Supporting your customers but setting limits on the support

It appears that the habit of Samsung to throw their customers under the bus has finally caught up with them ( link ) as a Dutch consumer protection advocacy group deciding to sue Samsung over the failure to provide updates in a timely manner with a minimum of 2 years of updates from the moment the phone ceases being sold on the market. I’ve been following the smartphone market for quite some time and I’m always amazed of these two things:

1) That Samsung, HTC, Huawei, ZTE and LG (as being the largest Android OEM’s) have been able to get away with selling devices then leaving the end user high and dry especially when it comes to security updates. When you sell a smart phone you’re not just selling a mobile phone, you’re selling a mini-computer which means it comes with all the complexity and inevitable security holes and bugs that any software/hardware creation that is made by man thus will require updates as bugs are found. With that knowledge you’d think that at the very lease we’d see at least some modest attempt by vendors to lay down some sort of policy to at least push out critical updates to address security holes and show stopper bugs but alas here we are since Android first made it on the scene and even with the ‘security update of the month’ championed by Google we still see Google partners do a pretty half assed effort at pushing out updates – it’s 22 January 2016 and the Samsung Galaxy S6 still hasn’t received the critical January security update.

2) That people continue to throw down almost a thousand dollars on a phone only to find that it receives the same amount of after market support that a cheap $200 el-cheapo Alcatel does that you can pick up from the local petrol station. I can understand not caring about after market support if you’re getting a cheap disposable phone that you’ll throw away in 12 months in favour of a new one but it amazes me how people just settle for the fact that their phone being a tick time bomb of security woes after throwing close to a grand for a new phone. It would be like buying a car for $30,000 and being told that the stereo with the buggy software that operates it won’t be fixed and that you’ll just have to buy a whole new stereo system if you want the bugs fixed – I think most people wouldn’t find that acceptable yet when it comes to phones  there is barely an uproar from the public.

The usual suspects came out of the wood works creating a hysteria about cheap phones exiting the Netherlands because of low margins and high cost of support whilst ignoring the fact that if these smart phones used a vanilla installation of Android an the changes were merged back into the main Android source tree then there shouldn’t be a problem. As Google develops Android and moves it forward then it would be a matter of these low cost OEM’s to keep track of changes and see whether any changes might interfere with the patches they’ve made to the kernel – such as in regards to power management, GPU optimisation and so on. So what happens in the case of Huawei – for their low end phones they can go for a Vanilla Android then leave the optimisations, tweaks and bundled software for their premium end phone where the margins are sufficient enough to offset the required amount of work to test those enhancements when it comes to upgrades and updates push out. That being said, what I’d love to see adopted particularly in New Zealand is a law where carriers are are forbidden from blocking updates from OEM’s and in return OEM’s are required to provide updates in a timely manner with a telecommunications ombudsman taking on the role of ensuring that if updates are late that the reason is sufficient enough to justify why there is a delay in pushing out an update.

On a good side it appears that Microsoft is takin the initiative and has started cracking the whip when it comes to enterprise customers who are happy to spend $22million on a private jet but bemoan the fact that they might need to upgrade their hardware or update their software along with possibly retraining staff to any sort of system changes. That doesn’t even touch on the software vendors that seem to employ 30,000 people but some how they never seem to have the man power to test their software during the development process of Windows 10, provide feedback and make fixes so then when Windows 10 is actually released that there are software updates ready to roll out the proverbial door when Windows 10 RTM is released. There was a discussion regarding the changes to the licensing where Microsoft appears to be drawing a line in the sand when it comes to back porting support for new hardware to old operating systems – Windows Weekly dedicated a significant amount of their show to discussing this matter:

I understand that as a corporation you cannot go forward if your software will break but at the same time if you sit on the same piece of software for 20 years then why is it Microsoft’s responsibility to placate to your demand for ‘never ending backwards compatibility’ all because you’d sooner spend $22million a private jet then plowing it back into the business by keeping the software up to date and the in-house applications to be well maintained and moving forward so then when a new version of Windows is released things can transition across without everything going to hell in a hand basket. Then there is the issue of continuing to purchase from vendors who quite frankly do a shithouse job at maintaining their software or the software is just a pile of crap – Oracle and the JRE being the best example of horrible software that people continue to use because there is a reluctance to change from the status quo. There is also the other side the equation – software vendors who sit back and sit on their laurels instead of taking advantage of the very open development process that Microsoft uses and regularly compile against the latest builds from Microsoft then taking note of errors, compile failures as well as warnings regarding deprecated API calls so then a plan can be developed going forward – “Ok, these parts of our application are relying on deprecated technology that cannot be guaranteed to exist in the future so we’ll need to come up with a back up plan to move them onto the new set of API’s that Microsoft are developing as a replacement”. Keeping in mind that it isn’t as though there is a viable drop in replacement for Windows that doesn’t require a whole lot of re-writing and re-training so if Microsoft did put the hard word even further what are software companies going to do – abandon Windows? if so, for what? OS X which has the same break neck pace of change with zero time for compatibility of ancient software? Linux where there is constant change and no guarantee that the next release of Linux will API and ABI stable.

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