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Summary:

How would you feel if you bought a flagship Android phone and barely 14 months later were told it wouldn’t receive any more software updates? That’s what HTC One S owners are facing and if HTC won’t own the responsibility, perhaps Google should.

htc-one-s-featured

Struggling HTC isn’t doing itself any favors by abandoning software updates on a phone that’s just over 14 months old. It doesn’t help Android at large, either. Unfortunately for owners of the HTC One S, the company’s flagship phone for T-Mobile in the U.S., that’s the situation they’ll be facing. On Tuesday, HTC made an official statement saying the handset won’t see any more Android or Sense updates:

Android Central receieved the statement from HTC, which reads as follows:

“We can confirm that the HTC One S will not receive further Android OS updates and will remain on the current version of Android and HTC Sense. We realize this news will be met with disappointment by some, but our customers should feel confident that we have designed the HTC One S to be optimized with our amazing camera and audio experiences.”

I don’t even own an HTC One S and I find this completely unacceptable for a number of reasons.

Who owns the customer relationship?

First, as I see it, HTC is effectively putting new customers ahead of its existing ones. Building, testing and distributing software updates for the One S will take time and resources. That I understand. And I also realize that HTC has seen its sales generally decline for the last 18 months, so it’s focusing its efforts on new devices to revitalize the brand. But loyal customers are going to pay the price now because they invested in a phone for up to two years that is effectively getting one year of software upgrades.

HTC One S trio

Of course, there’s always the question of who owns the customer relationship here. Is it HTC, who built the phone, or T-Mobile, who sold the phone? I’d say T-Mobile has some responsibility here as well because it sold the devices and it charges monthly service fees for HTC One S owners to use the phone on T-Mobile’s network. In fact, if this is all about money and effort, perhaps T-Mobile should consider spending some of its own money to assist HTC.

So much for Google’s promise of updates for at least 18 months

Let’s not forget Google, either. Even though it only provides the base Android software for others to use, Google touted a new partnership with its hardware partners at its 2011 Google I/O event. The company presented the relationship — with HTC specifically named as one of the companies involved — as a way to both speed up the delivery of Android updates and to guarantee software updates for up to 1.5 years after a device is released:

“The founding partners are Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Motorola and AT&T, and we welcome others to join us. To start, we’re jointly announcing that new devices from participating partners will receive the latest Android platform upgrades for 18 months after the device is first released, as long as the hardware allows…and that’s just the beginning. “

The HTC One S launched in late April 2012, so it should continue to receive software updates through late October of this year. The hardware is surely capable of Android 4.2 (and probably the next version of Android as well), so there’s simply no excuse for this situation.

My recommendation: Google needs to manage this issue

androidHere’s what I’d like to see, based on Google’s statement of support: It should strike a deal with HTC to either devote Google resources to assist with updates on the HTC One S or HTC should consider letting Google take over the software relationship for this phone entirely. Of course, the latter solution would likely give access to HTC’s secret sauce — HTC Sense — to Google, and that’s not likely. So, I’ll vote for plan A and see if Google steps up to help out.

HTC One S owners deserve at least that much. And it would speak volumes to the Android market overall as well, by sending the message: “Google is here for you.”

  1. It may be good for the customer. Many major updates will slow down an older processor. I’ve had phones go useless on me after a major update.

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    1. It isn’t good for the customer. There is no Android update that will happen in the next year that this phone won’t be able to run just fine, from a hardware perspective.

      There are definitely legitimate cases for stopping updates on older phones, and hardware limitations fall into that category. In this case, however, HTC is just prioritizing new development at the expense of recent development. It isn’t the first time HTC has left customers of recently purchased flagship phones high and dry.

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  2. Sorry, saw your relevant post on that issue.

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  3. Google’s Nexus line pricing strategy is partly to blame for this. Downwards margin pressure means fewer resources to put into phone design.

    Your idea about letting Google take over software for the One S is a good one, but how about giving users a choice of moving to vanilla Android or staying with old Android and Sense? If they wanted to push their Nexus strategy a little harder Google might even strike a deal with T-Mo to do this, putting pressure on OEMs to either keep up or undermine the value of their Android UI overlays.

