Android Central

Inside the ‘broken’ Android updates process

If you have an Android phone, chances are it’s not running the most recent version of the OS, 4.1 Jelly Bean. According to Google’s own figures, just 1.2 percent of active devices run the latest version of Android. Some 57.5 percent remain on Android 2.3, a version rapidly approaching its second birthday.

If you were lucky enough to buy a Nexus device -- the right Nexus device -- you might get the latest sweet treat from the Mountain View chocolate factory immediately, or within a few weeks of it being finalized. But for most of the countless millions of active Android devices, it’s quite a different story. They’ll probably never run the latest version of Android, whatever that may be. They’re on ICS if they’re lucky, Gingerbread if they’re not, and by the time they get Jelly Bean we’ll already be singing the praises of Key Lime Pie.

This vicious cycle is a product of Google’s approach to its OS, combined with a mess of other factors including carriers, manufacturers and users’ own expectations. It’s one of the platform’s most significant issues, and one that’s all but impossible to solve. Read on to find out exactly why, as we dissect the Android software update process.

Android Central

Update anxiety

You buy a phone, you pay your $200, you commit to a 2-year contract with a service provider. It used to be that the manufacturer’s involvement in developing a device ended once it shipped. Instead, as smartphones have become more prevalent, they’re constantly evolving, even after release. New software updates arrive, adding features, changing up the look and feel, and enhancing performance months after purchase. Major updates could even move devices up to a new platform version.

As updates become more common, and consumers become more tech-savvy, there’s an increasing awareness that devices can be updated, and an expectation that they should be updated. With that comes a sort of “update anxiety.” If you’ve dropped by any smartphone message board, such as our own forums or XDA’s, you’ll know what we mean by this. Threads abound asking when ICS, or Jelly Bean, will be available for certain devices. In the event of delayed or even canceled updates, Internet denizens swear they’ll never buy another phone from that manufacturer or carrier again. It’s an entirely negative ownership experience.

While this isn’t representative of the entire user base -- not by far -- it’s an example of how many power users experience Android smartphones. They’re always behind the curve, always waiting on an update, never fully enjoying the product that they’ve bought as they’ve bought it. Part of that is the fault of the tech press -- we’re always focused on what’s new, and that means talking about software that hasn’t yet reached most folks.

There’s also the problem of phones being advertised as “update-ready.” Even now, devices that ship with ICS are being marketed as “upgradeable” to Jelly Bean, in a move that essentially allows manufacturers and carriers to turn the lack of certain software into a feature in its own right. Right from the start, owners are instructed to wait for updates, acutely aware that their new phone has old software. The HTC Rezound was marketed as “ICS-ready” at announcement in November 2011. It received Android 4.0 over-the-air some nine months later, in August 2012. Needless to say, that’s a lot of waiting for an advertised feature.

But updates don’t just happen, and there are valid technical reasons why that new version of Android you’ve been waiting for might take the better part of a year to arrive.

Android Central

Coding is hard

When a new version of Android is released, it’s put out through the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). AOSP is available for anyone to download, tinker and build Android at their leisure, regardless of whether they’re a major smartphone manufacturer, a custom ROM-maker. But when the code is pushed out, it's not necessarily ready for every device out there.

Getting a new version of Android up and running on any device with different hardware requires a significant amount of additional work, and even more effort is needed to bring across proprietary code from chip-makers. For example, a Snapdragon S4 device needs Jelly Bean-friendly Qualcomm drivers for the CPU and GPU. The build process the needs to be tailored to the phone’s hardware, and existing customizations need to be worked into the new version of Android without breaking anything.

Even on apparently similar hardware, there’ll often be other proprietary components to work into the mix. For example, the (international) HTC One X is a Tegra 3 device, but includes HTC’s ImageSense chip, something not found on the Nexus 7. It also lays out its internal storage differently, with a separate partition for media. Then there’s the cellular radio firmware to consider. Suddenly, you’ve got a lot of work to do to bring a Tegra 3 device up to Jelly Bean.

Sony explained the entire coding and porting process in great detail in a blog post late last year. It's worth a read if you want to develop a newfound sympathy for the programmers who have to handle these kinds of updates.

The task isn’t limited to code, though. There are often design changes to be considered, especially when updating from Android 2.x to 4.x -- a version change which brought in sweeping UI enhancements throughout. As Sony explained to us at its recent design roundtable in Germany, manufacturers have little warning as to what Google may be working on, so they can’t plan ahead. Admittedly, Google’s trying to change this with its Platform Developer Kit, which gives OEMs early access to certain parts of the framework in new versions of Android. However, the PDK is focused on getting new devices ready for launch, not upgrading old ones. And if the underlying Android design language changes, so too must any customizations that sit on top of it.

Updating an Android device isn't easy, and there's much more to it than dropping in the new code from Google and hoping for the best. It’s a hell of a lot of work, and that’s before you even think about getting it all approved and pushed out onto handsets. If radio changes have been made, the new code must be certified by regional authorities, as well bodies like the Bluetooth SIG and Wifi Alliance. That all takes precious time, and in its blog post last year, Sony identified certification as the most time-consuming part of putting out new software.

Android Central

The carrier problem

Here’s where we meet the great hate figures of the mobile space -- the carriers. A necessary evil in our connected world, mobile operators have great influence into what goes out on their networks, especially in markets like the U.S. and Japan. That power includes the requirement that manufacturers submit updates for approval before they’re pushed out.

The carrier certification process can be lightning-fast or arduously long-winded. Minor updates, particularly on GSM carriers outside of the U.S., are often subject to quick approval. A good example is Three UK’s approval of a bug fix patch for the HTC One S. This passed certification in a couple of days, as only minor changes had been made, and the carrier was satisfied nothing in there was going to break its network.

At the other end of the scale are major updates on some of the U.S. carriers. We’re going to pick on the Verizon Galaxy Nexus here, but there are plenty of other examples on rival networks. Big Red’s Gnex took upwards of two months to pass certification for its Android 4.0.4 update, and Jelly Bean for the Nexus, completed in July, still isn’t out. It’s impossible to know exactly why things have been held up, or who, if anyone, is to blame. But it’s an example of how extra weeks of waiting can be added if issues crop up during the certification process.

Carriers are generally slow moving, and they’ll always err on the side of caution. They also have limited resources when it comes to certifying smartphone software, and the priority, naturally, will always be given to approving new devices ready to go on sale. That’s how you make money. And a similar attitude prevails at some OEMs, too. If a phone hasn’t sold well, or it's a budget model, it might just not be worth the time and money to develop and certify an update. Smartphone manufacturers are businesses, after all.

Android Central

Android versus Android-based

But these are Android phones, right? Why is it so difficult to keep Android phones on the latest software, especially when the likes of iOS and Windows Phone seem to manage a much quicker, more elegant upgrade process?

The answer is variety. Apple has no more than three current phones at a time, making the task of syncronizing updates across its devices far easier. The iPhone range also has less internal variety from one model to the next. What’s more, Apple’s tight control over every aspect of hardware and software means it can easily anticipate future software versions in a way Android phone makers can’t.

As for Microsoft, it’s almost as controlling as Apple. Its phones are limited to Qualcomm Snapdragon CPUs and a fixed range of display resolutions. Certain areas of the OS are off-limits even to OEMs, and there are strict requirements for Windows Phones, such as particular button setups and memory quotas. Windows Phone OEMs are also extremely limited in the changes they can make to the UI. All of these factors make it easier to push out updates across seemingly diverse hardware from different manufacturers.

We should also point out that Android phones, as we tend to think of them, aren’t just Android phones. They’re Android-based phones.

A few months back, Google’s Vic Gundotra made a post on Google+, singing the praises of his new Nexus 7 tablet, along with an attached photo. When followers asked him what he used to take the picture, he replied in very precise, deliberate language -- it was taken on his “Android-based Galaxy S3.” Gundotra’s wording illuminates a crucial distinction between Nexus and “Google Experience” devices, and the Samsung, HTC and Motorola-branded phones that dominate the walls of most stores. Android is what’s released by Google. Once manufacturers get hold of it, the end product is Android-based. There’s stuff in there that Google doesn’t directly control, meaning it’s no longer just “Android.”

The HTC One X is an Android-based HTC Sense phone. The Galaxy S3 is an Android-based Samsung TouchWiz phone. Though they're compatible with Android and share a common feature set, they're different to the operating system delivered by the folks at Mountain View.

Android Central

The perils of v​ariety

Being an open-source OS, OEMs are free to do pretty much whatever they want with Android. The only real limiting factor is the Android Compatibility Test Suite -- a set of testing programs designed to ensure they haven’t messed with the framework in a way that breaks third-party apps. Phones must pass this test in order to get the Google seal of approval. But there’s no provision in the CTS for making sure a manufacturer-customized build of Android is easy to update, and as such there are no guarantees about update timings.

You might say that’s a bad thing, especially if you’re a fan of vanilla Android. If Microsoft can force manufacturers not to mess with the Windows Phone UI, why doesn’t Google do the same for Android? Well if it did, Android would become a whole lot less attractive to Google’s real customers -- carriers and device manufacturers. They want to slather Android with their own software and design language to differentiate themselves in the crowded and competitive mobile market. Were they unable to do this, they simply wouldn’t make as many Android phones, and consequently customers wouldn’t buy as many Android phones.

Fewer Android phones would mean fewer ad clicks in Google search, and fewer mobile users funneled into Google’s app and content ecosystems. Google doesn’t want there to be fewer Android phones. Google wants hundreds of millions of Android phones, and to reach that goal it must open Android up to customization.

As a result, Google, as a platform holder, is powerless to force updates onto “Android-based” handsets. Its OS’s vast market share relies on having a multitude of devices on sale, and that in turn leads to endless variety in hardware specifications, manufacturer customizations and carrier requirements. It’s that variety which makes fast, frequent updates for devices such an utterly impossible task, for the technical reasons we’ve already discussed. Simply put, there’s no way Android as a whole can have fast updates and a large market share. It’s precluded by the nature of the platform, and more importantly, Android’s place in Google’s business strategy.

Unfortunately, despite token offerings like Motorola’s 100 bucks if your phone doesn’t get Jelly Bean, and the ill-fated Android Update Alliance, things show no sign of changing.

Android Central

Is it a problem?

It may be inevitable, but having to wait longer than you’d like for an update is never a good thing. Customers don’t care about why their shiny new Android phone is one or two versions behind the latest. They just observe, with envious eyes, iPhone users getting iOS 6 on time and see that they’re being short-changed by their manufacturer.

Modern consumers are becoming more aware that smartphones are no longer phones, but computers, and that they can be updated with exciting new features. Though technical and business reasons may prevent every Android phones from being up-to-date, these devices are put out to compete with the latest from Apple and Microsoft, and when they’re one or two major versions behind the cutting edge, it makes for a clear area of weakness for competitors to exploit. That makes it a problem for everyone with a stake in Android.

In preparation for this article, we ran a small, unscientific survey on Google+, asking Android Central followers how their experiences with updates had been on their phones. The response was almost uniformly negative -- even fans of the platform described update roll-outs in terms like “bad” “terrible” and “absolute shit.” That’s a side of the Android experience that has a serious image problem among power users.

The other side of that argument is that Android is booming, despite its update woes. It’s the world’s most popular smartphone OS. Devices continue to fly off store shelves, and the platform has a strong community following, despite the majority of handsets being on older software versions.

You could argue that most mainstream consumers don’t care about updating their phone at all, and you’d probably be right. And for those who absolutely must have the latest version of Android, there’s always the latest Nexus phone, though the appeal of the Nexus brand has been somewhat diluted by update delays on Verizon and Sprint.

Android Central

Is there a sol​ution?

The only true solution to the Android update problem is a change in mindset, or if that doesn’t work, a change of handset. Android will never be able to offer across-the-board updates like Apple does -- it’s technically impossible for the wide variety of reasons we’ve already covered.

Android phone owners, community members and fans need to appreciate that updates are hard to develop, and take time and money to put out, and when carriers get involved, they can be subject to long, tedious delays. That’s not the case with iOS and Windows Phone, but they’re very different operating systems. Painful as it may be to admit, waiting for updates will be part of the Android experience for many years to come.

