Should all software updates be over the air?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: December 4, 2012

Are you entitled to software updates? There does seem to be quite a few people out there who seem to think they are. Whether you are or not isn’t really important anymore, I don’t think. If you wanted to sit down and have a conversation about whether or not manufacturers are getting better about software updates, I think you could have a pretty healthy discussion for a little while. Though, if you were to have that discussion, you’d have to include carriers, and that’s where the whole thing might get muddied.

There might be too many entities between you/your phone, and the process of that device getting an update to the latest version of a particular mobile operating system. At least, that seems to be the case for most devices. If we’re looking at, say, Apple’s iOS, then we know that this is a non-starter. We’ll see how it works with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8, too, once an update is issued in the future.

The biggest problem with updates, the over-arching issue that seems to be the main focus for naysayers, is Android. Yes, Android’s not known for always have the most up-to-date devices out in the wild, but for anyone who is proficient in this conversation knows that carriers here in the States play a big part in that scenario. The world stage of updates is littered with all sorts of versions of Android, but I’d be willing to bet that the majority of users out there are happy, even content, with the version of their OS, updates notwithstanding.

Earlier today, Samsung and AT&T confirmed that the carrier’s branded version of the Galaxy S III is receiving an update to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. (For the record, that’s still technically not the most up-to-date version of Android. But, it’s good to have it!) So, good news all around, right? Well, sort of. In the confirmation, AT&T also pointed out that the update is not going to be released over the air (OTA), but through Samsung’s proprietary software called KIES. So, if you don’t plug your phone in and run KIES, you’ll never know that there’s a software update available for your phone. Or, more to the point, you’ll never get it, anyway.

To put this into perspective, AT&T is the third carrier here in the States to offer the Jelly Bean update for their Galaxy S III. First to the scene was Sprint, and they offered the update OTA. Second was T-Mobile USA, and they also offered it over the air, while also providing the update in the KIES software for anyone who wanted to update that way. So, AT&T isn’t the only carrier (so far) to offer the update through KIES, but (so far) they are the only carrier to offer it only through KIES.

For me, getting a notification on my device that I have a software update ready to download is a pretty exciting time. Yes, it is. I love new software, new features, and things that are just new in general. That’s why software update notifications are important to me, as well as being able to download that new software on the fly, over the air. Having to go home and plug in my phone just to update ruins the excitement, sort of, or at least skews it a little bit.

I thought we were trying to move away from needing to plug our phones into the computer to do things.

But, of course, we can’t ignore the fact that there are some people out there who just don’t care about software updates, no matter what new features it brings their phones. So, in the case of AT&T’s KIES-only update, it might be perfect for those individuals. After all, they’ll never know an update exists and their phone won’t just start downloading it, either. Everything stays the same. Everything is safe.

I think the best option is to have choices. The choice to have the software downloaded over the air, or to go home and plug your phone in. Options are never a bad thing, especially when it directly relates to the consumer. I’m not going to sit here and say that restricting software updates to PC-only software is a bad thing, either. At least the update exists, and for those who want it, they can get it. That’s definitely better than nothing, after all.

But, tell me what you think, Dear Reader. Do you prefer your software updates delivered over the air? Or are you someone who would prefer to connect to your computer to get the new software? Or is the best option for the consumer to have multiple avenues to retrieving that software? Let me know what you think!

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