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  4. This isn’t the first phone that HTC has abandoned a phone prematurely. I’m an owner of the HTC Evo 3D. I purchased it when it was first released and was touted as their flagship Sprint phone at the time. The phone saw one Android update, almost 6 months after it was initially promised, and has languished ever since. It will never see Jelly Bean.

    I understand that HTC is concentrating on new customers, but I don’t think they’re fully considering what their strategy does to potential upgrade customers. I look at the new HTC One phone, and it looks great. I love it. I’ve handled it and I honestly think it’s the best phone available right now. When I upgrade to a new phone next month, I’d love to have the HTC one.

    But, I won’t buy it. HTC’s lack of follow-through on upgrades has been made clear, and I’m not interested in buying a brand new flagship phone, again, only to see the updates dry up within a year. Again.

    I hope their strategy of concentrating on new customers works, because it’s effectively alienating many of their existing customers. I love their phones, I’m a big fan of Sense, but I’m tired of feeling screwed over.

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  5. Brett Nordquist Wednesday, July 3, 2013

    That’s what you guy when you purchase a phone with an OS built for the carriers instead of the actual customers.

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  6. My understanding is that devices have to be certified by Google to be able use the Play Store. I personally don’t understand why Google doesn’t make updates to all versions of Android within 24-36 months of the device’s release date part of that certification. If the OEM decides to stop updates on a device, they’re in breech of contract and Google would then have a legal recourse.

    Updates to new versions on devices is really the biggest problem Google needs to solve when it comes to Android. Granted most of the cell phone buying public probably has no idea what version of Android their phone runs, but it’s still a huge problem when compared with Apple’s iOS.

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    1. Google does not care! As long as the phone can display Google Ads, they are satisfied. This is part of the tension between Google and the phone manufacturers that is baked into the Android ecosystem. Apple and Blackberry don’t have this issue as they control both halves. Microsoft, as long as they have the virtually sole source relationship with Nokia should not have this issue either.

      Another issue is how the updates get distributed. Apple has iTunes, Android is dependent on the carriers. The carriers don’t want to supply the bandwidth, without some benefit.

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      1. Dakota J. Carter Friday, July 19, 2013

        More people than Nokia make windows phones it’s just highly regulated with software and hardware and Microsoft pumps out the updates. HTC also makes windows phones

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  7. I once owned a HTC Magic in Europe, and it had android 1.5 from the start and never got anything newer. It got a update at one point which was basically the sense shell slammed on top of it, and pretty much killed anything resembling performance and batterylife. I was actually a pretty big HTC fan up untill then, and when I rooted and use a android 2.1 version from xda developers the phone doubled it’s battery life and was once again my favourite. But I lost faith in HTC since then, and this stunt only fuels that previous experience.

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  8. This unfortunately highlights the Achilles heel of the Android platform–its dependency on hardware manufacturers like HTC to update the software. I like HTC one but i hesitate to buy it. I am thinking about the Google Play version but it’s so darn expensive. It would be good if phone companies can sell subsidized Google Play phones.

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  9. I don’t get why people want Google to nanny the manufacturers and the customers. Android is free, and freedom comes with the responsibility of self-determination.

    You are also free to buy anything and vote with your wallet. If updates are so important to you (they are to me), buy the Nexus line.

    That’s what I did: I voted with my wallet, and I refuse to buy anything from OEMs until they tune down the model pump and start caring more about updates. But guess what! We are in the minority, since users have voted with their wallets by just not caring.

    It’s the broad choice of updates, models and prices that allowed Android to serve the needs of many people and accommodate them. Cost is also a factor.

    Besides, if you want subsidized phones thinking that you are spending less, you deserve being ripped off by phone companies.

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  10. Vardaan Chawla Thursday, July 4, 2013

    What the hell does HTC want. I bought a wildfire s about 2 years ago. It was stuck on 2.3 . I have bought this HTC One S. And now they say that they won’t provide an update?! Remember they said that HTC One S would receive sense 5?

    I’m certainly not going to continue with the company if they don’t provide an update.

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