Are You Upradaphobic?
What did I need that for again?
By Dave Desmarais, President & Founder, Perinata Inc.
If you upgraded your pc to Windows 10, you may have noticed that you can no longer see what upgrades are available, choose to ignore recommended or optional upgrades and install them at your discretion. Microsoft has abandoned this former information so that it can “push” to you whatever updates and upgrades it deems necessary for your pc – ah, without your knowledge.
There is good reason for Microsoft’s decision, both from a user experience sense and a business sense. For the vast majority of consumers, the upgrades were just a “bother” How many actual home pc users went to Microsoft’s site to read what Windows 7 KB9904812 really meant and did?
I just learned my lesson again today. I still have a Windows 7 pc. Microsoft advised me that I needed a new driver for my Graphics card (an “optional” update). Unfortunately for me, I did not read it carefully. It was a driver from 2013 and it has cost me a day of fixing the issue attempting to upgrade the graphics driver to one that works.
As we just learned with Apple iOS 10, some upgrades may be hazardous to your device health. Apple’s recent gaff with iOS 10 is not earth shattering. If someone was without their phone for a few hours until they could get to computer to attach it to the USB port and finish the upgrade on iTunes, well that is not a major tragedy for most users.
I am a strong proponent of “Agile Programming”. That is, addressing issues as they arise and tasking programmers to find creative solutions to issues and features that clients using software actually must have. That does mean frequent updates to software. For massive systems and millions of users, as we have seen above, mistakes are made, even in the most careful testing environments.
So, what does that mean for IoT?
We thought we saw revolutionary technologies before, like land lines to cell phones, maps to SPS and printed reading material to device based access to the cloud. The “Internet of Things” promises to be perhaps even more profound, from driverless automobiles to, perhaps, a “workless” world. As we become more dependent upon Artificial Intelligence and machines that accomplish tasks we used to do, we are also far more dependent on the upgrades that are “pushed” to them.
Here is a small example. I have to cut my lawn. I have a very hilly yard and an old fashioned, non-self-propelled lawn mower. Pushing that old lawn mower is beginning to tax my ability to keep up with the lawn. Enter new, self-driving, self-mowing lawn mowers. I would love to have one of these. I could just program it to understand the layout of my yard, set the frequency to correspond to the rate of grass growing and all summer it would just start itself up and run itself. When it is done, it would just “park” itself in its pre-assigned spot – a wonderful idea. Even when I am gone for a while, my lawn gets a nice trim!
Now, what happens when I am gone and there is a big upgrade to the software? As long as it just does some innocuous bug fixes and minor feature upgrades and continues to work as programmed, I am happy. I did not even know about the upgrade until I happened to look at the panel readout and saw that there was an upgrade. But, things happen. Like that Apple example above, what if it needs to connect to its home “server” in the middle of the upgrade? Or, maybe my wireless router has a hack? There are innumerous unforeseen circumstances that may occur. And the likelihood increases with time.
I confess, I never like to throw good working items away. That is why I am still using a 30 year-old lawn mower with a Briggs and Stratton engine that will not die, or my 2007 laptop that now has Windows 10 on it and running just fine (except that the wireless connection drops in “Sleep” mode and must be rebooted). Most companies are very judicious about keeping their software safe, reliable and up to date – to a point. 30 years is beyond the capability of most companies to manage their products. But, is it 20 years, or 10 years or 5 years?
Here is another example. I was an early adopter of Tivo. I have a Tivo Series 1. Again, it is 15 years old. As of today, it is (what we refer dead equipment as) a “boat anchor”. Despite the purchase promise of a “device lifetime” software subscription, there is no more subscription. It has become non-economical for Tivo to support it. So, for $75.00 in compensation, they render all of that version obsolete. When you get to be an aging baby boomer, like myself, 15 years does not seem like a long time. To a manufacturer, it is a product lifetime.
I understand product lifecycles and the economic realities of replacement of aging product. So, maybe I am being too hard on them. But, what about the time required for upgrading?
Upgrading to Windows 10 Anniversary addition from Windows 10 requires about 45 minutes to an hour. Ok, but other things “kick in”, like anti-virus scanning and Windows disk optimization that consume resources and slow down tasks.
So, let’s go back to mowing the lawn. If you have a limited window of time to mow your lawn, before you need to be somewhere and you want to make sure it finishes and shuts down on time, you may not have a half-hour to wait while it “upgrades” today. Even more significant, if you are dependent upon a medical device or living aid, what do you do while waiting for the upgrade to finish? This is a concern, and if you want more examples, look at how often your smartphone apps upgrade, daily. How many of those “features” improvements are really necessary?
The 3 serious questions we all have to ask in moving in the direction of IoT are:
1. Where and when and how often do we need to upgrade?
2. How much impact is the upgrade going to make on the end user and does it increase the value?
3. How long can we legitimately support the end user with the product and upgrades?
The benefits to system upgrades are safety, security, bug fixes and some feature enhancements. Agreed, they are necessary for a system to continue to be safe and functional. At the same time, more intelligence is being adopted into products that previously had no electronic connection to a central data collection and control server. There is a need for manufacturers to carefully consider the timing and frequency of upgrades, especially in relation to the relative value of the upgrade to the consumer and the value of the consumers’ time spent upgrading the system or device. Like modern smartphones, every device may have some connection in IoT and upgrades get multiplied exponentially.
Dave Desmarais is President & Founder of Perinata Inc., a firm specializing in cost-effective remote solutions for Communications, Broadcast and Electronic Events.
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