Many months ago, I penned a piece here that for a long time was the most visited post that I’d written since moving to WordPress. Titled Becoming the Jetons, it was my attempt to log some of the signs that I’d been seeing in regards to mobile software, mobile platforms/operating systems, and how users might respond to a different paradigm of living with them. It seems that this topic is coming back around again, and this time brought on by the nice folks at Engadget and their question about paying for mobile platform updates.
The “Engadget” Position
Pardon me for throwing an entire community into a bucket, but there are those mobile folks that are represented by the views of sites such as TechCrunch, Engadget, Gizmodo, All About Symbian, etc. Each “site” has their own “culture” and ways of looking at mobile technologies and how they fit into the narrative. Spend enough time at all of these communities and certain themes come out from each community.
In reading the comments over at this Engadget piece, it was interesting how the comments more or less focused around what has been happening around the Android and iOS (Apple) sides of mobile. While these two companies are not the largest, they do command a lot of the commentary online about what’s happening in mobile, and so they get their place on the soapbox.
The stated/debated position is that certain types of consumers are tired of their mobile devices falling behind the curve of the latest/greatest platform. Therefore, manufacturers and carriers should change current marketing philosophies to foster an environment where those who want to upgrade can, and like going from Windows XP to Vista to 7, you gain or lost based on your functionality. But, this is something you understand when you purchase the mobile.
There are several reasons why this is and isn’t a good idea. My comment there started by saying why it is a bit hard to look at mobile like that in the current way of things:
This topic/question seems to come up every time there are a few major platform changes coming; and for the most part, its not being answered by users, but by manufacturers – the cost of supporting upgrades to major platform changes is much less than junking devices and starting afresh. This is the nature of how computing as a whole has been for a long time now. The only reason we don’t see it on the PC side, is that there’s no money in hardware. To that end, mobiles still have a way to go – and the customers need to turn from ISP/carriers to us…
In effect, it just ain’t happening. Too many things are in place and there’d need to be a(nother) major mobile disruption to change that.
Beyond Mobile Platforms
Here’s where I see that we need to get beyond this idea of mobile platforms as we thought of PC platforms.
I get that there’s a want to have the latest/greatest for mobile devices, but I think that asking for paid upgrades is pretty much the wrong way to go about it. Mobile platforms should essentially be modular enough that new functionality can be added to them – to a certain point – and some of this needs to happen automatically, while other parts of it need to happen in a more ISP/carrier-friendly kind of approach.
Given the speed at which we are looking at Google update Android, it becoming impossible to keep on top of the major updates (for users, carriers already pitched that tent). But, if Android (for example) were to be more like the web – able to be updated in parts except for certain types of functionality, then probably we’d see a bit better response from mobile device users towards actually monetizing what should and shouldn’t be paid for.
Until then, we are going to continue to have these questions about mobile platforms, and there’s going to be little change. There’s no incentive for carriers to change from their model of distribution because the platforms themselves haven’t changed. If the platforms evolve – much like they seem to be moving – i.e.,Maemo was going before MeeGo – I think we are more likely to see this concept of mobiles that evolve with our use, rather than always being replaceable because of how the market wishes us to use them.
At that end, paying for an OS update will seem more like plastic surgery, sure we can do it, but it doesn’t necessarily change the inside of the person either.
Until that end, we’ve got replacement economics still playing a part in things; I just don’t think that it is the right end we should be playing for.