But if Android is the problem, then perhaps Android can also be the solution, at least for technically adventurous users. Android’s openness enables it to run on multiple hardware platforms, but Google’s OS is also eminently hacker-friendly. Many leading devices have a vibrant custom ROM scene, where custom-built firmwares are available, often based on later versions of Android than are officially available for those phones. That means if you really, really care about running the latest version of the OS, you can crack open your bootloader and do so, at the cost of stability (and perhaps your warranty).

That’s not a perfect solution, but it’s as close we’re ever likely to get. Then open -- or “openy” -- nature of Android has its advantages -- a wide variety of hardware, hackability and custom ROM support, endless choice in screen sizes, software customizations, multimedia chops, chassis styles and industrial designs. But it comes with one major Achilles heel -- the labyrinthine, time-consuming and expensive process of getting phones updated with a new version drops. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault, but it's a weakness that's built into Android's DNA, and one we doubt will ever be overcome.

 
There are 193 comments

S_C_B says:

Add to the title...unless you have a Nexus directly from Google. Good write-up anyway.

larryv says:

Why are you crying sour grapes??? You want the latest OS, fast? Then buy a Nexus device directly from Google. You want the latest hardware? Then buy whatever Android device just got released from Samsung, HTC, Moto, LG, Sony etc... Every month there are new devices being released. Android is all about CHOICE. If very fast OS updates is your #1 over riding concern then get on the Nexus bandwagon. But stop crying...

BTW, you want real crying??? Think of all those Apple iPhone idiots that would fork over $29 per adapter for every dock, port or cable they have, while still not having a replaceable battery or on board microSD/microUSB/microHDMI/NFC.... LOL...

Sniper1087 says:

while I do agree with you one thing is for sure NFC is a gimmick until apple adopts it since most places dont have the option to pay with your phone through google wallet and most carriers dont support it, making it the only way to load it while rooted and using programs like root explorer, its sad to say it but apple so far has set the bar for any new tech that comes out, first with touchscreen smartphone, tablets and well if they adopt NFC possibly by their next iteration we will see more use of it in our android phones, now I like android and Fragmentation has been a bitch, but noone can blame google is all OEMs and Carriers fault, you see with apple carriers cannot make any changes like adding bloatware that cannot be removed, unless you hack your device, yes im looking at you sgs3 from t-mobile, if Carriers or OEMS just stick to stock it will be a better experience, OEMs could focus on leaving stock on it, and just change the hardware for design appeal, you know what I mean people will get faster updates since they dont have to worry about a different UI, of course there are factors like Screen Size, Resolution slide out keyboard and so on but would make their lives much easier, anyways thats my little grain of salt.

briankurtz79 says:

NFC has many more uses than Google wallet. Someone just needs to find a good way to market one of them.

tsunami1609 says:

I have to disagree with NFC being a gimmick. It actually has multiple uses other than just wallet. For example, I have both a Gnex and a Nexus 7. When I want to tether to my tablet I just open an app on my phone, and tap the two together. The NFC chip sends the necessary info to get everything started, and all I have to do is watch. When more android phones have NFC (not just the top 3) it'll become one of those standard Android features for sharing.

It still has potential.

Oh, and of course, there's the NFC sticker - phone combo that people could set up around their house/work. That requires a little bit more know how though.

joebob2000 says:

Really? Thats your killer feature? I have a S3 and a laptop, ipad, old phone, etc. and when I want to tether, I turn on tethering on my S3 and the rest of the devices just work (since the settings are saved). And dont get me started on NFC tags. Your phone has to be alive/unlocked, you have to ack any activity (since security hasnt been well thought out) so basically anything NFC can do, a settings app can do a hell of a lot better.

tookie88 says:

Hmm.. Yes. NFC is a killer feature. What you didn't interpret was its killer usage of the killer feature.

Sharing Android apps. It's your choice if you want to fire up the Play Store to tap tap tap and find an app. I'll just tap my phone and go.

Sending photos. It's your choice if you want to fire up Gmail, or bluetooth then take your time to pair. I'll just tap my phone and go.

Sending links. It's your choice if you want to tap a long URL on your on-screen keyboard. I'll just tap my phone and go.

There are some stuff a settings app can't do as fast. And for the record, I use tasker, NFC task launcher to automate the tasks.

festrada007 says:

Apple users = iDiots.

larryv says:

NFC is a lot more than google wallet... I'm using its awesomness every day...

arrioch says:

I have to disagree about NFC being a gimmick, sure, wallet is not widely available, but NFC is much more, i bought dozen tokens few weeks ago and they are really useful, i've set them all over the place for quick phone profiles, one on the door, one next to the bed, i'll put one in my car as well. If you come to my apartment, you don't have to ask for wifi password, just tap the NFC tag on my router with your phone and you'll connect automatically. There are so much possibilities to NFC aside from purchases.

BigMagoo says:

I agree with some of that, but Apple was not even close to the first with a touchscreen smartphone or tablet. Yeah, they innovated with the original iPhone, but there have been tablets since the early 2000s, and touchscreen smartphones since the mid-90s.

first i've never understood irrational apple hatred,

second. how is that different from you buying SD cards and mini/micro hdmi adapters? or MHL adapters? My samsung galaxy 3 has a separate MHL pinout to my sg2/gnex, it needed the newest MHL adapter, and only a samsung brand will work.

This does not make anyone cry. Posts like yours, showing how stupid some users can be, make me cry.

Suntan says:

I'd have to agree.

We can all believe apple does things poorly while also acknowledging that android manufacturers do some of the same things from time to time.

-Suntan

Davest says:

Really, Jesse? He made you cry? That has to be the most pitiful thing I've heard in a long time.

mobilewill says:

That isn't true. You can use a 5pin to 11pin adapter and use non-Samsung MHL adapters. I am using a VGA MHL adapter just fine.

joebob2000 says:

Let's be honest; you had a Gnex/SG2 and you upgraded to a S3 (something rather rare since the device releases are relatively close) AND you wanted to port just your HDMI feature from one to the next... Whereas Apple iPhone users of ANY vintage get to throw away ANY adapters they had before, including chargers, and pony up the apple-bucks for more of them (since Apple will crush anyone who makes an illicit charger and sells it for less than $39). Not really the same thing.

n8ter#AC says:

Guess what. Galaxy Nexus has only 16GB Storage if you get the GSM version from Google. It has no HDMI-out. It has no MicroSD. The battery life sort of sucks, so yea, you need a replaceable battery. The camera is bad compared to a Galaxy S2 nevermind an S2, One X, iPhone 4S or 5 and even the new iPod Touch will likely blow it out of the water. It doesn't support USB Mass Storage, IIRC, just MTP (which is a pain for Mac Users). If you buy a Carrier Branded Version (Sprint or Verizon), then updates arn't all that fast, either... ...

The Nexus S had some of the same faults (no SD Card, terrible camera for video recording (840p only, IIRC) nevermind the Galaxy S cameras weren't all that great, anyways, PenTile WVGA screen with jaggedness and image retention, etc.).

iPhones can AirPlay. And AppleTV isn't that expensive ($99 only) so HDMI out isn't all that much of a deficit. A decent mHDMI Cable + MHL adapter is almost half the cost of the AppleTV, Lol. OEM Android devices are typically DLNA capable, but not a Nexus (it's capable, but you need third party apps for that, many of which are terrible).

Remember the Nexus One GB update. Remember the Nexus S ICS update. Those weren't very fast. In fact the Vivid was on ICS 4.0.3 before Verizon Galaxy Nexus devices, IIRC, and AFAIC Samsung Released their GS2/Skyrocket 4.0.4 update on AT&T (of all carriers) before Verizon got the 4.0.4 update out to the Galaxy Nexus (and Sprint as well, IIRC)).

I left Android after the Vibrant FroYo debacle and came back, but I think once I get rid of this SR I'm truly just done with Google because their OEM partners are too busy releasing new redundant phones instead of supporting their customers. At least on WP8 you're guaranteed at least 18 months of updates/support) and on iOS you get years - literally (and the best warranty program/support in the business). With Android you get Adware and have to deal with major bugs like not even being able to share a photo to store on Picasa Web Albums on a ton (if not all) ICS devices basically forever cause they're too busy working on the next letter of the alphabet (or maybe just the statue they put in front of Google HQ).

Android is all about choice? Okay, my choice is that I want the latest and very fast OS updates AND the latest hardware. What are my choices then. I mean, it's all about choice, yes? What are they? Or do I have to do a double-secret-probation jailbreakunlockROMdonglesuperduperheadoverheels thingy to my phone to install some hacked ROM from some Russian mobster to have the latest OS on my latest hardware?

Seems so easy! Choice indeed!

Biga173rd says:

Nice you had me rolling with this statement

MrLadoodle says:

Google isn't the major source of HSPA GNexus sales.

You can buy the HSPA GNexus from dozens of operators world wide and they still get updates directly from Google, although they are SIM-locked.

bardlehel says:

This doesn't make Android sound that good, ya know... What I got from this piece is that getting updates (any at all) are not to be expected, even bug fixes and optimizations have to go through a bunch of red-tape and cost/benefit analysis. nice. Gotta buy a new phone for a better OS. I hear a case to buy even a MS phone if i want to get my phone updated to be more up-to-date in security. WOW. What is Google to do? Is Android really the ghetto OS now?

kinster02 says:

To the average consumer which is the majority, they don't know and the majority could care less about what OS# they are on or if they are on the lastest...just as long as it works.

DSaif says:

I actually observed people buy new phones because of the hype (Not OS or anything).. Average consumers don't care about the version number, they want the latest phone!

ArgonNJ#CB says:

I agree, they go into the store and say want the SIII or the RAZR or whatever they saw on last nights TV ad. The devices could run Donut for all they know or care.

mwara244 says:

"they simply wouldn’t make as many Android phones, and consequently customers wouldn’t buy as many Android phones." I don't think that would be true. If there were less android phone models, more people would be buying more of the same models of phones. If 2 million people are offered 10 different types of android phones to buy, they buy 1 of the 10. If they are offered say only 3 android phones instead they are going to buy 1 of the three. I think it makes more sense for less phones to be released than say for example 5 different razr phones in 1 year.

TenshiNo says:

I understand what you're saying here, mwara, but the key thing Android has going for it (and the real reason Android is dominating iOS in the market) is the fact that there are *so* many phones to choose from. Most users would never find themselves in the position that they can't find an Android phone that they like the way it looks and feels in their hand. That's a *huge* deal. For me, I have large hands and the iPhone is actually hard for me to hold on to. So are some of the smaller Android phones, but at least with Android I have the choice of a larger phone.

Then, there's the "cost" factor. Some people can't afford a $200 phone. With Android, people have the ability to have a smart phone at a $50 price-point, although not with as good of a hardware. I have had numerous discussions with people about whether this is a good or bad thing for Android, since these phones often offer a less-than-optimal experience, but I always point out that you can't honestly expect a $50 phone to perform as well as a $200 phone. That's like me complaining that my $20K Sentra isn't as fast as a $160K Audi. I think, on the whole, it's a good thing and eventually consumers' expectations will become a bit more realistic.

icebike says:

This is true, and was addressed in passing in the article. (Well written Article, by the way).

The key quote is this one:
"Modern consumers are becoming more aware that smartphones are no longer phones,
but computers, and that they can be updated with exciting new features. "

When that point is more fully understood by more people, it may get to the point where you can drop a new kernel on your phone as easily as you can do an in-place upgrade on Linux, or Windows, or OS-X without losing anything or having to re-install all your software. (Most of the time).

But part of this problem is Google's fault for designing the linkages to hardware specific components in such a way that makes updates to the OS very difficult and requires manufacturers to get involved with every update.

In other words, Android's hardware abstraction layer is light-years behind Linux and even Windows. Worse: Google had to strip most of this hardware abstraction out of linux when they made Android from linux. Because Linux already had it.

You don't have to wait for Dell or HP to approve the latest version of Red Hat or Windows and release new drivers for your existing laptop. The old drivers will do.

