Do businesses think before inflicting updates on their customers?

When is an Update an Upheaval?

I’m sure you are familiar with the scenario – you are just about to engage on something important using your PC, phone or smart TV and lo – it’s carrying out an update! The longer we go on with the spread of the Internet of Things, the more this problem seems to occur. Yet nowhere do the creators of the chaos appear to understand the grief they are causing.

I don’t want to have my machine slowed down in the middle of the day while Microsoft monopolises the processor downloading a huge update in the background. One that is going to necessitate rebooting before everything gets back to something approaching normal.

During lockdown I truly didn’t need something to monopolise my internet connection while I was trying to have a Zoom meeting – yet did the promulgator even consider this was likely?

Nor, for that matter, do I see the need for a TV manufacturer to update a smart TV at all. Especially when I want to sit down late at night and do some catch up.

In every case I can think of (and I’m sure you could add more) the waste of personal time is both hugely annoying and sometimes massively inconvenient or possibly very expensive.

You Do the Maths

Let’s just suppose that supplier X issues one update per month. That takes a minimum of 5 minutes out of the time of the user – frequently much more. Do they care? It’s only 5 minutes. But hang on – that’s 5 minutes for everyone – EVERY month. How many smart TVs are out there? One million? Ten million worldwide? So how many man-years of humanity’s time is being bootlegged and for what? Afterwards you have to waste even more time resetting menus and disabling the things that the supplier deemed absolutely necessary (like changing preferences on browser or something else) but for which you had neither desire nor need.

Now add in the many more millions of PCs, laptops and phones never mind the internet-connected fridges and more. It’s an enormous drain.

Is It Necessary?

That’s a question that regularly springs to my mind. Software updates are usually not necessary at all other than in the minds of the developers. It’s an entire industry of people getting paid to deliver stuff that nobody asked for and frequently doesn’t make one iota of difference.

Yes, I get the security issues if they are glaring or some serious glitch that means things don’t function but otherwise what’s going on?

Why does a developer deem it necessary for millions of people to retune their Satellite or Internet TV channels – when it is perfectly feasible to have a central portal that handles this?

Who Is Paying the Cost?

That’s an interesting question. In my view it’s a cost transference direct to the customer, by wasting their time and failing to account for it. Beyond that, somebody has to fund the wages of that army of developers working on those never-ending updates. So, unless my economics are completely misplaced, that is factored into the price of what is being sold in the first place.

Planned Obsolescence

You might argue that this is another version of the same thing, encouraging people to buy something that isn’t truly necessary purely because it suits the product provider to keep them coming back for more. At its extreme that rears its head with endless versions of the iPhone. Consumers are being mugged left right and centre for things they truly don’t need.

The Unintended Consequences

Wasted time. Natural resource wastage beyond belief. An economy chasing ever more and allegedly better. Were these the consequences that the product designer envisaged? Are they what you think about as you develop your business and interact with your customer base?

We see a constant demand for CPD in the professional sphere – a laudable aim if it really does mean that people are keeping their skills on point. However is the plethora of training companies allied to the Institute of this or that anything more than an excuse to drive an income stream for said (not so) venerable institution? Call me cynical but I have the feeling that is one of the prime drivers – hiding behind a veil of professionalism. Believe me – I’ve seen behind that veil in more than one Institution and the answer’s always the same.

On the other hand things can last and be useful without a constant requirement for updates. I’m still able to use the coffee percolator I bought when I went up to university all those years ago. It makes perfectly good coffee – and also keeps it hot until I switch it off or have drunk it all. The big chest freezer in the kitchen does the job – even though it is over 30 years old. So the unintended consequence of those is that I’m a happy customer who feels warm towards the people who made or sold them. I’d go back to them for more or other things if I really need them. What I won’t do is support those who constantly waste my time.

It’s a growing list – including Microsoft, Samsung, EE, BT, Technics, British Gas, Royal Bank of Scotland, Winterthur, Royal Sun Alliance and more. What they all have in common is a complete failure to take account of the customer and the effect they have on that individual by wasting their time, applying things wrongly and not being accountable for the result. They have constantly said they were “implementing improvements” or “providing something that is much better” only for it to fail the test of durability and ease of use.

Is This YOU?

Think about what you or your business does. Are you having limitless unintended consequences for your customer base? Be honest – step into the shoes of one bad experience and then multiply that by your customer base. Is the overall result acceptable? I suspect not. So what can and should you do about it?

When I was leading product design for a financial services group the focus was always on making it as seamless as possible for the customer at the point when updates (like inflation increases) were going to be implemented. If it wasn’t going to be seamless, easily understood and no work for the customer then I insisted we HAD to find a different way of doing things before we launched the product in the first place. It was market-leading at the time. It still is.

The Moral of the Tale

Wasting people’s time is criminal. The financial sector in the UK gets away with a paltry £25 compensation for getting ordinary things wrong that may have wasted hours of a customer’s time to rectify – presumably because some idiot at the Regulator suggested this as a minimum without setting out a realistic scale. The outcome is a complete lack of acknowledgement of responsibility nor the pain, discomfort or even financial impact of what has ensued.

So instead of putting up with it – both as supplier and consumer – we should be vocal in our objection. If there is to be a new normal post-pandemic then that also ought to include a change in approach to matters of sustainability. We owe it to our neighbours. We owe it to the planet. Finally we owe it to ourselves.

How Do You Design to Prevent it Happening?

Surprisingly we think that’s easy – it just involves a change in mindset. We’ll help you understand the basics and how to build on those as part of a free consultation. It makes a massive difference in the quality of the solutions and there’s much more that we can share. If you’d like more information online, then you can also follow this link.

Rob Wherrett can be contacted at

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