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Firmware updates in future still for free?

Small manufactures like Fuji, OM Digital Solutions and Panasonic offers since a while free firmware updates for their flagship models. Those firmware updates doesn’t fix bugs only but add also new functionalities. Whether this will be the case in future or not I would like to discuss in this small blog post. I mean firmware updates which add new functionality. Bug fix updates are not discussed here.

Sunset in Botswana kündigt das Ende kostenloser Firmware Updates bei digitalen Kameras an.

Reasons for free firmware updates

The small companies do have a difficult situation compared to the big three. Limited R&D capacities limit also the capabilities to bring new hardware in the same frequencies as the bigger ones. In case a company is not able to introduce new hardware, those companies are not mentioned in the medias. This ends in less brand awareness. Therefore those companies make less revenue which ends again in less R&D resources. Sounds like a vicious circle
One possibility to break this vicious circle are firmware updates, which add new functionalities. As this is “only” software, R&D need less resources. In addition customers are happier. The firmware adds value to their camera. In the mean time those firmware updates are already sales arguments. That is the reason that big companies are offering such kind of updates as well. Nikon just recently published a functional firmware update for their Z9.

Reasons against firmware updates for free

Not only hardware development needs resources in R&D. Also the development of firmware needs manpower. Despite this firmware will be tested and ties therefore R&D capabilities. Through firmware for free the companies cannot make revenue. Therefore the ongoing hardware sales has to finance the development. In addition the parallel firmware development disturbs the development of new hardware. In most of the cases the same developers are involved. As the market is decreasing also the numbers of sold cameras is decreasing. Therefore prices of hardware increases. Customer will buy less often a new hardware. In addition the innovation steps between each hardware generation are getting smaller. This decrease the interest in new hardware on customers side in addition. The differences between the owned and the new camera are to small.

How does the future look like?

As above described firmware updates for free do have tow sided of a coin. In fact companies do get more brand awareness, but also tie R&D resources. Those are urgently needed to develop new hardware. This potentially delays new hardware this is needed urgently. But new hardware brings higher margins than hardware which is already on the market for a longer time. In addition we all know that the camera market is shrinking. Therefore it will be more and more difficult to generate revenue for all manufacturers. Therefore we will see in near future a destructive competition. Brands will either disappear or bought by other brands. Even though that Nikon recently publishes a functional firmware update for its Z9, this was already mentioned at the launch of the Z9. Already know some of the brands offers only for their flagship model those functional updates.

Über den kostenlosen Firmware Updates digitaler Kameras ziehen sich düstere Wolken zusammen

I’m sure we will see very soon market adaptions. Therefore functional firmware updates will be only available for sales. Even more likely we will also see in the flagship models the strategy to bring new hardware to add new functionality as we do already see in the cheaper models. Sony already do have this strategy and other manufacture will follow soon or later. Otherwise the companies are not able to generate revenue with dropping numbers. Even thought firmware updates prolong the live span of camera hardware, but the companies are earning less revenue.
I’m sure this is a very controversial opinion and I’m curious what you think about this. Leave a comment with your thoughts. I’m looking forward to an active and respectful discussion.

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2 Replies to “Firmware updates in future still for free?”

  1. I think offer FW feature updates at a cost should be an option, gives customer choice and value for money plus saving some of the planet maybe. If the EM1x could have a FW upgrade of the bird AI I may go for it, I have the OM1 also!

    1. Dear Edward,
      would surprise me incase you will see a firmware update of bird AI for E-M1X. The OM-1 has a nes processor with new capabilities and I think those are the reason for the improved bird AI.
      Michael

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