The phone's screen and the radios aren't going to change, so the phone's old hardwar rom modules should continue to work when used with a new Android version.

Google can solve most of this problem with a little (or a lot) of work on the linkage and the APIs that chipset makers use to integrate their binary blobs.

Shadowriver says:

Kernel it's a fundament of the system... and i didnt seen that yet to change, so i don't belive there so dramatical changes in kernel on each update. I also don't belive they throw away driver system from Linux kernel... since it's core of that thing, if they owuld do that they could as well write new kernel.

If manufacture need to do something in kernel is most likely is to update driver code

Here, here! The bottom line is that this is a project management issue on the part of the manufacturers. If they do their part right, the certification process for the carrier becomes much easier. For a MANUFACTURER, they have the same level of control over their hardware and how it interacts with the Linux as Apple does. The interaction between the Linux kernel and the Android abstraction layer shouldn't change.

The other major problem is the customized UI. This is where Google shares some responsibility with the manufacturers. As Google modernizes/improves Android and its programming interfaces and UI, the manufacturers have additional work to do to add their customized UI on top of it and make sure everything works as before.

I would imagine that these improvements by Google are why Moto appears to be whittling the UI "bells and whistles" of Moto Blur down to the truly useful improvements and features they add to the base ICS/JB UI (as noted with the Razr M, and soon to be Razr HD/HD MAXX).

I really DO understand the desire for manufacturers to put their own imprint on their phones and the underlying Android UI. Customer lock in through "look and feel" (once a customer gets used to a particular "look and feel", they are far less likely to change) is an established method of keeping a customer base loyal. In many ways, the differentiation actually helps Android grow as most customers can find a device that works best for them.

However, it can be managed better than it currently is. I would dare say that one of the main problems is that most firms have let go their experienced programmers/project managers to save money. Now it is coming back to bite them in the rear as their younger/cheaper replacements have to go through the same learning curve that the PC industry went through 20-30 years ago.

"Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them." Google and the manufacturers should pay attention to this.

Anyway, these practices are well established, but I've worked with younger programmers who just don't understand the implications of their programming/design decisions. They don't look at their work as part of a SYSTEM, but rather their part as the whole and it shows in the amount of extra work that has to be done with each update to integrate all of these disparate pieces.

For that matter, it isn't just in this industry, but in many diverse industries from aerospace to the military to automobiles to other areas of tech.

Ironically, systems like Six Sigma (among others), which were developed to address many of these same issues originated with firms like Motorola. I find it tremendously ironic that Moto also suffers from the same issues as other manufacturers in the Android space. Talk about a firm that should know better!

Anyway, enough of my rant. I'm just trying to say that I think @icebike has hit the nail on the head in the broad strokes of the problem... and I agree with them! Even if we do differ in the details... ;^D

Scott

TenshiNo says:

You have to remember, also, that your home PC doesn't have the kind of radios that make it subject to things like FCC approval, which is (potentially) a large part of the update process as well. Not to mention that the carriers have to make sure the phone isn't going to do something crazy and crash their network.

Melissa P says:

Actually Google didn't invent Android, a different company developed Android and Google bought it from them.

DSaif says:

Nexus is the only solution.. But Samsung screwed up the Galaxy Nexus. I hope Google doesn't allow Samsung, Sony & LG to do anything with updates this time.

The main problem is manufacturers & carriers. They want you to buy new phones. But updating their old devices will give them even more respect/love from existing customers. Seems like Samsung actually realized it (making Jelly Bean for mid-end phones like Galaxy Ace) etc.. All the high-end phones are safe for 2 updates atleast.

branant says:

I agree on the Nexus as the only solution. And I still don't understand how come all these people that keep complaining about software updates don't go out and get themselves a Nexus device. I am sure price is not the reason because $300 for the latest, unlocked Nexus device its practically a steal.

I just have a problem with you using the words "Nexus" and "Carriers" in the same sentence. You are clearly referring to a Verizon, Sprint or some other device here. What people mean when they say Nexus is a Sim-free, unlocked phone directly from Google running Takju, and getting immediate updates.

If this is what everyone wants they should all go out and get the damn Nexus instead of complaining why they can't flash Jelly Bean on their Samsungs, HTCs and other Android-based devices...

edmicman says:

The problem is that the expectation was with Verizon (whether the assumption was correct or not) that it would be a Google (not Android-based) device complete with all the advantages of having a Nexus device. I understand that this article is speaking to all carriers and manufacturers, but with a non-Nexus device that is to be expected. But Verizon has royally screwed this up with some help from Google. They might as well have dropped the Nexus name and just went with some stock-Android Google phone name.

Why shouldn't we be able to have a true Nexus device on the US's main major network with the best LTE, and still have it get current updates like all the iDevices on that network, too?

There's a place for unlocking and hacking, but sometimes you want the keep-up-to-date experience without having to mess with that, on the carrier of your choice.

phor11 says:

They don't go out and get themselves a Nexus device because even when the Galaxy Nexus was released, it wasn't the latest and greatest hardware.

Regardless of software updates, old hardware is a tough sell when going up against exotic materials (instead of plastic), dense/bright IPS displays (instead of Pentile Amoled), quad core cortex-A15 processors (instead of dual core A9), on-chip LTE that sips the battery (instead of a separate chip that destroys it), larger batteries, MicroSD support, etc.. etc...

Hopefully all that will change this Fall, but right now the best Nexus device is just too far behind the hardware curve to tempt me. Software updates can't fix poor reception and battery life.

Tango6 says:

That's why I only buy the Nexus line... I've bought the Nexus One, Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 7... Always the latest version first. Love it! :D

bigtank says:

"Its the ECONOMY,stupid".....As a fan of Android I always want the latest and greatest. I would think that applies to most of us on this site however we must understand we are a minority of the overall market. The main determining factor is whether a product makes the consumer's life easier. Say what you want about Apple but this is where their genius lies. or at least the genius of their marketing dept. Right now the Android ecosystem is a geek's paradise, as was WinMo prior.

"Right now the Android ecosystem is a geek's paradise, AS WAS WinMO prior."

+1 for the As was WinMo prior fun fact!

bcjanes says:

I don't buy the carrier and manufacturer excuses. Here's why:

CyanogenMod can (and they do!) get AOSP working on phones faster and usually with builds that are more stable and have less bugs than 'approved' firmware.

I have run Cyanogen on 3 phones from 2 manufacturers, and in *each* case Cyanagon ran faster and had better battery life and less/no software bugs when compared to the 'approved' carrier firmware.

And they manage to do it as part time hobby coders with little/no budget and support from manufacturers.

Sorry, if a bunch of hobbyists can do it faster and better that means we (the phone buying public) are just getting screwed by the Carriers and handset makers.

Alex Dobie says:

CM doesn't have to go through carrier or regulatory certification. That's a big part of what delays updates. Check back over the section on carriers and certification.

bcjanes says:

I'll give you the Regulatory certification, however Carrier certification is controlled by the Carrier, and they can make it go as fast or as slow as they want it.

That still doesn't explain how CM manages to get ROMS out that (in my experience) are more stable, faster, and easier on the battery than the MFGR and Carrier approved firmware is.

The only explanation would be the 'value added' (that's a joke) changes to the baseline software that Manufacturer and Carriers try to force on the public. Months later on releases and less stable software so a Carrier can force software and features on the firmware that cannot be removed and the vast majority of us will not want and or use? That's not good for consumers, it's only good for the Carrier's additional bottom line when they manage to trick someone for example into using their subscription turn by turn navigation software even though it comes free with Google Maps.

icebike says:

CM manages to get ROMS out fast, but to be honest, there is a lot of broken stuff in these roms that you would be throwing rocks thru carriers store windows if they delivered something like that.

Because you are a geek, and understand that CM is a perpetual work in progress, you put up with that.

rajendra82 says:

I am not sure what you are talking about when you say a lot of broken stuff in there in CM. I have run CM7 and CM9 on the Captivate and CM9 and CM10 on the Galaxy Note. Even during the nightly phase, the Cyanogenmod ROMs were daily drivers. The Touchwiz ROMs they replaced also had broken stuff in there. The GPS on the Note was screwed up when they updated the stock ROM to ICS, and there is yet to be a fix released. Many international Notes were bricked, when Samsung updated them OTA to ICS. There were lag issues with stock ROMs on the Captivate due to the proprietary and buggy RFS they used. Compared to the issues the stock ROMS had, the issues on the CM ROMs were less bothersome. Not to mention all the new apps that became compatible with the latest version of the OS, and the security fixes , and code patches that made it into the newer AOSP code base (and thus into CM), but never made it into the stock ROMs forked from the older code base. It took me a year after getting the Captivate to move away from stock onto CM7. It took me less than 6 months to move the note on to CM9 from stock. I am not going back unless it is for warranty repairs.

olorin says:

Sent from my Epic Touch 4G running JELLY BEAN (CM10)! I understand that CM is only relevant to the small minority (ok, all of us on this Site). BUT, my wife's Evo SHIFT has had bug after bug after bug & would be so much more stable with CM or a host of other ROMs. Not all manufacturer ROMS are good.

By the way, CM10 is smooth & completely usable on the Touch. I have zero complaints & zero loss of functionality!

Robbzilla says:

Most of the things in CM that are "broken" are that way because of proprietary carrier add-ons. CM has to reverse engineer so many things (Look at CDMA radios for example) that it takes a while. That being said, I had ICS on my Epic Touch months before it came out from Sammy, and my new EVO LTE runs JB just fine.

Davest says:

Have you actually *used* CM? It sounds to me like you haven't. While there are ROMs out there that fit your description, CM is extremely stable, often moreso than the stock ROMs.

dallasfever says:

lol this is very true

TenshiNo says:

I mostly agree with you, but you have to remember, also, that the "crap" the carriers put on there makes them money and (in theory) keeps the subsidized cost of the phone down. That's important as these things get more and more sophisticated and expensive.

JSquared534 says:

That doesn't explain why Google was able to get updates pushed out for their Galaxy Nexus shortly after Jelly Bean was announced, but the Verizon Galaxy Nexus still doesn't have the update. I'm sure the regulatory certification does add to the time it takes, but it does not explain why the Rezound took nine months to get it's update.

It's also not an acceptable excuse that Samsung & HTC add skins to Android. They have paid developers who have all of the code for those skins, as well as all of the code for the hardware in the phones. That is what makes it a joke that people like the CM team can get software out for these phones so much faster than the manufacturers themselves.

But, after saying all that, I agree with what I think your premise of this article is, which is that we obsess over the version number a little too much. I just wish the manufacturers were a little more upfront about the fact that they don't update their old phones very fast because they would rather get people to buy the shiny new releases, instead of the ten month old phone that would be as good as the new one if only it had the update.

"That is what makes it a joke that people like the CM team can get software out for these phones so much faster than the manufacturers themselves."

To reiterate what icebike was saying, when Cyanogenmod "comes out", there is still a lot things that are broken on it, or it has stability issues. If you actually go to the Cyanogenmod website, there are surprising few devices that are, in fact, officially supported by them (the Galaxy Nexus is not even on that list), and even fewer that are officially supported on the latest version of CM. I mean, CM9 just became officially certified by their development team not that long ago, and after how much development time? It takes them a long time (not as long as carriers, granted, but still long enough) to put their stamp of approval on what they believe is a finished and fully stable piece of software. The only difference with the case of CM vs. an OEM update is that CM gives you the luxury of downloading and flashing their software fairly early in the development process and all the way through it rather than making you wait around for the finished release.

Take the Galaxy S3. I can go and flash a very stable build of CM10 on my device, but, as they state over and over on their website, it is STILL an experimental build and there may be things that don't work quite as they should. Official builds take time even for the likes of CM.

Executor32 says:

The main website is horribly outdated and doesn't reflect CM9 or CM10 (the 'cyanogen(mod)' and old skatedroid mascot should clue you in to that). download.cyanogenmod.com is up-to-date and lists all officially supported devices, including maguro, toro, and toroplus.

Great write up! Everyone should read this article and apply this knowledge to there next smartphone purchase.

