Many people don’t give a second thought to the idea that you can upgrade your laptop or desktop computer to a newer operating system, even an OS from a different vendor, down the road. It’s a completely different story for mobiles. The roots of the problem are in the specialized hardware that mobiles have. The hardware manufacturer has to be on board when you want to release new firmware specifically for that mobile.
Apple’s consolidated mobile product line and tight control over the deployed software has one huge benefit for consumers… you only have one party to worry about, Apple, in getting a new firmware released for you mobile. Apple even reminds you of newly-available updates when you launch iTunes. This results in a large group of iPhones that run the latest OS, making software development less complicated overall. It’s not out of bounds to expect or even ask users to upgrade to the latest if they encounter OS bugs. The only exception to this is the fragmentation we expect if the first-gen iPhone is really passed over with OS4.0.
Things are not so simple for the other manufacturers. Android and Windows Mobile are delivered to hardware vendors who then test, certify, and release for their phones. Hardware vendors often don’t bother making releases available for older models. If there is any financial incentive, it’s actually to block updates to sell more new devices and extend more mobile contracts. Support is rocky. I could only upgrade an AT&T Tilt to a newer version of Windows Mobile months after it was shipping on new hardware. After the upgrade, the backup program that was included on the phone stopped working and no replacement was offered by AT&T.
Blackberry is also a mixed bag. Apparently, corporate users sometimes have custom firmware so if you have a corporate phone you are likely to be stuck with the OS that shipped on the device. This is a big problem for cross-platform frameworks since only versions 4.6 and newer of Blackberry have a good enough web browser and application distribution setup to make phonegap and rhomobile workable.
If you want to stay on the leading edge of tech, ask pointed questions when you buy a device. Not only CAN it be updated to a new version of the OS, but ask if this vendor has delivered timely, supported updates in the past. You may be disappointed with the answer. That is if it’s not Apple.