Mobile OS updates shape as turf war

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Mobile OS updates shape as turf war

Telstra, Optus, VHA vow to keep testing smartphone updates.

Telstra, Optus and Vodafone intend to continue vetting smartphone operating system updates, despite efforts by OS makers to deliver updates directly to users, potentially bypassing OEM and carrier testing entirely.

Mobile software updates are shaping as a battleground for the degree of control telcos and OEM partners have over their users.

Telcos have traditionally tested mobile OS updates and tweaked them for compatibility with their networks before passing them on to users, a trend disrupted first by Apple and increasingly by Google and Microsoft.

Users of devices running iOS can pull updates directly from Apple, one of several ways the vendor is disrupting either telco control or mobile revenue (consider iMessages).

Recent activity at Microsoft and Google suggest they are shaping to follow suit.

Last week, Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone Preview for Developers, ostensibly to give app developers "access to pre-release builds of Windows Phone updates ... before operating system updates generally are available to customers".

As writers at The Verge and Windows Phone Central noted, anyone can register, pay a small fee and download the Windows Phone 8 update 3 (known as GDR3), without waiting for their carrier to vet the update first. Windows Phone 8 enthusiasts in Australia immediately began doing so.

In September, Arstechnica reported on attempts by Google to sidestep OEM and carrier testing of Android updates. The website reported that Google is stripping Android updates of features and pushing them directly to users via its Google Play Services app.

Staying the course

The argument for skipping telco and OEM testing usually rests on 'speed to market' - with testing viewed as an unnecessary bottleneck.

But representatives for Australia's big three mobile telcos maintain they have an important role to play in the OS release cycle, and that they invariably add value to the update before pushing it out to customers.

"We are encouraged by devices manufacturers to perform this testing as it raises the quality of the software release," a Vodafone Hutchison Australia spokesperson told iTnews.

Optus saw the vetting process as providing end users with network compatibility assurance.

"The time required to test each software update varies, depending on the number of new features and changes. Our focus is ensuring compatibility with our mobile network for both voice and data connections," an Optus spokesperson said.

"More importantly, Optus software upgrades ensures that default settings are optimised specifically for the Optus mobile network, so that customers can get the best experience possible on their device.

"Like most carriers, Optus software upgrade variants [also] have additional features and apps that provide added functionality to enhance a customer's experience."

A Telstra spokesperson pointed to the developer — rather than end user — focus of Windows Phone Preview.

"Telstra will continue to test OS releases to ensure any changes work seamlessly on the Telstra Mobile Network," the spokesperson said.

Vodafone is understood to outsource most of its testing to British-based benchmarking firm WDS. Telstra and Optus mostly use in-house test teams.

The Vodafone spokesperson said they were "not aware of any significant delays to the OS release cycle due to mobile operator testing."

Similarly, Telstra's spokesperson claimed their testing process "performed efficiently, generally taking just 10 business days from start to finish."

The carriers for the most part provide regular updates on when various OS updates are due to be ready for various handsets.

Vodafone provides a software update tracker via its blog.

Telstra indicated this week that Windows Phone update 3 testing for HTC handsets is expected sometime in late November.

Do you feel it is necessary for telcos to test mobile OS updates? Comment below.

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