TheRunner024 says:

I put 4.1.1 (Jellybean) on my phone, Samsung Captivate, and it's running smoothly.

2defmouze says:

Brilliant, excellent write up! Should be required reading for everyone in the forums :)

crxssi says:

Good article.

>"The HTC One X is an Android-based HTC Sense phone. The Galaxy S3 is an Android-based Samsung TouchWiz phone. Though they're compatible with Android and shares some of its features, they're different operating systems. By the same token, Apple’s OS X is Unix-based, but not Unix."

And Android is Linux-based but not Linux. And Linux is Unix-based, but not Unix. Ergo, MacOS 10 is Android but not :)

Shadowriver says:

Linux is not "Unix-based" and Android is "Linux-based". Linux it's been made out of zero so it's not Unix or Unix-based, but it been made to act like Unix, like Wine is acting like Windows but it's not Windows. Android forked Linux kernel to add there features, but they still patch it on mainline kernel... buh, if you follow Linux development they also returning there changes to mainline so one day it will be possible to run Android on mainline kernel.

Also i don't like how people consider TouchWiz as diffrent OS..... it's just diffrent laucher, it's like Windows with diffrent shell (explorer.exe), but it;s still Windows, it's like Gnome or KDE... but it's still Linux with X.org. There also few modifictions to system part, soem new core APIs but changes are not so dramatic to consider it as a diffrent system.....

crxssi says:

Obviously I know all this, it was an attempt to be funny... Did you not think it was funny?

Sadly, many that speak Linux and Unix do not speak humor.

Eric1987 says:

I already have the latest version of android so this write up is kinda dumb.

Alex Dobie says:

The title isn't meant to be taken 100% literally :)

It's the content of the article that's more important.

Kiamat says:

Google has a huge opportunity to turn this tide around. If it dictates that all Motorola phones going forward are vanilla Android and limit the number of handsets (or at least the variation between them) thus making all Motorola devices unofficial Nexus devices then Motorola devices will gain a reputation for being quickly upgraded versus the competition. If enough people start making the switch then hopefully the other OEMs will get the point.

icebike says:

And watch all the carriers drop Moto like Catshit Sandwitch?

I'm afraid that parallel versions (like the "International" versions) sold in by Google itself, side by side with the carrier's release is the only way to for the foreseeable future.

But first we have to break the nasty habit of buying carrier subsidized phones.

If you are smart enough to root your carrier locked phone, you are smart enough to do a little math and figure out that the un-locked international versions are cheaper.

TimeHunter says:

I agree about breaking from buying carrier subsidized phones, except that in the USA, with one exception, that gets you absolutely no break in plan pricing. So that considered, if cost is an actual factor, then there isn't a major advantage to buying unsubsidized phones.

And then there's the problem of actual frequency compatibility, and the horribly fragmented frequency market in the USA. And most unlocked international versions will be GSM, so that also limits the choice of carrier networks.

Also, finding a true multi-band phone will be expensive, just because of the chipsets if nothing else.

While I think a lot of things in the markets outside the USA are crudola, at least they get the idea of it being less troublesome and expensive for the buying public to require all carriers to operate on a defined set of frequencies that are cross compatible, and all that is needed most times to make phone A work on carrier B is carrier B's SIM card.

icebike says:

Wasn't there a story here on AC a few weeks ago where they ran the numbers and showed that all of the carrier's had a month to month plan that was cheaper?

TenshiNo says:

I agree with you, but those plans don't work for all of us. I've got several phones on my plan, so that could become a headache quick.

What would be nice is if the standard plans offered some kind of discount if you bought the phone outright or used one you already had. But the carriers will never do this, since they're making making more money off subsidizing the phones (assuming you don't jump ship and leave them holding the bag).

crxssi says:

That kinda depends on the carrier, now doesn't it. Show me "International unlocked" versions of the phones for Sprint and Verizon.... Together, that is more than half the market in the USA.

original00 says:

Great write up Alex! I do agree that customer mindset has to change. I do think that google contributes to the problem by releasing exclusive features that requires an OS that the majority do not have access to like the Chrome browser (ICS and above) and Google now (Jellybean and above). I love Google now and want to show my friend it's cool feature but when they ask, I have to tell them they can't get it on their phone.

kennethbring says:

One of the best articles I've ever read on AC. Great job, Alex.

Gekko says:

i'm loving the official OTA Jelly Bean on my Sprint G-Nex. i don't mind waiting a few extra weeks longer than the Google Play GSM version. the fact that the old Sprint Nexus S 4G even got a JB update gives me great confidence that my Sprint G-Nex will be updated to whatever is coming over the next 1-2 years and thus giving me that "new phone feel" with each major OS update for some time. all while those poor bastards with Verizon must keep waiting and hoping.

corymcnutt says:

Great article, Alex

rock7632 says:

This is so stupid. The only phones that are running "Android" are the Nexus devices, that is it. Every other device is running its own operating system based on Android for example Sense, Touchwiz, Blur, etc. So with that being said those people who care about the very latest version of Android should and do buy Nexus and those who don't either don't care about the latest and greatest updates or if somehow they do, they have the option of installing a custom rom on their phones, most likely CM which is based on the latest version of stock Android. So this whole fragmentation argument is stupid and is only made up by Apple fans to make Android look bad

DrDoppio says:

I wonder, how many users are still running outdate versions of their desktop OS? Windows XP was until a couple of weeks more abundant that Windows 7 (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/09/03/tech/gaming-gadgets/microsoft-windows-...), there are people with Vista (the horror!), and I wouldn't expect everyone to change to Windows 8 overnight. Mac OS is cheaper and so a larger proportion of Mac users may update, but I am sure that they are also not all on Mountain Lion (last November only 16% had upgraded to Lion, and 25% were more than one version behind, http://www.tuaw.com/2011/11/11/poll-which-version-of-mac-os-x-are-you-ru...).

So if you are fine with your dated desktop OS, why are you whining about your phone OS?

It should also be noted that we do get continuous updates to the core Google apps, which are an important part of the Android experience. Therefore a version number upgrade is far less important for Android.

I think that hardware support is far more important than software support, and Android OEM should focus on that rather than try to put the latest Android version on each of their phones.

Don't get me wrong, I am not indifferent to upgrading the OS, however I would find it understandable if each OEM would select one or two devices as their flagship, and keep them updated on par with Nexus phones, and forget about all the mid- and lowrange phones barring for patches and security updates as needed.

icebike says:

Well said.

In the real world, 90% of people see no reason to update their OS until they get a new computer.

In the real world, the same is true for phones.

The rest of us geeks update as soon as possible. We don't buy phones for what they can do today, we buy them for what they can do today and what they will do tomorrow.

ArgonNJ#CB says:

+100

I disagree with you on this one. The reason being is the ridiculous cost for upgrading the OS. Mac OS upgrades are fairly reasonably priced, especially for the general increase in utility gained.

However, Windows upgrade costs are stupid expensive. At over $100 each for the UPGRADE to the next OS, why should people upgrade from XP? Vista was a bomb. Win7 is, IMO, a compelling upgrade for XP and Vista users... if it were $30-40 per pc. Win8, not so much, but since MS seems to be pricing it at $40 per PC, MANY will.

I have, between family members I help with their PCs, about 10 PC that would need to be upgraded. That means to upgrade from XP/Vista to Win7, it would cost me/them a total of $1000-1200 (depending on the deals I might be able to find on a given day). With decent base line desktops running less than $300 with warranty and license for the latest OS version, it is REALLY hard to justify 1/3 of the cost of a new PC just to update the OS.

On the other hand, Android is "free" once it is ported/certified (assuming it doesn't require a Factory Data Reset (like the XP to Win7 "upgrade" process effectively does). For phones that that have updates, I would guess that the upgrade conversion rate for any give phone would be close to 90% within 6 months, if not a higher rates and/or shorter time.

Even for non-techies, a free upgrade that doesn't cost anything and adds features/utility would be compelling and create additional customer loyalty.

Scott

DrDoppio says:

Aha, there's the rub, price. "Android is free" -- well guess what, it's free as "free speech", but not really free as "free beer". It costs a lot to adapt to the device, test, and go through certifications. One company that has baked the price of OS updates into the price of their hardware is able to provide "free" upgrades, but that does not reflect the real cost and sends the wrong message to consumers.

So as I was guessing much fewer would be complaining if OEMs were selling the upgrades and if end users had to take initiative in installing those instead of just waiting for an OTA and whining on on-line forums.

TenshiNo says:

An excellent point. There was a running discussion on here a while back of "why don't the manufacturers just charge like $5 for the update?"

It was acknowledge, then, that some people would be up in arms at the idea but think about it: $5 is *nothing* in the grand scheme of things. That's *one* friggin coffee from Starbucks. But it would mean that the manufacturer was making something off the updates, which would mean they would be more incentivized to do them. The extra revenue could also mean hiring more staff to work on the updates. You see where I'm going here?

Something to think about... I'm a programmer for a living, and there's a saying the software development world:

There's three ways you can write software: fast, cheap, and good. And you only get to pick two at a time.

We've got this mentality that we want updates that are all three, but it's just not *possible*.

TenshiNo says:

Well said. Both posters.

Honestly, I think people buying the mid-range and budget phones *probably* aren't really looking for "bleeding edge". Otherwise, they would have found a way to get the higher-end phone. Just my $0.02

n8ter#AC says:

No, naively said. The latest version of the most popular software still ran on Windows XP. You cannot even install Chrome for Android unless you have ICS, so if you bought a phone in November with GB but it hasn't been updated (Examples can include phones like the Atrix 2), you run into issues that the ordinary Windows XP PC user simply didn't encounter.

Most gamers and enthusiasts upgraded their OS, but that is ridiculously cheap compared to buying a NEW SMARTPHONE JUST FOR AN OS UPDATE.

Additionally, while they were running Windows XP, a lot of those computers can easily support Vista or 7. They simply chose not to upgrade it.

Staying on XP is analogous to refusing an OTA/Kies update. What the Smartphone Manufacturers are doing is basically saying "since your PC was manufacturered before Date X you either aren't getting an update or you have to wait 6+ months to recieve it."

Imagine if Microsoft Windows Upgrades came with a BIOS check and refused to run setup on your PC simply due to it being manufactured before a certain date. It would be scandalous.

With a PC, you know you can always just update your OS - YOURSELF. So buying for what they can do tomorrow is totally viable. You know that if a better OS is released or a certain software update is released unless your PC/OS is ridiculously old (XP was like 9 years old when IE9 was released so not being able to get it is not really a big deal, GB was out how long? And you couldn't even install it unless you were on ICS) that you can simply install the better software or upgrade the OS. Well, smartphones aren't like that. People are at the mercy of their carriers and OEMs, and typically when a device is "FoodNameHere" Upgradeable it means you mind as well wait for the next wave of *better* phones to come out so you can get it stock on the device, anyways...

DrDoppio says:

Your comment is completely devoid of logic. So, on a PC people know they can easily update the OS, yet THEY CONSCIOUSLY REFUSE to. At the same time, it is somehow a problem that they don't have the option to upgrade on a mobile device, when they are JUST AS LIKELY TO NOT BOTHER with it if they had it?

Also, just like most software that runs on Win7 also runs XP, almost all software that runs on ICS runs on GB as well. The one example you give does not make a rule and is hardly a sufficient reason to badly want an upgrade.

Beautifully put.

dryii says:

Fully agree. Was thinking the same (comparing Android OS to Windows on the desktop).

randyw says:

Great Article. I for one got tired very fast of the OEM's and Manufactures delays and bought a Nexus. I love it and am very happy being in the exclusive 1.2% running the latest 4.1.1 Jelly Bean! Only Nexus phones for me from now on!

cabbie says:

Having nexus phones available on every US carrier at the same time would absolutely get the platform off the hook, IMHO. Earlier this year we heard rumors about a slew of nexus phones from multiple oems to come this year, then the news of the OneX and S3 almost instantly distracted everyone. Till now your Nexus phone buying experience has been extremely limited, making the advice of "get a nexus if you want updates" meaningless for most people. Has everyone else forgotten about this? If it ends up being true, and they also end up on every carrier, then everyone could have what makes them happy...power users included. Google could be working on this as we speak to address in a hugely meaningful way their platforms biggest complaint. Here's to hoping.

crxssi says:

THANK YOU.

