How-To Geek

Would You Pay for Smartphone OS Updates? [Poll]

For most phone ecosystems, manufacturer/carrier provided updates are few and far between (or outright nonexistent). To get access to mobile OS updates, would you open your wallet?

While iPhone users are used to regular (and free) OS updates, the rest of us our largely left out in the cold. Over at ExtremeTech, Ryan Whitwam argues that we should be willing to pay for smartphone OS updates. The core of his argument is updates cost money and there is no financial incentive for carriers like Sprint and Verizon to turn back to their supplies (say, Motorola or LG) and pay them to provide an update pack for a phone they stopped selling last quarter. He writes:

It might be hard to swallow, but the manufacturer of your phone is out to make money for its shareholders. The truth of the matter is that you’re not even the customer; the carrier is. Carriers buy thousands of phones at a time, and unless the carrier wants an update, there won’t be one because there is no one else to pay for it.

Imagine if, instead of burning money for little or no benefit, an OEM actually had a financial incentive to port ICS to its older devices. Instantly, the idea of updating phones goes from the customer service back-burner to the forefront of a company’s moneymaking strategy. If the system proves a success, carriers could get involved and have a taste of the update fees as compensation for deploying the update over the air.

This is more viable now than ever before thanks to the huge number of Android phones in the market. Samsung, for example, has sold over 30 million Galaxy S II phones since last summer. It has just started rolling Android 4.0 updates out to some countries, but most users are still waiting. If it charged just $10 for access to the update, that would be $150 million if only half of all users wanted an official update.

At first glance we frowned at the $10 suggestion. In fairness though, we’ve spent hours tweaking Android devices over the years with Cyanogen and other Android-based mods in order to get the latest OS updates. Surely our time is worth $10?

What do you think? If your options are going without an upgrade because you’re not buying the newest device every six months or shelling out a nominal sum like $5-10 to get updates when you want them, what would you do? Log a vote in the poll below and then sound off in the comments.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 03/15/12

Comments (47)

  1. InT0xEd

    We don’t throw away old computers, why do that to phones? I would LOVE the option providing the update is stable and brought useful features. $10 is cheap and if it bettered my phone and (* probably the reason it will never happen) helped me avoid a contract I’d buy it in a second.

  2. Sid

    I would consider it if the carriers would release it immediately and not stuff it with bloatware.

    Otherwise, I’d rather have the challenge of modding.

    And on that point, phones need to be made more resilient/ recoverable if people have to pay for an OS upgrade.

    Can you imagine the outcry if people updated their windows computer and windows “bricked” their machine? Why do we tolerate it?

  3. IrishIT

    They already snake you for a crap ton when you buy the phone and the inescapable plans…….how much more money do they really need to siphon from us?

  4. Anomaly

    The whole smart phone area is disgusting mess. Too many OS’s, too many versions of the OS’s, too may models and manufacturers of phones, getting nickled and dimed to death for everything. Now suggesting paying for updates?

    I dropped using a smart phones and have gone back to a basic feature phone. It’s just not worth it to me. What I got out of a smart phone just wasn’t worth the hassle and cost. If they change their crap ways I might consider one in the future but I don’t miss it now.

  5. r

    Being a IT tech, I wouldn’t even pay for a smartphone, any related service or application.
    My company covers all that.

  6. Meena

    i use cracked software cuz i can’t afford them and i can get them for free. i don’t think i can get the new update if i had to pay for it.besides,for my currency, 10$ is much

  7. dave

    if a carrier got a reputation of charging its customers for the update, id be inclined to jump ship pretty quickly, possibly both on the carrier and on the OS. if we’re using android as an example, if i were charged for the ICS update, for example, id just head over to xda and get a rom that will probably be more functional than the official update anyway. and even if you were someone new to rooting and custom roms, the process for most phones has gotten so easy that a couple hours of reading up on the method will open you up to a world of options with roms, kernels, modems, etc., giving you far more than just going with the official update. for the case of someone that doesnt want to spend the time learning how to do that, they are probably the same kind of person that doesnt care enough about the update anyway to pay money for it.

