Let me use the same scenario that I used in this post last year.
You are heading back home while seated in a taxi or your car heading back home on one of the busy streets of Kampala and boom, Kifeesi boys snatch your phone and take off into the darkness that is the city.
Or rather, you are on the road to your house in one of the estates around Nairobi. It is a mere distance away and out of the blue, Nairobbery occurs and you lose everything you had on you to some goons. Important documents, your laptop, your ID and even your phone.
These are the drastic unfortunate circumstances I have found myself in that have led me to need to buy a new smartphone. Obviously, this does not apply to everyone. The important aspect is that you need a phone. iOS or Android. It just needs to be a smartphone so that you can get back online, update your status, send that new-phone-who-dis message.
You are out and about looking for a phone or just checking out what options you have online within your budget. What questions are you asking yourself while looking?
- Does it have a good camera?
- What is the battery life?
- Is it dual sim?
- How much is it?
- Is it Used?
So many other questions come in but most times, one question is usually forgotten by the masses. Does it receive any software updates?
It is no fault to forget that question. Most people do not actually care what software a device but in actual sense, it matters.
Receiving software updates means your phone does not become irrelevant after a couple of years. The manufacturer can breathe new life into the phone by giving it some new tricks and features or optimizing it.
The most important part about an update is security. The world is more connected than ever before. Each and every day, there are people trying to use that connection to their own advantage. It is very prevalent in mobile phones that have become a big part of some people’s lives.
There are vulnerabilities in every connected device and there are people always trying to exploit such vulnerabilities. Security updates are meant to patch such vulnerabilities. A phone that does no longer receive such updates should be a no go but is that really the case.
Besides this, people hold on to their devices for much longer than in previous years. The said devices are still good even after a couple of years. A software update basically means that the device becomes even better.
Who to consider and discard?
Samsung is one of the largest manufacturers of smartphones in the world. They have such a huge catalogue of devices at different price points for different brackets of people.
A huge catalogue means that all phones have different features with some devices getting the very best. This comes with a disadvantage though. The scale at which these devices is maintained is difficult for the company software-wise.
And Samsung is not primarily a software company. Their main business has thrived on making hardware from phones to TVs, fridges, washing machines among others.
Some of this hardware is the best on the market and yes, some of them do have the software. However, not to the level of Google, Apple or Microsoft. Samsung has an update cycle of about 2 years for new versions of Android. The company provides 3 years of monthly security updates and 1 year of quarterly security updates in the fourth year.
This is normally for high-end devices. Samsung has an amazing track record for updates as compared to a specific major brand in Africa as we shall see.
On the other hand, Apple is way better at software updates than any other manufacturer. This is mainly because they have a smaller catalogue to deal with than their Android counterparts.
Apple for a while has released only one device every year (or rather one skew of devices). Another major factor is the fact that Apple controls both the hardware and software of their devices.
This is the holy grail of the Apple Eco-system most people cannot leave. The tight integration between all the devices that Apple makes is astoundingly amazing.
I have a theory as to why iPhones are usually more expensive than most other devices. When you buy an iPhone, you are not just paying for the physical device itself. You are also paying the 5 years of updates you are going to be getting for your device.
Also, the famous Apple Tax. But this is one of the reasons why iPhones hold their value so well over a long period of time. Apple is able to provide such updates because they are largely a software company.
Much as Android is open source, Android manufacturers do not control the software. Google owns Android and they are the ones that send out these updates.
Most Android manufacturers just add their own skins and customizations to differentiate the devices with their own look and unique features. Samsung has been champion in bringing certain features before Google even thought of them.
I have mainly focused on Apple and Samsung because those are some of the biggest manufacturers in the world. But on our local soil here, Transsion Holdings is the big dog. Unfortunately, it has one of the worst if not the worst track record.
The company owns Tecno, Infinix and Itel brands which have made a huge splash in the African market over the years. Tecno taking the largest share. The outcry from Tecno users (at least those who care about these things) is the fact that a one-year-old phone cannot get the latest version of Android.
But for the prices Tecno is pricing its devices, it does not surprise anyone knowledgeable that these devices do not receive most updates. Though this is still not warranted because Nokia, on the other hand, provides updates for even its cheapest devices.
To be fair, Nokia devices are under the Android One Program. This is where manufacturers do not really change up the software that much. Nokia focuses on the hardware while Google goes more on the software side.
But let us hope that Hillary Keverenge from AndroidKenya is right by saying Tecno might be taking advantage of the low consumer awareness by further not talking about software updates, but this won’t last forever.
The Downside to Updates
Software updates are not always the best to get and this is best shown by the company that does it best, Apple. There have been updates where iPhones end up getting completely usable because the update came with an undiscovered bug.
A channel called Everything Apple Pro on YouTube has shown so many of these bugs. Sending someone a certain string of characters via text message has caused some iPhones in the past to completely shut down or even get bricked in the process.
Much as you are supposed to keep your device secure with some of these updates, it is always advisable to wait a couple of days after the update arrives.
What the numbers say
Counterpoint is a research agency that carried out research in 2019 on this very topic of software updates for smartphones.
The agency realised there is little consumer awareness. This could also be a factor for why Manufacturers do not get this the attention it deserves. The research also noted that highly-priced devices are usually given first priority in receiving these updates. However, they noted that even mid and low priced phones also deserve that same treatment.
The paper also points out that Xiaomi is good at making sure their mid-priced devices always have the latest version of Android at launch.
It points out that Tecno and Alcatel are among the worst manufacturers in regard to updates for their devices. This is probably because they mainly deal with devices that are below $200. This does not give them much incentive to update those devices.
Tecno devices do the basics right. Most consumers of these devices just require the basics of a smartphone such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Good enough camera for selfies and the likes. Tecno has enabled the growth of smartphone usage in Africa. The high volume of devices and very low prices have played a major part in this growth.
Software updates are essentially necessary for a device to stay relevant. They also ensure that devices are kept secure in case of software vulnerabilities that are constantly on the rise. Always try to get a device that is at least still get some security updates. There is a lot more to these updates and I will discuss further in a future post.