Choosing a Smartphone – the Firmware Update Factor

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We love our smartphones – those powerful mini-computers that do everything except wash the kitchen sink. We love to be able to install our favourite third party applications to make our devices fit our needs.

There are times that in order to enhance the user interface or functionality of the final product, mobile manufacturers customise the these devices by adding their own layer of interface and/or services. For example, HTC continues to release devices that have their own custom user interface imposed both for their Windows Mobile and Android line-ups.

htc hero press 1

HTC are not alone in doing this. Samsung, Sony Ericsson and others do the same thing. Often, the results are excellent. Motorola’s MotoBlur, HTC’s Sense, and Sony Ericsson’s Timescape/Mediascape UI are ready examples.

The Downside
Usually, developers of the firmware (the operating system that these smartphones run on) release updates to either improve performance, add features or fix existing problems on the original release.

If you are particular about enjoying the benefits of firmware updates, you may need to think twise before spending on a manufacturer-customised device. You might be better off with a vanilla smartphone. A “vanilla” device is one that runs an OS that has not been customised.

When firmware updates are released by the developers, owners of vanilla devices are able to update immediately to get the benefits of those updates. For customised devices to be updated, the manufacturers have to spend more time and resources customising the new update with their custom interfaces.

As such, owners of manufacturer-customised devices are left to the mercy of the manufacturer. The manufacturer may decide that it is not profitable for them to put in the resources to provide an update, or it may take forever for them to provide it.

Your Call
It is up to you. You can choose a customised device that gives you a better interface or some extra features and hope for the best. Or you can opt for a vanilla device and get to update your device without hassles.

Both sides have their pros and cons and ultimately the choice belongs to you, the end-user.

6 comments

  1. Me, I will go for vanilla always. I would then be able to do my customisation ‘myself’ by choosing an adequate thirdparty application.

    these interface apps improve and evolve as new versions are released. installing an app is trivial. if I do not like it, I just uninstall it. a firmware update is different bear entirely.

    in my quest for a super-functional interface, I have used VoyagerMenu, Handyshell/SPB Shell, Gdesk, SwissManager PRO,JBTaskMan: currently using the last stated – on the nokia 5800. I am enjoying the freedom to experiment and choose – as I wish.

    still looking for the ultimate shell/ interface app, though… and it is a perpetual search!

  2. my followup question is: which is better – waiting for firmware updates to correct OSd eficiencies;
    or
    using relevant thirdparty applications to address those inadequacies? pros & cons?
    for instance Jbak {Juriy Bakunin – a Russian programmer} has an Symbian-OS-level unique utility that allows [system-wide] multiple clipboard contents. it will beer great if he implements this for touch Synbian too. I would want to see such a feature embedded in all phone interfaces, from scratch.

    rather than wait for certain features to appear after a firmware update, I would go for any thirdparty app (if available) to provide those features….

  3. @EyeBeeKay. Like you, I think that I would prefer the VAnilla choice. I always want to keep myself up to date with the latest firmware or OS update. When another manufacturer put their UI on top of a proprietary OS, then development and migration to another update is left to the caprices of that manufacturer.

    Examples can be found in the Android OS, where Samsung has their TOuchwhiz interface on top of the android while HTC have their Sense UI. Unless these manufacturers are ready to upgrade, you cannot readily upgrade your smartphone whenever Google releases its Android upgrade!

  4. In many cases unless one is a power user most people wouldn’t miss updates. Sometimes people don’t hold on to phones so long as to require an update that comes years after initial release. I don’t know if its just me, when an update comes less than a year after a phone release, i feel that the phone was ‘rushed’ and may not have been made good in the first place unless, of course, it is to add a function or service that was not available the time the phone was released.

  5. Hi eyebeekay.
    I really love 3rd party apps on my e63 and I have some of them installed but I’ve been looking for some that will improve the UI. In some of your posts on a particular topic you mentioned a few and i succed in getting a link to download handy shell but unfortunately it was a trial version that lasted for 10 days only.
    Which website can i get free UI apps ? I’ll like to try some of those you mentioned above.

  6. @archie. Android have been putting out multiple updates of their UI in just one year. FASTER than you should change your phone! Android which is less than 3 years old has more than five updates out. You can get android phones from the initial 1.0 entry point to the present 2.2 version known as froyo which came after the cupcake, 2.1. The 2.1 update has the most users. It is the most common version!

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