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Vodafone upsets customers with upgrade downgrade

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Vodafone customers with an HTC Desire, waiting for Android 2.2, instead got a new firmware version packed with Vodafone bloat.

Froyo is the new version of Android and adds some useful features to Google’s mobile OS. Vodafone customers have been waiting excitedly for an upgrade their HTC Desire phones, but on installation they found instead an update tainted with Vodafone’s idea of cool extra features.

Rather than installing Android 2.2, which comes with better performance and support for Adobe Flash, the update introduces a new splash screen, changes the user’s home page to Vodafone 360 and adds a load of bookmarks. But what’s got users really annoyed is the addition of a music shop and Vodafone 360 features that can’t be removed.

Vodafone, of course, argues that this is all nifty and useful stuff designed to help customers find the Vodafone services they need:

"We customise phone software to optimise customers' experience of the device on the Vodafone network and to enable access to our services ... In other instances, our customisation is more extensive such as the preloading of services (People, My Web, 360 Shop, etc), but this varies from device to device." The company's defence was posted to a forum awash with customer complaints.

Operators have always created “variant” handsets including pre-loaded settings and pre-installed applications, but adding them later is something that’s only recently become possible. Applications can be included on a revenue-sharing basis if or when the user upgrades, or just because someone at the operator thinks it’s a cool application (or got taken out for a particularly good dinner).

Users preferring unbranded firmware have long found ways around the operator variants. Some Desire users have managed to reverse the upgrade, and provide instructions to be followed at your own risk.

Vodafone isn't alone in slipping operator variations into the Desire update: HTC Desire users on the Orange network have discovered their home page changed and a couple of demo games installed, but those changes are more easily reversed.

In Vodafone's case the modifications seem to be mainly about promoting Vodafone’s 360 service, which makes sense as the promised range of dedicated 360 handsets has failed to materialise. The addition of bookmarks linking to Flirtomatic and Match.com is harder to justify, unless (as one forum poster suggests) "[Vodafone] think Desire owners r virgin geeks who cant get laid?" ®

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