I get really tired of reading people say crap like "get a nexus". That is totally impractical advice if your carrier doesn't HAVE a Nexus, or has a Nexus that is a generation or two behind on all the specs. Or, if your ONE Nexus choice just sucks in some hardware way (screen size, CPU, no SD card, battery life, whatever).

MERCDROID says:

+1

TenshiNo says:

+1

bearballz72 says:

+2 on that. I agree, why should I buy a year old device with outdated specs? Sure you'll get the new OS update faster but if everything else is behind the curve why bother?

Most of us are going to buy a new phone every 2-2.5 years so if the SIII gets 2 updates within those 2 years, I ain't complaining.

ArgonNJ#CB says:

Having a Nexus doesn't mean squat in regards to updates, the Verizon Nexus has shown us that. Only the GSM unlock Nexus is truly up to date with Android.

MrLadoodle says:

A locked version of the GSM GNexus is sold, and still gets updates directly from Google.

tyrelian says:

good article,unfortunately as the years go by I see consumers leaving to different os's because there's no "trust" when they purchase their phone,this even applies to the power users who found it fun to customize in the beginning now just want it to work as it intended. Also the work that the devs all around the world do is fantastic, at the same time I believe that these hard working women and men should be paid greatly and should feel secure in the work that they love doing.That said, I believe that Google should make make better developer tools to make it easier for them to make quality apps.Moreover I see the need to have the os open like this to protect el googs business model, but my question is how much longer can they afford to make money off customers and stop the buyers remorse?

TenshiNo says:

I think you're missing an important part of all this, though: *most* Android users aren't freaking out about releases. You can't take the comments on this site in a vacuum, because those of us on here, while more educated than your mainstream, only really account for about 10% of all Android users. I have had the following conversation with friends numerous times:

Me: The update to the new version of Android is supposed to hit your phone tomorrow.
Friend: There's a new version of Android?

Yeah. They don't know, and they don't really care so long as their phone is currently working. That's not to say that they wouldn't be happy to have new features suddenly appear, but most of them wouldn't even know that they had new features after they updated.

More and more people are flocking to Android, not because they think they're going to get updates, but because Android *already* gives them choices and capabilities that they're starting to realize they will *never* have on other smart phones. I don't see consumers leaving. Quite the opposite.

Even us gadget nerds that complain about having to wait, will still suffer through it because we know that what we have right *now* is still better than the alternatives.

While this is a good article, and the statements about the cause of delays are generally accurate, there are NUMEROUS falsehoods.

E.g. Mac OS X is not "unix-based" or "unix-like". It is 100% UNIX. It is certified by the open group, the arbiter of what is or is not UNIX. http://arstechnica.com/apple/2007/08/mac-os-x-leopard-receives-unix-03-c...

Just as FreeBSD and Solaris and AIX and HP-UX are not "unix-based", they are UNIX.

Addtionally, in response to one of the commenters - Linux is NOT UNIX based. It is UNIX-like. Based on UNIX implies that they took unix, modified it, and called it Linux. That is not the case. Linux was designed, from scratch, to be similar to unix, but with an entirely 100% written-from-scratch codebase.

Additionally the distinction between Android and Android-based is false. It's one of marketing. Saying that a Nexus is "android", and the Galaxy S3 is "Android Based", is like saying that Red Hat and Ubuntu are "linux-based" because they don't use a plain-vanilla kernel, but Arch Linux is "real linux", because they use plain vanilla, or keep patching to an absolute minimum. Red Hat linux doesn't use a generic linux kernel, it's patched. Ubuntu doesn't use a generic linux kernel, it's patched also. But as far as anybody is concerned, they are "linux distributions". Now, you could say that they are operating systems based on the linux kernel, and that certainly is true. A kernel alone doesn't make an OS. But the fact that Samsung takes touchwiz and dumps it on top of android, and makes some os modifications, does not mean that it is "not android", any more than Red Hat Linux is "not Linux". Android is just another Linux distribution - albeit one more heavily modified than most.

However, it DOES mean what you are saying - that it is more difficult to update then a phone that just uses AOSP for everything. However, the language you're using is wrong.

aslowe says:

This makes me sad. :-( I had to put a custom rom on my VZW Nexus for Jelly Bean. I would love to run a stock version. Still waiting....

Erckul says:

you could flash the zip file of Jellybean, which was pulled from Google's servers. That will keep your Gnex stock.
Here is everything that you need to know:

http://forums.androidcentral.com/verizon-galaxy-nexus/204673-ota-semi-of...

dkny2kx says:

so the reason galaxy note 2 had jelly bean running when unveiled was...

oh yeah thats right, the manufacturer sat down re wrote the code for touchwiz in a matter of weeks.

so all the manufacturer has to do is sit down and re write the code. ok but in reality most oems fail

TenshiNo says:

1) you don't know that the code they were running at the Note's unveiling was actually "consumer ready". It often isn't at trade shows.
2) you're talking about *1* device. While the basic TouchWiz modifications might have been ported to JB, we have no idea where they were at in terms of their testing cycle and preparedness to release that code to the public. And there is a lot of work that has to be done to *each* device they release the update for.

As I said in a post above, as a programmer there's a saying:

There's three ways you can write software: good, fast, and cheap. But you only get to pick 2 at a time.

I'm sure they do devote more of their resources to getting the newest version out on the new devices than getting updates out for existing devices. They're still a company that has to make money, after all.

Ardrid says:

I'm sorry but the carrier/manufacturer argument is a cop-out. There's a very simple way to fix this problem:

1. Require manufacturer skins to be decoupled from integral OS functionality. The standard Android codebase should be absolutely untouched by a manufacturer skin. If a manufacturer wants to add more features or a different UX, they can, but they should be required to ensure those features or UX elements do not interfere with Android.

2. Take a hardline stance with carriers. I'm sorry, if Apple can do it, Google can do it. Android is a dominant force in the market today; it's no longer an upstart or two bit player. Google needs to force the carriers' hands and require that the updates are pushed to all devices upon release, just like Apple will be doing when iOS 6 is released in a few weeks.

It's absolutely atrocious that more than half of Android devices are running GB, despite those devices being capable of running ICS/JB. If Google did those two things alone, you'd see more than a paltry 2% running JB. I guarantee you more than 2% of iPhones will be running iOS 6 3 months after it's launched.

jarobusa says:

Force them and they will sell more phones with other platforms. Windows 8 comes to mind.

Riiight! Just like Apple forcing the issue and restricting what they will allow in modifications is forcing their customers to other platforms. Just like WP8 isn't forcing carriers to limit the amount of modifications they can make (and there aren't even any phones released yet).

Customers drive sales. With Android's market share, mind share, and app dev community, they would be shooting themselves in the foot if they were to say, "OK, we're dropping Android in favor of Apple/iOS, Microsoft/WP8, and/or RIM/BB9 (or BB10, whenever it finally comes out)". Two years ago it was a different story, but today it would result in a HUGE backlash. Also, I cannot see the carriers giving the bad actors at Apple and MS that kind of power.

The fact is that even if Google DID start exercising more control over updates/restrictions on mods, it would STILL be, by far, the most customizable smartphone OS available to the manufacturers/carriers.

Scott

bearballz72 says:

Windows 8 puts pretty severe restrictions on manufacturers. They're prety much like Apple in a lot of ways.

Look I don't buy the arguement that if Google tightens the reins on say Samsung or HTC, carriers will not carry their devices or manufactuers will no longer make Android devices.

If they can somehow streamline the process then it's a win-win for everybody.I agree most people don't give a crap about updates but if they can emulate Apple or as far as updates then it's just another thing they can take to the public and turn it into a selling point to sway people away from the Iphone.

ArgonNJ#CB says:

First off they are not "skins" but actual modifications to the OS to the point where they really are their own OS. Second even if you had no skins, you would still have to pass muster with the carriers and as we've seen, even with the Nexus, Verizon is holding up the Jelly Bean update. And 3rd, does Google really care? If all they are interested in is search data and Android devices are flying off the shelf to consumers that for the most part couldn't care less what OS is running, why change.

Unless you're buying an unlocked phone, the carrier is the customer. As Samsung makes just all of the profit in the Android space, only they have the leverage to to tell the carrier to take it or leave it.

TenshiNo says:

You're comparing apples to oranges (no pun intended). Like Alex said in the article, there are effectively only 3 Apple phones in existence as far as updates are concerned with any new version of iOS. Apple (and *only* Apple) makes their phones, so that don't have manufactures to "take a hard-line stance" with.

And, arguably, that is the *exact* reason so many people are flocking to Android. Your suggestion is tantamount to taking away the thing that is making Android so popular.

Also, manufacturer "skins" are far more complicated than that. They often add features not found in vanilla Android. HTC's Sense, for example (since at least 3.0) has added the little magnified view above your finger while you move the cursor. It's a small thing, but it's a modification to the underlying Android code itself so that it will work everywhere on the phone.

I don't *want* Google to become Apple. I'm an Android user because I don't like the way Apple does things. Frankly, I would rather be a version behind than live in a world run by Apple.

edmicman says:

But not really. There are tons of devices from each manufacturer, sure. But basically they're all distilling down to a 5" slab device with whatever specs are hot at the time of release. With the occasional keyboard thrown in for fun. They'll "differentiate" with mid-range specs but the same form factor, and they're crappy UIs. I'm just not seeing a wide variety of screen sizes or innovative hardware. Where's the super-hi-res PPI in a 4" form factor that actually beats the iPhone? Where's the camera that's fast *and* better quality than everything else? Where's the battery innovation without having to add a bulky tank to the phone to get more than a day out of it?

leaponover says:

I think that if a cell phone carrier would just step up to the plate and spend big money on some really good coders and actually churned out these updates fast they could really gain a large % of the Android market. Hardware differs very slightly between every phone, so if the carriers would focus on updates they could steal a big piece of the pie away from the rest. It would also give us, the consumer, a chance to show our support because right now nobody is doing a good job with updates so our only way to voice disapproval is to buy a device straight from Google. If one carrier came through then it would give consumers a chance to back them and send a message to the other carriers that laziness and complacency are not going to retain customers.

TenshiNo says:

OK. You want the carriers to "spend big money". Are you willing to pay more for your monthly cell phone bill?

Besides, it's the manufacturers that do these updates, not the carrier (although they will sometimes add a few things). They make $0 off updates and they spend a lot of money to make them happen.

"Spend more money" is a great idea for accelerating the release speed of these updates, but the money has to come from somewhere.

kitchin says:

fantastic article Alex Dobie, great stuff

msvanhorn says:

Nice article Alex. I appreciate the straight forward nature and covering both strengths and weaknesses.

spielnicht says:

I've only been buying the GSM "Nexus" variants, but as I said before, it's going to be hard to fork over $400+ next time if the phone doesn't come with AT&T LTE support.

ArgonNJ#CB says:

It may not since LTE in the US is all f'd up.

vansmack says:

Great article. The only it left out was the communication from both manufacturer and carrier. Most of us have been around long enough now to know that they updates are coming out the same date as the Nexus phones, but when customers go months with no information from the carriers/manufacturers, it creates the majority of the frustration you're seeing in this sphere.

I recognize it's a double edged sword because of missed deadlines upsetting people as well, but the lack of information is the real source of the frustration if you didn't purchase a Nexus device and realized you weren't getting the update within a month.

