Why Don’t Watch Brands Announce Update Plans Anymore?

Updates have become some of the greatest things about the current generations of sports/outdoors watches and wearables – and great sources of aggravation.

New features come, and it’s great.

But when? Which features? What I’m waiting for, finally?

After Suunto’s “Spartan gets stronger,” Polar’s planned feature roadmap for the Vantage series, it’s also become noticeable that companies have stopped such announcements.

If you wonder why watch brands no longer tell you what’s coming, leave you in the dark, here are some reasons why:

Expectations Management

One major reason is (probably) the attempt to manage expectations.

The big issue here is this:

Now that watches/wearables can – and often do – get features added later during their product lifetime, it has become even more common that people buy a product not for the features it has, so much as for the features they’d expect it to have – now or later.

I *Want* This Feature…

You may think that I am exaggerating. Or that I am badmouthing watch customers.

But, I have seen enough angry comments from people which went something like “I paid xxx amount of money for this watch, I expect it to have this feature!

It’s often accompanied by “That other brand’s watch / this earlier model also had it, so this new product must also do that, and then more!!!

That alone makes for a good reason not to talk of future updates: Maybe then, people will look at current feature lists and decide based on those, not on wishes for the future.

… and I Want It Now!

The second part of expectations management: Timing.

It would not be enough to just say “We are working on x, y, and z,” a company would also have to announce their time frame.

And again, it caused more trouble than it was good.

When companies gave a month as planned release time, too many online commenters started complaining where the update was on the 1st of that month.

When it took until the end of the month, there was a month of complaints about the missing update.

When companies gave an exact date, well…

Shifting Timelines

Timing of announced updates seems to have never worked out too well, anyways.

Some people, especially in software development (and sometimes without any insight into that, even more loudly) claim that developers always work in exact time frames.

Delivery by date x means that it has to be and will be date x.

Whatever the exact reason, sports companies’ developers don’t seem to manage that. There are unforeseen issues, bugs get in, software regressions let old problems appear again – and it all takes longer.

How Garmin Manages

Garmin is the only company I’ve seen successfully take a different approach.

They just release updates whenever they feel like it, regularly, often installed in the background.

They offer potentially unstable beta firmware to try out at one’s own risk – and often enough seem to release updates with bugs.

Everyone knows there’s no particular roadmap, there’s just a feeling of constant action, for better or worse, so nobody talks about Garmin updates unless they bring noteworthy new features to the masses.

Suunto, for example, tends to be more focused on bringing out updates only when they make sense, when they have something to add and have tested it for stability.

Not that bugs don’t sometimes become apparent only when more people around the world get that firmware, but the approach is still another one.

Staggered Release

This is worth a little side note: Such bug control is a reason why updates are often released in a staggered way.

I.e., not everyone gets a new update immediately, it is released to a limited number of users at first, then expanded.

That helps catch any bugs that might have slipped into the code before they affect everyone; and it helps reduce the load on the servers hosting the firmware.

Changing Plans

A reason why pre-announced updates are dangerous is also that we are talking about companies that have different aims to pursue.

Of course, there is long(er) term planning. Watch development takes its time – and much more time than people often seem to assume.

Engineers hopefully take pride in their work and want to create the best-possible product; managers concerned with customer satisfaction better want products that satisfy, too.

Things like software updates, however, are affected by shorter-term issues, too.

If a critical bug is found, for example, all the resources may have to go towards eliminating that asap.

When a new product nears release, resources go towards that, of course.

Strategies may also shift, and the focus may thus go to other features, other models… and of course, profit has to be made for the company to be able to go on – and updates do not make money if they do not drive sales for existing products.

The Real Concern

This is actually what concerns me personally:

We have become so enamored of “the new thing” that we always want to hear when a new product is coming.

We drive up the views for anyone who can report on products first *cough*DCrainmaker*cough*…

… and we forget that these smart devices often become completely new-level with new updates. But, they barely get noticed as all the attention continues to go to the earliest reviews.

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