confidence comes down to your track record and how much you are willing to spend. Apple makes no official assurances but simply delivers on a reliable basis. You can be sure that the iPhone 12 or 13 you buy today will last at least five years. Google Pixels are less durable, but at least you can be sure that the company will deliver updates on time for as long as they promise. Samsung will also deliver updates to its S-series phones and Note phones fairly quickly, as both are flagships. However, once you move out of this range, it is much more difficult to determine which update policies are meaningful.

HMD Global promises two years of updates for its phones, but the company has been notoriously slow in delivering updates. Xiaomi often leaves its Android phones unpatched for long periods of time, even expensive models like the Mi 11 Ultra etc While you’ll probably get these updates at some point, the reliability and predictability outside of a select few phones is still frustratingly non-existent.

why is it important

Smartphone update policies are more important than ever. Being able to keep your phone for years and years is good not only for your wallet but for the planet itself. Even for someone who buys smartphones refurbished, it’s essential that you can trust a manufacturer to hold their end of the bargain, so you don’t end up shelling out money for a phone at the end of its life cycle.

Ultimately, buying a smartphone because of promised updates has always been a risk, and HMD Global’s recent decision is a good reminder of that.

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