  8. darylgriffiths

    No. But that’s why I got an iPhone – I paid for it when I bought the beautiful thing.

  9. Jim Anderson

    It is lack of a good customer service philosophy not a lack of incentive.

    I work in a company whose customers have their own customers who use our software products. We are wise enough to understand that even though that end user may not be our direct customer we still bear a strong incentive to support our customers’ customers. Without those users purchasing our product(s) from our customers we will (at best) lose profitability and at worst, lose our business. We charge those users no fees but rather, we factor those costs into our product line.

    In other words, the assumption that we are going to support our products is not an afterthought, it is core to our way of doing business.

    I know that that attitude is rare among technology companies in general, but the associated industries pay a stiff price in lost revenue because of customer lost to poor service. Where I’m from we call it straining past a dollar to snatch a penny. Further, in a world where so little in the way of service is expected any more (because of the endemic lack of such) many companies take advantage of such low expectations and simply refuse to offer good support without a premium.

    As a business person and a customer, the last thing I want is some governmental mandate but the rewards of a passionatley customer oriented approach always pay, the do not cost.

    Great Article and thought provoking to boot!

  10. TechnicalServiceGuy

    At first glance I shell out $200 for a new smartphone, I shoul datleast get one upgrade for free. But with these newer version I can see over time if they offer it Day 1 release and no push backs, I could see paying $10 for an upgrade. And they need to stand by it if it happens to defunk my phone. I guess when it comes down to it, if they had a good model they decided to stick too, I wouldn’t mind paying for an upgrade.

  11. Mike

    I have the latest Razr – love it! But Verizon’s #1 goal is to separate you from your cash and then wait four you to upgrade to your next phone (and contract). I already pay waaaay too much as it is. I’ve actually broken down and bought a couple of apps, even that rubbed me the wrong way. As much as my plan costs me I would expect a little better customer service – not have to pay a 3rd party to pick up where they fell short.

  12. Anonymous

    Not just no, HELL NO! I won’t pay. I already DID!!!

    Personally, I could care less about “updates” that add creature features to a phone. However, if my safety/security is compromised due to poor coding/design and that problem is correctable, I would not only expect a free solution but demand one. And assuming I, the “end user” didn’t cause any problem(s) I would expect someone else to be paying for it too. We usually expect no less of (almost) any other industry/product, especially when we pay for added “support”, so why not expect it of our phone manufacturers where our safety or even our very lives may be at risk? It’s ludicrous not to.

    I personally expect every manufacturer to accept at least some of the responsibility when problems are discovered with their products. I also expect manufacturers to take action within a reasonable time frame too. I don’t expect free “updates” or solutions like free replacements to products that are no longer being made/used (within reason, of course), or for products that have been out of production for like the last fifty years. But there is a certain degree of reasonable support I expect any manufacturer to provide. Updates that maintain a certain level of fitness or usability is often one of them.

    I especially want to hold any manufacturer’s feet to the fire when they make incredible profits by having the darn things made in China and still charge an arm and a leg to the Western (American, European, etc.) consumer too.

    And to even suggest that a second/third party like a phone carrier is responsible for a manufacturer’s hardware/software blunder is simply insane! That is, unless the two of them came together to market an exclusive product like what we saw with the first few years of the iPhone.

    I say if any manufacturer makes a bad product, knowingly or not, then they should still be held responsible for any mess they create. Make a rock solid reliable product and there will be no worries like class action lawsuits, bad press, or even (stupid) new laws. Do your job right the first time and you won’t have to do it a second, third, of fiftieth time. This is not a hard concept.

    Finally, I think the attitude some people seem to have here is just plain wrong. If you somehow think you can pawn off the cost of your own mistakes on someone else then I strongly urge you to think again. This kind of poor thinking/attitude is typical of the political idiots we usually see in about half of Washington and many of our prisons. Cause it’s a very dangerous thing when people begin believing they shouldn’t be held responsible for their own actions/mistakes – whether they do it knowingly or not.