Torisen1 says:

Thank you Alex, great article, very informative and I've kind of known this but it's great that you detailed it so much. I'm not as bummed now that I still have Gingerbread on my Photon. Still, I'll be getting a Note 2 later this year so yeah :)

Mac58 says:

Nice write up!!! You need to teach the guys over at I more how to write good tech articles with honesty and not biasty (if that's a word lol)

crankerchick says:

Good article and sums things up seemingly well. There's a lot of opinion but no real sources, but seems legitimate and exactly as i understand it. I'm one of the ones on a Verizon Nexus and I'm sorry to say that I'm jumping ship for the same reasons some of the other comments have touched on. "Just buy a Nexus" is a great answer except for when there is no Nexus on your carrier or you don't like "the" Nexus. I'm not satisfied with the battery life on my nexus and I very much want a smaller screen, in the 4.2" range like my husband's thunderbolt. I have jelly bean running with CM but I still have situations where keyboard lags inputting text. My stock non-rooted friend has the same complaint. I want another android phone, but I want vanilla and there isn't another one. So I'm going to try an iPhone now because I think it might work better for me. Android has a lot of offerings. It is one thing that makes it great. But as always, that doesn't come without sacrifice too. Sigh alas, there is still no perfect phone.

pappy53 says:

I switched to iPhone 4S, and I really like it. And I am getting the latest update Wednesday, and it was just announced last Wednesday.

jcastag says:

Wrong Site buddy, go to I more.com

DrDoppio says:

Unfortunately, with the latest update of iOS you will get last year's features of Android. So you're not really any better than with an out-of-date Android OS.

TenshiNo says:

So... your solution for not immediately getting the latest version of Android is to jump ship for a phone and OS that doesn't even have as many features as the version of Android you're running right now? Just because it's the "latest version" of that OS?

I believe in the financial world, that's called an "emotional purchase" as opposed to a logical one.

pappy53 says:

Plenty of features for me and most people. Much smoother, although Jelly Bean is close, but only on 1% of the phones. Everything is just a more fluid experience. No crashes, viruses, reboots, etc. To each his own, IMO.

jcastag says:

This is where the Android OEMs and Google need to take a stand and take control from the carrier. In the beginning, Google didn't have much market share, so they needed to give control to the carriers. Now things have changed

The carriers need Android handsets to be successful, so Google has the power to dictate things such as this.

And I don't want to hear about the open source crap against Google taking control because if it were truly open source the carriers would have no control to begin with.

It's time for Google to flex their muscles and take control over their software updates. The wireless industry is more competitive than ever and if a carrier blocks things like this when others don't it just might put them out of business.

You can't try and control carriers. If you do, all they're going to do is support another OS. You forget how much sway the carriers have on the actual consumer. I've seen countless times in Verizon a store rep basically make the decision as to what phone a customer is going to buy for them. Look at how hard, for whatever reason, they push Motorola products. It is extremely easy to talk the average consumer(who has little knowledge of most of these phones outside what they have seen of them on TV or in other ads) into a phone. All the carrier has to do is say "push more iphones" and there will be a lot less android handsets on the market. While this may be a generalization and an over simplification, I think my point (that Google shouldn't bite the hand that feeds) is clear.

As Alex said in the article, it is very much in Google's best interest to do everything that they can to get as many Android handsets, regardless of version number, into as many consumers hands as possible. They make their money from ad revenue generated from handset searches through their service, not through selling Android like a Windows OS. Doing anything that might make carriers stray away from selling android products would be an awful idea.

A better choice of words here might be "work with" carriers to arrive at more timely updates. Threatening them will accomplish nothing and ultimately only hurt Google's bottom line. The carriers don't need Android to be successful. They have several other viable phone OS' (iOS, Widows Mobile, and, yes, ever blackberry) that are on equally as good handsets that they call sell to make their money. Reconsider who needs who in this situation.

This being said, I would love to see a little more effort put into "working with" carriers to expedite the update process.

ArgonNJ#CB says:

You are 100% right on with characterization and influence of the sales person. One of the reasons Windows Phone languished so was do to AT&T sales persons pushing consumers away from it to Android and iphone devices. And yes, most consumers are pretty clueless, spend 10 minutes or so in any store and you will see the dumbest customers the world has even seen.

And the fact that WP1-6 were dogs and WP7 wasn't much better, especially when compared to the iPhone and Android, had nothing to do with their recommendations.

Personally, I don't believe that WP8 will be successful... at least not in the short term. Once/if enough copies of WP8 get pushed out in the new PC channel to where people can make the adjustment to it (it is a huge change), then maybe there will be enough familiarity for people to demand it on their phones/tablets.

However, the current paradigm is well represented by iOS and Android. It is icon/application based. It packs greater app/data density on the screen, avoiding the extensive scrolling required by WP8 to accomplish the same.

Just look at the way apps are distributed, especially games. It isn't unusual to have 20-30+ games alone on a phone after a year. Try finding that kind of stuff on a WP8 phone. You can, but it is a lot more work.

Sure sales people can influence a sale, but they aren't going to be able to push people into less functional designs for long. I can't see someone wanting a smartphone really considering Blackberry right now, not matter how hard the sales person pushes it.

Scott

mike31082 says:

I think we would see more timely updates for devices if the manufacturers actually used stock Android and then just offered their add-ons (TouchWiz, MotoBlur, Sense, etc.) separately. Kind of like how the HTC's Sense offers skins that can be installed to change the whole look of Sense in the first place.

TenshiNo says:

That's a great idea, but simply not possible. These "skins" are actually quite a bit more sophisticated that just a launcher. They make modifications to the underlying Android code itself to add features through out the phone.

It would be *literally* impossible for the end user to install these manufacturer enhancements as an "option". Besides, these enhancements are how the manufacturers try to differentiate their devices.

Personally, I actually like Sense and I think TouchWiz is ugly as all hell, so that tends to steer me towards buying HTC phones. And *that* is exactly what they're trying to do.

lorddeff07 says:

Actually I think there is a solution to thus problem. Let's look at jellybean for instance. The latest version of android usually gets revealed during Google I/o which is around the middle of the year. The latest nexus hardware device usually gets unveiled around November (end of the year).

I think rather than push the latest version of android out in the middle of the year to nexus devices, Google should rtm in June and let them know that November is kinda like update month. So that way the OEMS can get all their ducks in a row. That way google just gives everyone more time to catch up.

cnn888 says:

great article... but the thing that got me thinking after reading this is since android-based smartphones are essentially mini computers with wide variety of hardware mixture (much like windows-based pc), why don't google do something like what microsoft or ubuntu has been doing for ages with its windows os?

i mean, google can (if they want to) create a universal android installation with 'basic' driver support for all hardware. and later on, manufacturers can update the os with whatever (driver) customization they have. just like what we all do to our pc. everybody will somehow be able to use their pc as soon as they purchase a legitimate copy of windows' os and have it installed on their pc without installing anything else right? unless you wanted a proprietary optimization on the system (i.e. samsung touchwiz, htc sense, powermanagement, 3d performance, etc.). they are all not more than user-install-able patch/application anyway.

that way, everyone will be happy....

Firstly, you are comparing apples to oranges here. Android is open sourced, meaning that as long as it is has basic compatibility to run most 3rd party apps and G apps, it has Google's blessing. Google doesn't make their money by selling copies of Android like Microsoft does with Windows. They make their money by ad revenue generated by using their services on Android handsets. The more hands they can get Android into, the better, which is why they place very few limitations on hardware and customization of their OS. It is in their best interest to limit the least number things possible in order to make android more appealing to device manufactures over other mobile OS.

Which ties into my second point, that Microsoft basically has no competition. Where as Android has had to compete for market share with at least 4 other OS' in the mobile space, basically every computer in existence runs Windows, which is why Microsoft has the leverage over manufactures to dictate hardware requirements. This is partially because the computer market is matured and Windows has already won here, where as the mobile space is still a highly competitive market in which Google has large market share now, but still might ultimately loose out in the end on.

What I mean by this is that there is familiarity with Windows due to its long standing market dominance and pretty much anyone who knows how to work a computer knows how to work a Windows machine. On there other hand, many people are very undecided, fickle, or just plain don't care about what mobile OS they use as long as they can play Angry Birds on it and check their e-mail. Android has had at the very most a %60 or so market share in the mobile world, where as Microsoft stands at %93 of PC's

TenshiNo says:

First off, you're completely wrong the manufacturer's "proprietary optimizations" being "not more than user-install-able patch/application". The changes they make alter the underlying Android code. That's *why* it takes so long for them to update and test and creates this entire discussion.

Besides, the manufacturers make the changes in the first place because they believe it adds value to their device and sets them apart from their competition. By your reasoning, we should only ever have one model of car, and just have a lot of upgrade options for it.

Second, on your desktop PC, storage space is not really an issue. I mean, a "base" install of Windows 7 (with all the "generic" drivers you're talking about) is almost 3 gigs. A lot of the Android phone out there don't even *have* that much storage space. The the size would grow exponentially as more and more hardware came out.

The system they've got now is the best possible. All the complaining right now is just kids not wanting to have to wait till Christmas to open their presents. Honestly, if Google never announced that the new version of Android was available, and you didn't find out from any other source until you got the OTA notification on your phone, this discussion wouldn't even be happening.

vinny jr says:

95% of smartphone buyers (Android) buy their phones for the operating system that comes with it, most don't even know or care if there is an update. It's only the minority of the geeks that visit websites like this that even know or care. I am one of the 5% that owns a Nexus and a SGS3, rooted and running the latest and greatest OS. That is just me. Then there are the users of other operating systems who use this Android updating issue as the big problem with the Android phone so that is why they use IOS or Windows. It's not a problem unless you make it a problem, there is nothing wrong with the other Android builds, Gingerbread is very good and anyone would be very happy with it. But once you use Jelly Bean you are hooked. I really enjoy tinkering with my phones that is why I use Android.

TenshiNo says:

+100

Most Android users have no idea that JB came out, and they are perfectly happy with their GB-based phones.

tkfox007 says:

There's probably an easier way to fix the issue. Wouldn't it be easier for Google to rewrite Android so that is would be compatible with whatever guts the phone has?

The Windows Desktop OS seems to work that way, it runs on all types of Intel and AMD processors, uses different types of RAM, hard drives and mother boards. All the updates are pushed out by Microsoft.

That way Google can just push out all updates themselves because they would just change the core of Android and OEMs can rewrite their overlays to be more compatible/flexible so that it will work with new version of Android and then they can update the UI at their leisure.

If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but it sounds like it'd be an easier way to fix this update mess.

TenshiNo says:

The problem is space and speed. Your suggestions would make the base Android be several gigs in size, so it would no longer fit on most of the mid- and low-end phones.

The way linux works that is drivers are compiled into the kernel (I could be a bit off on this one. My linux experience revolves around Gentoo). You would also begin to encounter speed issues by baking all of the extra drivers into the kernel.

And I'm not even going to try and guess at memory usage and how bad that would blow up.

The whole point is to keep the OS small, fast, and lightweight. You can't do that with the kind of setup you're proposing.

col_krismiss says:

Judging by other comments, there isnt much in this article that the average AC reader doesnt already know. I know all the issues with the update process on most android phones.

HOWEVER!

The more I read AC articles, the more I see the theme of "quit bitching and accept it" in them. Articles about the "multitasking" in the HTC One X, about how it really isnt a problem when clearly tons of people are pissed off about it. (I dont own a One X or keep up with that issue really, I just remember the article)

This article seems on the same lines. "I know you guys are mad but the only solution is for you to buy this ONE phone or just piss off, get over it" You guys never seem to stick up for the phone owners and users, but more the carriers and manufactures.

The fact that so many phones are 2 versions behind is not even close to acceptable under the conditions you stated in the article. My phone is running GB. I bought it under the terms that it would get ICS in June. Half way through September and im told I am supposed to change MY attitude?! Change MY expectations!? When did it become my responsibility to feel sorry for a company or companies that fail to deliver what was promised?!

A comment mentioned the fact that new phones get released with similar or same specs as phones stuck on GB with ICS or even JB. It may be difficult to recode everything, but dammit they are obviously doing it anyway! I have the LG spectrum, the AT&T version of this phone got their ICS over a month ago I think. LG has recently made a phone with the same specs (optimus Vu) for verizon and its running ICS. Let me make that clear again....THEY HAVE ICS RUNNING ON ANOTHER PHONE WITH THE SAME HARDWARE AS MY PHONE ON THE SAME CARRIER!! IT IS DONE! IT FREAKING WORKS! My update is so far 3 months late, where is verizon or LG to tell me even what the hold up is? An LG rep said in June is was ready and they were just waiting on Verizon, rumor has it Verizon kicked it back, now we dont hear from either company on why the hell we dont have the update.They obviously pay someone for the sould purpose of keeping customers informed, so why make him not say anything or not tell him anything? There is only one reason I can think of that no one is saying anything, and that reason is that the update is fine, they just DONT WANT to release it for fear of cutting sales of newer phones. Why else would they waste the resource of the public reps by not telling us anything?

