Your Device Has Been Improved

I’ve just started a Samsung tablet downloading a 770MB update, the description says:

  • Overall stability of your device has been improved
  • The security of your device has been improved

Technically I have no doubt that both those claims are true and accurate. But according to common understanding of the English language I think they are both misleading.

By “stability improved” they mean “fixed some bugs that made it unstable” and no technical person would imagine that after a certain number of such updates the number of bugs will ever reach zero and the tablet will be perfectly reliable. In fact if you should consider yourself lucky if they fix more bugs than they add. It’s not THAT uncommon for phones and tablets to be bricked (rendered unusable by software) by an update. In the past I got a Huawei Mate9 as a warranty replacement for a Nexus 6P because an update caused so many Nexus 6P phones to fail that they couldn’t be replaced with an identical phone [1].

By “security improved” they usually mean “fixed some security flaws that were recently discovered to make it almost as secure as it was designed to be”. Note that I deliberately say “almost as secure” because it’s sometimes impossible to fix a security flaw without making significant changes to interfaces which requires more work than desired for an old product and also gives a higher probability of things going wrong. So it’s sometimes better to aim for almost as secure or alternatively just as secure but with some features disabled.

Device manufacturers (and most companies in the Android space make the same claims while having the exact same bugs to deal with, Samsung is no different from the others in this regards) are not making devices more secure or more reliable than when they were initially released. They are aiming to make them almost as secure and reliable as when they were released. They don’t have much incentive to try too hard in this regard, Samsung won’t suffer if I decide my old tablet isn’t reliable enough and buy a new one, which will almost certainly be from Samsung because they make nice tablets.

As a thought experiment, consider if car repairers did the same thing. “Getting us to service your car will improve fuel efficiency”, great how much more efficient will it be than when I purchased it?

As another thought experiment, consider if car companies stopped providing parts for car repair a few years after releasing a new model. This is effectively what phone and tablet manufacturers have been doing all along, software updates for “stability and security” are to devices what changing oil etc is for cars.

2 comments to Your Device Has Been Improved

  • Michael Hewitt

    Hi Russell, yes it is the great realisation that we buy consumables and have to spend more $ on maintenance etc … A recent program on ABC RN (Saturday… name escapes me ATM) discussed this. I had success on a device by reinitialising it completely – AOT upgrading parts. Anyway thanks for the post

  • Michael: It’s more insidious than you describe, the cost is time, downtime, and system functionality. If Samsung said “pay $X per year to keep your device running the latest version of Android with all patches” we could decide whether to pay and count it into the purchase price. Instead we have an unknown decrease in functionality and an unknown amount of time spent applying updates.

    It’s a pity that Android doesn’t use dpkg as the Familiar distribution for ARM based tablets used to do. That made updates a lot easier.