  13. Xantes

    I would never pay for my phone’s updates! My SE K800 didn’t work as good as it did BEFORE updating it from Sony Ericsson’ site! Writing them and complaining to SE they say that I did it on my own risk updating my phone! So, why and how would I want to update when Sony Ericsson don’t give a damn on their customers?! After all of this should I pay as well?! I must be nuts! No way!

  14. Link

    If it was actually a major update then yes I’d pay for the update. But any minor updates should be free.

  15. BlackHoleSun

    IT’s mentioned that Apple sends out free updates, but those only go back a generation or two for the iPhones as well. It’s not like you’re getting iOS 5 on your 2nd gen iPhone. So an Android phone that’s a few years old should also get unlimited upgrades? I don’t think so.

    As far as paying for an upgrade? No. Let me rephrase that. HELL NO. There is a very passionate community of modders that have taken the source code and developed customer ROMs that, at times, rival factory ones. They don’t charge you, but you’re welcome to donate if you like their work (which thanks to this article, I just donated $10 to cyanogenmod for their TouchPad work). I’ve never bricked a phone from rooting, but I’m sure I’d get better service through their forums than my provider (Sprint). I already pay $7/mo now for the insurance, so if anything the upgrade should be included in that fee.

    I can’t root my current phone because I have the HTC EVO 3D and there’s still a lot of proprietary drivers and I don’t feel like losing functionality.

    Realistically, phones at least 1 year old should get all major OS upgrades that come out. If a manufacturer complains that each model is unique and difficult to customize, stop releasing a new phone each month to cut down on fragmentation.

  16. jon_hill987

    If carriers didn’t insist on having load of rubbish put on phones you could just get the update directly from the manufacturer and if the manufacture didn’t put rubbish on them in the case of Android you could just get the update direct from Google.

  17. Dave2654

    Just root, It may seem complex but many places on the web have step by step instructions on how to do this, its your phone, do whatever you want to with it…after you root.

  18. DSS

    You know what? If I buy a $600 phone, I expect security updates as long as the product is viable & supported.

    Feature updates would be nice, and will keep my brand loyalty intact, but I don’t feel entitled to them. But I can guarantee you, the first vendor to try to go against the grain will get burned, big time. The trend is more, faster, cheaper, better — not turning the tables on your customers & changing the rules.

    The precedent has been set. It will be very hard to change now. And the vendors should be eager to release new features that keep users in love with their products.

    Over & out. I’m an engineer by trade, but as a key person in a small company, product management & common sense are a large part of my daily routine. There is nothing brilliant about what I’m saying, it’s very plain & straightforward.

  19. Tixier PT

    No way!

    They should fix the buggy OS they made, for free!!
    I buy a final product so I expect it to be fully functional and bug free. If it isn’t… is it my fault? Why would I have to pay? A payment would only make carriers more greedy and would allow them to sell even more buggy OS in the first place…

  20. calebstein

    cyanogenmod = free. why should i pay att for a crap update when i can get a much better update sooner and for free from cyanogen?

  21. Banyu

    And what about the user that buy his/her own phone ? in my country there is no unlock phone, and the carrier/provider never sell they own phone. So we must our own phone, and we only use the carrier/provider services, and if they services shitty than we move to another carrier/provider

  22. moffee18

    NO that nonsense that’s it……

  23. Matti

    I would like the option to pay for major OS updates. Such as android 2.2 to 2.3 or 2.3 to 4.0. Official ROMs don’t not void your warranty, rooting your phone and installing custom ROM does. Anyone who wouldn’t want to pay would still have that option.

  24. Elliot Tulane

    So they want you to pay $200 plus for a new cell, then sign into a 2 year contract with limited minutes and over the 2 years they are getting at the least $2000 grand out of you. So they dont want to pay for a OS upgrade? They should limit the amount of phones they put out if thats the case. I am sick of phone companies putting out sub par products every other week and then dropping support. Weak sauce.