Also, all the Android based vs. android shouldnt matter one damn bit. Everyone paid damn good money for their phones, those that received that money (and continue to receive that money)need to live up to their end of the agreement. If there are problems in the build, or the carrier doesnt have enough resources to test, then god dammit they better reallocate resources from new phones. I dont care what anyone says, they need to satisfy the customers that have already paid, vs. future customers. I dont believe that the general public doesnt care about what version they are on, because if they didnt, why would the manufacturers even bother putting "android x.x upgradable" on the damn box? They dont do that for the minority. Thats been stated before in this article and comments, if a phone doesnt sell well, its less likely it wont get updated, so obviously they dont care about the minority, ergo, the people that care about version numbers are probably pretty close to a majority of android users. I dont know many android users that dont care about updates.

SO, in closing, I think the writers for sites like this should stick up for the user, not tell them to "change their mindset". When us users comment like this, it doesnt get noticed, but if you guys were to actually hold the big companies accountable, maybe something good will happen. Cause as of right now you have effectively accomplished zero. Just told us paying customers that our delayed updates are our fault for expecting them too much.....right....

*edit*

I would like to add that I know I bought a less than popular phone and mentally prepared for a later than most update to ICS. My point isnt that everyone needs to work harder to get the newest update on every phone, but that they need to meet the time schedule that THEY THEMSELVES created. Customers bought their phones under those conditions.

TenshiNo says:

I get your frustration, here, and I agree that it's sad that we have a *huge* issue with the carriers promising updates and then missing the deadline without a word. I don't really know how to suggest we fix that issue, other than every customer calling the carrier and asking "WTH?"

That said, the whole "Upgradable" as a selling point is a little misleading. Yes, the general public wants to know that the product they are buying will be able to get the next version of the OS. The difference is that the general public is not spending time on a site like this, so they don't even *know* that JB exists yet.

They're not angry, because they're not really "waiting" on JB. If it shows up, great, but it's not really on their radar.

And they're *never* going to get the latest version of Android on *every* phone. It's just not possible without the the cost of these phones going so high that no one could afford them.

I get your frustration with the missed update deadline, and I think that sometimes you're correct: they intentionally hold the update in a attempt to get to you to buy the new phone. Despicable, but there it is. All I can recommend to you on that one is to pick a different carrier, but I'm not really sure that they don't all do it.

But on the whole I don't think what the carriers are doing is wrong. All electronic devices eventually reach "End of Life", meaning the manufacturer no longer supports it. They *have* to. Otherwise, their operating costs would increase exponentially year-over-year.

col_krismiss says:

Dont get me wrong, I never expect every phone to get all the updates. My biggest point here is that The carriers and manufacturers are promising updates by certain dates and they arent making those dates. And that this artical is excusing them by saying we as the paying customers should change our view, change what we expect out of our product based on advertised features. I hate that the people with the power to be heard from these companies (A Writer for the biggest android website)is telling us we are wrong and not holding those companies accountable. Its very simple, those companies DO have the resources to get the updates done, they just arent applying the resources in the right place, cause they dont care. And as long as respectable writers/blogers, that they would pay attention to more than individual customers, are making up excuses for them, why should they change?

someguy01234 says:

Doesn't matter to me, I only buy Nexus or devices that are Cyanogenmod supported so I always get latest updates. And even if I am forced to use Gingerbread, it still have more features than iOS6, so I don't care. It isn't Google fault for slow updates and locked bootloaders.

uklance says:

I don't see why people complain about this so much. Prior to smartphones... people were perfectly happy to run a 5 year old OS on their PC. At work, I'm still currently running windows XP and I'm guessing many of the people complaining about a 1 year wait for an Android update are the same people happily running a 2+ year old OS on their PC.

stefan222 says:

Alex, what a great article, congratulations!

anexiole says:

As expected, Google is no charitable organization that makes android for the good of all manufacturers/phones. Moral of the story is when going down the android path, get a Google branded device (ie. a nexus)

seriyb says:

I really don't care too much why my Droid X isn't running the latest software. It's working fine the way it is and I'll need a new phone anyway.
What REALLY bugs me is that as Google doesn't demand basic rules for Android(based) phones like Microsoft does. My biggest complaint is the button layouts... It's inexcusable for Android(based) phones to have the Back/Apps buttons backward from Nexus devices. I have Nexus 7 and my wife had SG3 and going from one to another isn't a breeze.
Same goes for the OK/Cancel buttons. They are backwards!
Why can't Google implement a standard OK/Cancel message box that developers can call and even override if necessary.
I'm a systems engineer with (computer science degree) and i have a passion for consisted GUI and flawless human factors design so maybe that's why it's so annoying to me.

I just think that there must be couple of fundamental requirements that all Android(based) manufactures must follow. It'll make our lives easier

jedi105 says:

Another part of the problem that wasnt mentioned here is the speed at which Google develops the OS. In the last year, we have seen 2 complete updates to the OS that only marginally looked like the previous version and we had a third which was designed to make tablets and phones look more uniform. Google is running at a break neck pace in which Jelly Bean (our latest version0 is already becoming obsolete because Key Lime Pie will be here in a few short months and then after that we will see another completely different OS emerge (Kandy Kane?). Google is moving too fast for the development community to keep up. Google needs to slow down a bit and add more features and fixes to the current OS. Whatever features are in Key Lime Pie probably could have been added to Jelly Bean if Google just slowed down a bit. As far as operating systems are concerned, I dont think many people will have issues with 12 to 18 months between versions as long as you can guarentee that their shiny new 600 dollar phone will be supported through at least one major upgrade. And they can always port features and fixes that are eagerly awaited into the current OS and keep it relavent. Google can also dictate that if a carrier wants to use Android (and what carrier will not want to use android knowing full well that android is the most numerous os out there) they must either have a system in place that allows them to better produce updates quickly after Google releases the new os, or they cant put their own "flavor" on top of the os. I think Motorola might finally be learning that its useless to customize the visual user experience. ASUS has certainly learned that less is more. And finally, Google has all the power here. They can (if they decided to) make policy and set a "minimum spec" of sorts by dictating the lowest hardware specification that their OS can run on and they can also help by setting policy on screen sizes (which is probably the biggest cause of fragmentation in the Android ecosystem). Yes, doing so will make Android less of an open source project, but it will ensure generations of Android to come. I can forsee a future where android users drop android en mass because of these issues we have with updates and fragmentation. As Android has proven, "If you build it they will come" can happen to anyone with the right vision. Googles vision is becoming clouded and if they dont correct that, they will be left holding the bag.

seriyb says:

Agreed on the "neck breaking speed".
But I think that it'll eventually slow down once Google takes Android where Google wants it to be.

We've been seeing so many changes because up to 4.0 release, Android was still an unpolished OS. Google absolutely had to make it better by making it smoother, easier to use and more consistent. Now that we are here, IMO Google would be crazy to completely redesign the GUI or change the Con-Ops. So I don't see anything huge coming in the next few releases. There's still work to do on the consistency side (see my post above) and I don't count new features (which I'm sure we will see) as a big deviation.

I'd rather see Google focus on improving the ecosystem, but they are different teams anyway so I guess it could be done at the same time.

Andrerox says:

Well, carriers aren't really a problem in MOST countries because they get the international ver.

DavidDB says:

There is ONE solution - Put stock Android on Everything and make these carrier OEM Skins as a layer on top - that can be turned on or off by the consumer.
While I quite like SENSE and loath Touchwiz surely its not impossible to treat them as overlays by choice. Hell HTC Samsung might even get extra customers if Sense/TouchWiz was available as an App.

But it Should be Optional! Now the phone manufacturers can update way faster and the customer is back in control

Come on Google - make it so.

TenshiNo says:

You're referring to the the portion of Sense/TouchWiz that you can see, but there is substantially more under the hood that cannot simply be "turned on or off".

It would be impossible for any of the manufacturer "skins" (that's a horrible term for it) to be an "app". They are much more than just a custom launcher.

Besides, these manufacturer-specific customizations are how they try and differentiate themselves from each other. It's the reason the manufacturers love Android.

They're never going to make a device without their customizations. It's how they add "value" to make you want to buy their phone instead of the other guy's.

ryan5609 says:

So good rule of thumb. If you want to stay up to date with the latest and greatest software, get a nexus device straight from Google, as long as it works with your carrier. But if it does not, still get a Nexus device but be prepared to join the Mod community. Unlocking and rooting is really the only way you can be sure to get timely updates to the latest and greatest OS. I lost all faith in VZW making timely updates, and I never planned on rooting my phone. But when I saw what a huge step forward JB was from ICS, I couldn't wait for VZW to stop dragging its feet. I rooted and flashed a few versions of JB ROMS until I was happy. It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be, and it is so nice to be able to backup change your OS whenever you feel like it. Root for life!

biggbrother2 says:

The title of this article should have been "Why you'll never have the latest version of Android and why almost no one cares".

The average consumer does not care about what version of Android they are running! That's why none of this matters. This is why fragmentation doesn't matter. If anything more problems would occur if people's phones were updated to a newer version too quickly and many of their favorite apps were suddenly incompatible. When I flashed my Verizon Gnex a bunch of apps suddenly were incompatible with my device, including HBO GO, and lots of games I bought.

Go out on the street and ask people if they have an Android phone and then ask which verison they have. I'm guessing over 90% have no clue. You mind as well be asking what version firmware their cable box is running.

This stuff only matters to the select few who follow mobile technology and Android. And guess what? These are the same people more than capable of flashing their phones themselves!

Targon says:

The average consumer does not visit sites like this one as well. Articles are written for the target audience, and articles about Android will tend to focus on features and such, which draw in the more technical crowd who DO care.

Now, only poorly written apps will look for specific OS version numbers, and the requirement should be "minimum version number".

MERCDROID says:

Great article Alex!!! Thanks!!!!

bigjwill32 says:

Great article! Very well written!

This is why I consider switching to the iPhone. I'm tried of hacking my phone to get the latest and greatest :(

DrDoppio says:

With the newest iPhone you will be always at least a year behind the latest and greatest.

xlDeMoNiClx says:

If you're like me and don't care what version of Android your phone is running, disregard this entire article.

I was happy with my Evo 3D before ICS came out for it and would still be happy even if it never did. I buy a phone for how good it is on release, not for the hope of future improvements.

I never knew that something as simple as upgrading your phone could be such a pain in the ass. But then again it never been a problem for me, I'm an iPhone user... I don't understand why anybody would buy a phone that's gonna become ABSULITE two weeks after buying it and irrelevant in a month, but hey to each their own.

DrDoppio says:

My phone is ABSULITE? Oh noes! Woe is me!

That's because you buy phones that are already ABSULITE two weeks BEFORE shipping and irrelevent on arrival. Your sheep herder has done his job well.

TenshiNo says:

Damn. You beat me to it :)

TenshiNo says:

So your solution is to buy a phone that's ABSULITE (I think you mean "obsolete") 6 months before it was announced, and irrelevant by the time you buy it?

Lol, I don't think a phone The top 2 millions on pre order in just one day qualifies as irrelevant. Show me a android phone the has done that, in fact show me an android anything the has done that.

Don't forget (irrelevant) too.

Nosferatu524 says:

This may be a stupid question but how come in the computer world (PC's specifically) Microsoft can pump out a Windows OS or Linux can push out their OS and it works literally on THOUSANDS of different configurations but yet Android is very picky with what it works with?

TenshiNo says:

There's no such thing as a stupid question, so long as you're willing to listen to the answer :)

Windows has a lot of "generic" drivers built-in that allow it to communicate with different hardware. The downside to this method is the extra disk space and memory required.

