How Mobile OS Updates Can Kill Your Productivity - InformationWeek

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1/18/2016
09:06 AM
Pablo Valerio
Pablo Valerio
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How Mobile OS Updates Can Kill Your Productivity

Mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones are designed for the current operating system they ship with, either iOS or Android, and maybe the next update. If you (or your employees) have an aging device, the latest OS update might wreak havoc on its performance. How can we avoid the over-the-air update trap?

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If you feel like you're continually being forced to seek out a new smartphone or tablet so you can keep the applications you've been using for years running smoothly, you're not imagining it. The reason, in my opinion, is the OS updates that manufacturers force upon our mobile devices.

Three years ago I bought my first tablet: The original Nexus 7 by Google. I like the device, and I use it occasionally to read online newspapers and check email, but I've never become an addict. I was quite happy that Google kept updating the device with its new versions of Android, until I was hit with the Android 5.0 (Lollipop) update. Suddenly, the tablet took several minutes to boot up, the apps became painfully slow, and I stopped using it.

A few weeks ago, when I was looking for a way to tune into an online Christmas radio station for some holiday music at home, I decided to give the Nexus tablet another go. I was immediately served with another over-the-air (OTA) update to Android 5.1. After the update, I thought that Google had fixed some of the performance issues, but no, they had gotten worse.

Enough was enough. I started to look for a way to "downgrade" the OS on the Nexus to v. 4.4 (KitKat). Finally, after some research, "rooting" the device, erasing everything, and loading the KitKat image, I succeeded. Then I found a way to stop the OS updates.

[The countdown to 1 billion continues: Microsoft Confirms Windows 10 Now on 200 Million Devices.]

Now my tablet runs like new, and I can use again all the apps I like without hitting performance issues.

Mobile devices are designed for the current operating system they ship with, either iOS or Android, and maybe the next update. Most new Android phones will never see more than two generations of the OS, as manufacturers decide not to invest more resources in old hardware.

Apple is the biggest offender, in my opinion. The company serves OTA updates of iOS to most iPhone models, wanted or not, and there is no easy way to roll back to the previous version.

On Dec. 29, 2015, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Apple in the US District Court in the Eastern District of New York by iPhone 4S owners arguing that the "iOS 9 software update made iPhone 4S phones slow, buggy and subject to crashes." Apparently, Apple promoted iOS 9 as being compatible with the iPhone 4S, and said it would make those smartphones faster and more responsive. The lawsuit also argues, "Apple does not warn the consumer that the update is irreversible." The plaintiffs seek $5 million in damages.

(Image: wgmbh/iStockphoto)

(Image: wgmbh/iStockphoto)

At the same time, most manufacturers are now preventing users from repairing their devices, or even changing the battery. Most smartphones could function perfectly for many more years if the battery could be replaced and the memory upgraded. Yet, big brands such as Apple and Samsung are making huge profits selling their flagship smartphones completely locked out of possible hardware upgrades.

In several European countries, most notably France and Germany, device vendors are now required to provide original spare parts to repair a device for up to five years. Recently people from iFixit, the fix everything website, ran a workshop with European Parliament MPs to show them how to fix their phones, in an effort to encourage legislation to help people keep using their devices longer.

Legislators should also consider forcing manufacturers to allow people to stop OTA updates easily. If the user is not happy with a new version, it should be easy to roll back to the previous one.

These days I keep image files of all my devices, including my Sony Xperia T, Nexus 7, and Chromebook, in case I need to recover from an unwanted OTA update.

How have your smartphones and tablets handled OTA updates? Do you have any workarounds that have helped you keep your older devices functioning? How are you handling these issues for your enterprise users? Does the continuous cycle of mobile OS upgrades serve as a convenient excuse for you to buy a shiny new toy? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

Pablo Valerio has been in the IT industry for 25+ years, mostly working for American companies in Europe. Over the years he has developed channels, established operations, and served as European general manager for several companies. While primarily based in Spain, he has ... View Full Bio
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mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
1/26/2016 | 3:21:04 PM
Re: Stopping updates
Forgot to add.... Given that it's natural for companies and developers to continue to improve existing services and come up with new ones (in the gaming sector, graphic and feature capabilities are constantly being tested to improve performance), part of this requires new technology, new platform and new code.

For example, both Pixar and Disney have many times re-done there animation software (or part of them) to be able to provide new visual effects...it's safe to assume that it requires more hardware upgrades, which leads to compatability issues.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
1/26/2016 | 3:18:35 PM
Re: Stopping updates
@Pedro Gonzalez,

To add to your comment, I consider myself to be an early adopter, allowing the update to push through as soon as it's available, knowing well that it might hamper performance and/or render some apps non-usuable.

I own both Apple and Google Products (own a Nexus 7 as well). Very recently I restored my Nexus 7 to factory settings since it was getting very sluggish...performance has been restored althought some apps still crash.. but it's expected.

Given how the industry is evolving, I've come to accept that this is the nature of the beast, that companies will seek to push updates and are aware that older devices can be negatively impacted. I have a Gaming PC that ran Windows 7 and didn't have one single issue...after upgrading to Windows 10 (which I do really like), I am encounter issues that never occured before, and I can't say that I don't loose my patience every now and then since I would really like for the PC to simple work and not give me a headache.
MisterBill99
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MisterBill99,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/26/2016 | 1:59:00 PM
App updates and OS version
The problem is, at some point you'll start discovering that you can't install the latest version of your favorite app because you have too old of an operating system. So not upgrading the OS isn't always an option. In your iOS example, how many apps can't be updated to their latest version without iOS 9?

 

My LG G2's battery performance got terrible after I upgraded it to Lollipop. There were apparently known probems with the version (5.0.2) that was rolled out related to battery drain, and fixes in 5.1, but LG has never rolled it out (and probably won't, although it might get Marshmallow). I kept reading that the fix was to do a factory reset and that would solve the problem. I ended up getting a new phone, instead.
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
1/22/2016 | 1:53:22 PM
Re: Stopping updates
I have been known to ignore pending OS updates for extended periods of time. I have an iPad and an Android phone. The iPad issues new OS updates more often than the phone. The phone has been sluggish after an update to Android 5.1. I'm disappointed with load time on contacts and phone features. WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN WHEN I ACTUALLY NEED MY PHONE FOR PHONE CALLS!?
Pablo Valerio
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Pablo Valerio,
User Rank: Ninja
1/19/2016 | 4:03:12 PM
Re: Stopping updates
Daniel, there are "unofficial" ways to stop OTA updates. 

But the updates should be opt-in, as with privacy settings, not mandatory. That's why many people choose to "root" or "jailbreak" their devices, to have more control.

Some updates, such as security fixes, are good to have.
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
1/19/2016 | 2:32:31 PM
Stopping updates
There has to be a way for Google and Apple to stop sending these updates to older devices. I get that this may seem like a nefarious way to get people to upgrade, but my thinking is that these companies aren't intentionally trying to ruin their goodwill with users. 
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