  25. AJBarnes

    Already do, if you mod your phone to make it work like you want. I see no reason there shoulnd’t be an option from the vendor to buy an enhanced o/s if you want one. I do NOT see a need to pay for an update to fix bugs, security fixes or other changes that are supposed to be in what you have already purchased. That should be on them.

  26. Moss

    My $98 per month to AT& T is already beyond the pale for metered service. And that price forced me into a contract! Telcoms are quite happy to bleed us dry. I voted no.

  27. Citrus Rain

    Considering my TF101 is rebooting again due to ICS, and my Thunderbolt required unbricking during it’s Gingerbread update, not worth $10 to break functionality. If they charged money, customers of these “customers” would freak out at them if they paid for their phone to break.

  28. Cody

    My only issue with this is, if you pay for updates then the carrier will turn into another Microsoft that releases new operating systems or in this case updates at a ridiculous rate then fragmentation will be even worse. The operating system started as an Open Source OS for a reason, because money makes companies like Microsoft that charge out the rear and try to force you to get their latest and greatest OS.

  29. Nick Pull

    This really depends on the reason for the update. Microsoft doesn’t ask for card details every time it wants to update so why should the OS manufacturer on my phone! If the update is about new and additional features then fine charge me but if its just released as a fix to a flawed system then no way. They should have got it right first time round. As for forcing me to upgrade, I should only need to do so to gain better hardware such as improved processor, memory, screen etc. allowing better features and then that’s my decision.

  30. tommy2rs

    Lol…I won’t pay for a smartphone (and their ridiculously over priced data plans) much less an update for one. All I need a phone to do is make a call if and when I choose to use it. 99.9% of the time mine isn’t even on. I always get a laugh out of all the little ants scurrying about pecking at their “mobile devices” like the world would end if they couldn’t complete whatever transaction was in progress.

  31. Alan

    when i bought my Galaxy Portal on Tmobile 2 years ago, it had OS 1.5. after a typical soap bar type phone I was literally amased at the differece in functions.

    I then discovered others were updating their phones to 2.1.. it took some time to get my head around the whole process let alone the ‘fear’ of bricking the ‘in warranty’ phone.

    Samsung/Tmobile never did do an update through the usual channels despite apparent promises.

    one item following the upgrade, I dared to do, to 2.1 i found very useful was the change of the camera function from ‘point and shoot’ to a fully featured camera with all sorts of adjustments, resolution etc etc.. Them there is the extra compatibility with other internet stuff..

    I would have gladly paid the equivelant of 10$ for that alone. Bug fixes are a different story, they should be free of course.

    We get lots of stuff free legitimately.. I just got PDAnet nd can run internet on my laptop.. all for nothing. The occasional upgrade woud be nice for the phone to get extra features for a litle amount.. if we want it. I’m ok with that.

    I’d pay for a 2.3 to ICS (OS 4) on my new Sony Neo V..

    just my 2 cents

  32. Rebs

    No end of
    OS updates are there to fix bugs and new applications to run on their systems.
    The price of phones today is dear enough without being ripped off for updates.

  33. hotchef

    Is someone just testing the water here? Updates to a current phone should be free as they are usually ironing out bugs and adding minor cake icing. The rate of development means that smart phones will become obsolete (for the geeks) within a year or so anyway – and new one’s purchased.

  34. TheFu

    Not from the carrier – they should be making enough of the overpriced data and voice plans to cover it, but if any of the mod-ers wanted a token $2, I’d be good with that to support their efforts and let them quit their day jobs (if they haven’t already).

  35. pbug56

    I pay a huge amount every month for 2 flip phones and 3 smartphones. We don’t use a lot of data. Verizon still doesn’t provide 4g service in the metro NYC area once you leave the city limits. And halfway decent 4 g phones cost a fortune. I think Verizon can pay Google a bit once in a while to get us not just OS updates but fixes to long outstanding bugs like the well known bluetooth bugs.

    In the US we pay far more for service then anywhere in the civilized world. To pay even more is beyond absurd.