Android is built for a mobile device that has limited amounts of both storage and memory. With this in mind, mobile operating systems are kept as lightweight as possible to get the best performance out of the device.

The downside is that a mobile OS has to be customized to work with each individual hardware setup. Hope that answered your question.

Targon says:

You have to understand the layers to the OS, and then look at how they interact.

At the lowest level, you have the device drivers. For Microsoft, the driver model used goes in generations, where the design of the drivers is set, and then Microsoft has hardware makers come up with the drivers. Making it so Microsoft is not responsible for driver creation has made it a "not our problem if your device does not work" situation.

Once that base driver layer is taken care of, then you just need the rest of the OS to talk to that driver layer and scale with things like screen resolution and such. You may have noticed that video card drivers get a LOT of talk about quality, mostly between AMD and NVIDIA since Intel is NOT competitive in the graphics space(outside of the integrated stuff).

For the rest, it isn't a huge deal. Now, since the hardware companies don't make drivers for newer versions of mobile operating systems for older products, that makes it far more difficult to update older handsets, if not impossible.

You may remember the initial problems with Vista when it came to stability. NVIDIA did NOT have drivers ready, so what shipped with Vista was fairly unstable, and caused BSoD issues. Vista may have needed some work at release, but most of the real problems were caused by bad drivers(and people trying to run it with 1GB of RAM or less).

If/when Android makes it so the driver layer stays the same while the rest of the OS can evolve, that will help, but the Linux kernel itself has jumped to 3.3 relatively recently, and older drivers will not work without being recompiled for it, and again, the chip makers have NOT been very good about making drivers.

Microsoft a LONG time ago made it so hardware makers put in the effort to make drivers for Windows. Apple has a much smaller set of hardware that will go into desktop and laptop machines, so there isn't as big of a focus on MacOS X drivers. Android....unless you make components used, and that is what, 10-15 companies total, you have zero reason to even think about what it takes to make a driver for Android.

If Android ever REALLY wants to make it into the realm of laptops/desktops, then Google has a LOT of work to cultivate driver development for Android, which in turn would help ALL Linux as well.

Chipras3 says:

Good article. It's easy to lose sight of what is exactly involved in bringing a major update to my handset. Thanks for the reminder.

ritt02 says:

I don't understand the issue. If you care about updates (like I do) then buy a Nexus device. It's just like on Apple, there just doesn't happen to be other options on Apple. iOS users have to wait 1-2 years for a new phone, so do Nexus users. If you want to stray from core Android, even though there are some really nice options, then don't whine about not getting updates. That's the price you pay for not waiting for the latest and greatest Google device.

Buying Nexus hardware also means giving up some stuff like LTE for AT&T users or MicroSD card support. So for some, it's like buying a decidedly mid-range phone just to get the latest OS.

What's quite sad about the Android-based world is that even with all these choices, you're still forced to make compromises. Can't anyone get it right?

E90 Commie says:

Getting the latest version of Android is pretty easy.

1. Buy a Nexus. Not any kind of carrier branded Nexus but a real one directly from Google.

2. When selecting any non-Nexus device, avoid everything that has carrier branding. You have to take out the middleman that is the carrier and open a direct link to the manufacturer. It means buying an unlocked standard device.

For US customers, this means buying a standard European model rather than getting anything that has been branded by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile or Verizon.

svinqvmraka says:

I demand that you send me one of those Nexii now!

BenjaSands says:

Wow this article has generated the type of ignorance I only see on apple blogs and forums. With that said, the average person does not care about what OS they are running. The only people that care are nerds, I am a nerd.

Targon says:

The proper term is geek, not nerd. A geek is one who embraces his or her sense of being different, while a nerd is different without really embracing and taking pride in being different. Many start off as nerds, and then become geeks as they accept and even enjoy being different from the "normal people" out there. And yes, I am an old-school geek and proud of it!

mcleodglen says:

very interesting. I read that MS has very tight control over the look, feel, os, of the windows 8 phones to come. Will MS be able to deliver desirable upgrades at quick speed to manufacturers? If so, will the tech advance guard be moved to talk and write about the wonderfulness of windows phone 8? Will that move the public at large?
Alot of ifs and I think it may be that is what MS is betting on happening. They understand the "fragmentation" of Android and will try to exploit that weakness.

Wait...we can get updates from carriers? Thats news to me. I've been on android for almost 3 years now and I have only gotten 1 update from a carrier. Now I just flash Roms, I know it is not the idea situation for most users but you gotta pick and choose your battles.

Davest says:

What does this even mean? I've had the latest version of Android since about a week after it was released, on my Verizon GNex.

mssca says:

I am new to Android and I have GS III. I am happy with the OS that came with it so I don't mind saying on this OS.

Younjulius says:

Once the cell phone hardware reaches to a plateau like any other tech toys, it'll be easier, where hardware difference between the lowest to the highest won't be as drastic.

Perhaps the issue is that energies are poured into developing new cellphone hardware, rather than updating existing technologies. Since the race is for subscribers (we seem to be gluttons for ridiculous contracts, plans, and phones that can't move carriers), the deal is to have THE NEWEST phone out there. When you consider your phone could be out-dated in less than a year by not just one new phone but a vast array, someone's focusing on that technology, getting that out before the competition. The industry is essentially a "must" unlike the tablet industry, so the demand is higher, and the technology develops quicker because it's more social and mobile compared to even laptops, which are still almost a "must." The money is not in the updates - the money is in new devices. In this economy, can you blame them? Only until consumers vote with their wallets could things change - and Google, as much as they are worshiped, hasn't exactly started their own cellphone carrier. We all know that the big carriers rob their customers as a policy, so it's not a mystery that they will do what's necessary to protect and lock their brand.

Targon says:

Considering the economy, and how many people feel like money is tight these days, a $200 phone on contract(considering they need the service in the first place) is a LOT better than the $550+ price to get a flagship phone these days. When people WANT to upgrade their phone every year or two because they want the latest and greatest, it also makes a LOT more sense to go with a phone on-contract as well for that cheaper price.

If you buy a laptop, you tend to use it for 4 years or so before replacing it...$500 purchase there(unless you go Apple or higher end). So, for price parity, you would want to keep a phone for 4 years since the price is the same as a laptop. Does ANYONE keep their cell phones for that long anymore?

Europe is a different environment, because phones are compatible between carriers, while here in the USA, an unlocked phone that is designed to work on AT&T won't work on Verizon because the protocols are different. There is also the issue that the chip manufacturers are not being pushed to make drivers for older products that support the new OS versions. It is a mess, and Google is the only one that can help get hardware makers to pay attention to compatibility.

I Always thought that chip manufacturers submitted drivers to Google to be included into the AOSP.... would that not be better??

dmz241 says:

I updated my xperia arc s to ics... only to find out it was way too buggy but stuck with it. Similarly I updated my asus tf300t to jb and wish I could go back. Its a bit laggy I think asus rushed the update. Yes nexus devices have that advantages but I guess sometimes you dont really need the updates.

This whole crap article could have been summarized in one sentence:

If it bothers you, Buy a Nexus (it's still better and cheaper than competing Apple devices), otherwise shut up and accept it.

Targon says:

I disagree with one of the final things in the article, that it can never happen. The big issue is really about the "driver model" for Android not being something that is standard between versions, and this means that it is very difficult on hardware component makers to come up with a somewhat standardized driver that can be easily updated for new versions. Microsoft has been able to get component makers to develop drivers, and generally keep the support for several versions simply by making the drivers work across multiple versions. Google COULD do the same with Android if it wanted.

AidanCheddar says:

This whole fragmentation topic is, like, beating a dead horse at this point.

darthrochon says:

most people buying phones don't even know there's another version of the os.

And the fact that 90% of ios users are on ios 6 is irrelevant as 2/3 of the new stuff in ios 6 does not even work on older phones.

There's the same fragmentation in ios, it just well hidden behind marketing ...

And wait for the december numbers with all those nexus 10, nexus 7 and nexus 4 sold

Andi Annas says:

I'm still a happy consumer of Android with my still-working-nicely LG Optimus Black. I have to agree that the development of updates is like a pain-in-the-a*s somehow. I realized this right after I was so frustrated that LG has not given any news about ICS update on my Optimus Black (while Nexus S, with almost similar specs, already enjoying ICS-update) few months back.

I ran myself to XDA Developers & found myself browsing around CyanogenMod's site in the end. Custom ROM is the only option for me to update my Optimus Black that now is running on 4.1.2 JellyBean smoothly.

After days of countless self-learning on ROM & Software-development, I came to accept that some devices (or makers) aren't made to be updated. And I happen to agree that what you need to do to be assured for software updates is to get yourself a Nexus device (which is not an option for me right now).

I'm part of that power-users that always want my phone to be up-to-date, and that's why software-update is very important to me. Then there's Custom ROMs available everywhere, just make sure that you're brave enough to get deep inside your Android device. Well, that's the art of having an Android, isn't it?

All I can say, as long as there's Custom ROMs available for my current Optimus Black I'll be fine. Not in any position to get myself a newer Android device, since I'm saving up to replace my other phone (Nokia Asha) with a WindowsPhone device to accompany my Android.

In the end, just enjoy your Androids. There are plenty of things you can do rather than just waiting for software updates.
Just hoping that once Key Lime Pie is out, I can find the Custom ROMs of it to be flashed to my Optimus Black. :D

Did any of the manufacturers/carriers think of outsourcing OS updates to Cyanogenmod?

Would save both users and manufacturers from a whole lot of pain!

I know I only buy Nexus phones precisely for this reason (although, I think Samsung has started doing a decent job with their Galaxy phones).

one thing you didnt mention is that if you pay up the $99/YR for a wp dev center account you can flash your phone with even beta updates & the fact that the drivers dont have to be updated to run the latest makes this good enough to use the phone for the remainder of your contract which under new agreements the official update cycle for a wp 8 device will run out before the contract ends which is typically 3/yrs. this also means debranding being able to debrand devices

I have always wondered how many people actually realized the real downside to android is it's entropy rate. I call it the entropy rate because what with carriers, upgrade cycles, and the cost of smart phones these days it's near impossible to really honestly have the latest and greatest catch 22 (Hardware and software). I love android. It's a great operating system. But the variety is great, but also terrible in that it means less updates, and slower updates, and sometimes no updates at all. An apply user can have a phone 2 phones behind the curve that still receives updates because apple makes sure to update them up to that point because they know they don't have the variety to outweigh not updating them. That has been stated in this article. Android has variety. Budget phones, mid range phones, high priced, glossy, feature phones that are cutting edge. But chances are your budget phone isn't going to be doing much impressive stuff, and if it does, the shelf life of that is about 6-12 months. Having a really popular phone gives you the in on updates. But the popular phone changes every 6 months. Having the newest is extremely expensive. Rooting can be dangerous. Having the same mindset about computers that we do about phones is dangerous. To some extent, Microsoft realized that. It's why they put so many restrictions on their headsets. Apple realized that and they localized their business plan in the phone market to reflect that by only offering one device. Android became the savior of the people with variety, and customization, and budgeting and rooting, and a handful of other things. But, they have an Achilles's heel just like every other phone OS on the market. Go figure. It's not about what your phone does. It's about what it doesn't do that you can live without.

I have a HTC EVO4G which has not officially recieved an update since Android 2.3.2 if I'm correct. Rather than rely on the manufacturer and carriers who have left me with outdated software I took it upon myself to root my phone and install a custom ROM. My phone is now running a open source, community developed version of android (4.2.1) that is completely up to date and is running without flaws.

My phone was released June 4 2010, meaning it is now nearly 3 years old. Instead of forcing myself into a new contract and paying for expensive new hardware I brought the new functionality of android to my phone myself.

This is what makes Android superior to iPhone Alternatives.

Sanaya Irani says:

Interesting article, as an android user I can relate to a lot of this, personally.
http://goresult.in/

Very well written article, but needs a good reader who is able to understand what is being talked about here

One also needs to remember how far Linux has come, you can't destroy something that people enjoy doing so much