  36. WhyMeLord

    I’d pay gladly provided:

    There were real and meaningful upgrades.

    The upgrades were to my benefit (i.e. no restrictions to the benefit of the provider or carrier)

    Maintained MY privacy.

    Openly supported other applications (see #3 above)

  37. WhyMeLord

    I would ad to the previous requirements that all upgrades, the reasons/justification be clearly stated with no hidden agendas.

    Last the upgrades be done efficiently. i.e. no series of upgrades just to churn the account.

  38. TK

    I would not pay for update.

    I am paying every month to have the phone service, there for all updates should be included with my service. I already pay too much and get very little benefit from it.

  39. Taco

    Ryan Whitman has missed the plot completely. There is incentive, repeat business! I’m not pleased that my Android received only 1 update and is now susceptible to vulnerabilities, so I don’t feel comfortable banking or purchasing with it. It’s now a fancy looking phone with terrible battery life. Fruit Ninja and Facebook, gimme a break. As it stands I would not buy another smartphone.

    I’m hoping that Win 8 on x86 handheld devices will be the answer. An Enterprise OS with auto updates and long term support.

  40. servant74

    I would pay… IF it would unlock my phone, and/or give me more perceived function/reliability. I would like to turn a phone into a VOIP ONLY phone (non-cellular) and get ‘net only’ service. Sell me that code for my old phone (that is out of warranty) and I’d pay for it.

  41. Dark Reality

    Yes, and so will others, and I’ll tell you why. LauncherPro Plus, ADW.Launcher EX, and Beautiful Widgets are all paid apps that people buy because they don’t have features new/other ROMs have, and Titanium Backup is a paid app that people buy because it’s a feature many feel should be in Android to start with (myself included). Also, TSF or something like that, that $17 launcher. People are buying that, too.

    So yes, I think a lot of people would pay $10 for Android updates if they were optional and not loaded with bloat. If they were offered, I mean, a lot of these naysayers here would buy them. We’re talking about the cost of two lattes.

  42. collaroygal

    My carrier should provide any updates my smartphone has the hardware to support. After all I pay a bunch of money for phone calls I never use. Does anyone have a smartphone that gets good recepition and doesn’t drop calls, or if they drop, an auto redial connects you again, if you do please post the company name on this thread, I’m sure everyone would jump to that provider. I’m sure there is no such company or there would only be one cell phone company!

    As long as I can web surf while doing my 3hrs of commuting on the bus in a device that slips into my pocket or purse and is light weight, I’m ok.

    What really makes me mad is when companies stop supporting a model they sold you and tell you the cell network no longer supports your device so if you can not make phone calls too bad. Had that happen with Verizon and a sony ericssson phone that had awesome phone quality up until the day I had to call them because no calls could connect, the phone was fine it was the network changes that caused the issue. They finally shipped me a phone that would work, but I started looking for a new carrier that day and by the time I got the replacement, was making friends with my Blackberry and the ATT network, the edge may suck at streaming features, but for reading web pages, it is dependable.

  43. Kevalin

    What an offensive notion. The first thing I had to do with my Captivate so as to go more than ten hours (with VERY LIGHT use) before having to put it on the charger was learn to root it and load an OS on it that now gives me more than forty hours with moderate use.

    AT&T finally released Gingerbread for free some time ago – but I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole, what with all the bloatware, etc., that constantly runs in the background and messes with the phone’s efficiency. I certainly wouldn’t pay for them to mess it up all over again.

  44. Dark Reality

    “Does anyone have a smartphone that gets good recepition and doesn’t drop calls…”

    Yes, my Motorola Electrify gets great reception, even in the middle of nowhere. US Cellular is a great carrier, but they are only available in 26 states; however, they offer national coverage. They use the CDMA network for calls, which means you can be connected to multiple towers. Also, they give customers free roaming on any other CDMA network. In the US, Verizon and Sprint use CDMA. Verizon has a huge network in major metropolitan areas, but they overlook rural areas. US Cellular covers both. I could not get signal at home if I used another carrier. However, I’m hearing that at least Verizon customers can roam on US Cellular, so while US Cellular still has the best network, we’re apparently sharing it now. Grr… (AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM for calls, which can only be connected to one tower at a time. GSM is better on your battery, but calls tend to drop if you leave one tower’s coverage and another tower can’t take you right away.)

    Quality of reception is dependent upon the “radio” in your phone. This is what gets you signal. Motorola makes the best, hands down, bar none. If your phone isn’t a Motorola, you could be getting better reception. There’s a case to be made for HTC as far as overall build quality, but they don’t get as good reception. Samsung (also iPhone, which uses enough Samsung parts to basically *be* a Samsung) is the high end of mediocre… they aren’t bad, but they’re below HTC and way below Motorola. If you care about reception, you want a Motorola phone. They make Androids and they might make Windows Phones, but they definitely don’t make Blackberries (which also get good reception, I haven’t compared them to Motorola… they may be just as good but I doubt they’re better) or iPhones. So if you want an iPhone you will be making a few sacrifices (my phone is about twice as powerful as an iPhone 4S and it does HD… iPhones are still “square” (well, 4:3, like the old TVs and computer monitors). The iPhone 5 may be HD and as powerful as my phone, which came out a year ago and I got last month for $150, but the iPhone 5 will probably cost $300-400 with contract. Le sigh.

    Funny story about reception: My wife and I were on US Cellular with Kyocera phones (decent, you don’t see too many of them these days) and we were visiting my family in California back in 2007 (so, before the smartphone revolution). My mother had an LG flip on Verizon. Now, US Cellular didn’t do business in CA then and I’m pretty sure they still don’t. Anyway, we’re all driving together in the mountains. I mean my mother’s driving. I’m riding shotgun and my wife’s in the back. My mother goes to make a call (yes, while driving, haha) and lo and behold, No Signal. So I check mine and I have four bars out of five. On a carrier that does not even do business in the state I was in. Call went through, too. My mother thought we had satellite phones like in the movies, the ones that work anywhere. We’ve taken US Cellular phones all over North Carolina (where we live, where they do lease service), to CA, down to South Carolina, and all the way up to Connecticut and Long Island, New York. We’ve been to western Maryland and the mountains of West Virginia. We never lost signal.

    Why doesn’t everybody use US Cellular? Three reasons. One, people live in areas where they don’t have their stores. (But I bet I’d get coverage there!) Two, they don’t have the best phones. They just got the Samsung Galaxy SII, but the best phone is still the Motorola Electrify, and like I said, that came out in 2011. Motorola has done much better since then. They’ve never gotten a Nexus. And they don’t carry the iPhone at all. (Apple requires carriers that sell the iPhone to sell a certain number of *thousands* of them, and promote them over better phones… Apple is terrified of Android and it shows.) Third, they don’t do 4G. It’s “coming” but nobody can say when, and no phone they sell today will even do 4G when it’s available.

  45. Gimp

    the concept of paying for updates might not be such a bad idea. take the motorola android phones on verizon. a few months back verizon had motorola re-write the os for (i believe it was) the droid 2. this was an automatic, mandatory upgrade which rendered a lot of features useless. if you were offered the purchase of this upgrade then you could go back if it did not work for your applications. the phone was sold as having the ability to accept and use programs you could write yourself or use other programs from other sources. when the update was installed it closed some ability s that allowed some of the after-market software to operate. wouldn’t it be nice if you could go back.

  46. CookieJean

    Look at the IOS devices, if there we no updates to keep it current they would be shooting themselves in the foot, that’s the draw, not so much the Galaxy but there are people walking round when they look at a phone “this isn’t ICS…junk!” Are they saving money on updates or are they hurting future sales?

  47. Jason

    Somewhat ironic that your poll on smartphones didn’t work for me, accessing your posy from a smartphone. Maybe use something more mobile-aware for polls; e.g. polltogo or others like.

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