There’s no question that right now the top two phones to buy are the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S III, but they won’t be so popular 6 months from now. It won’t be because better handsets will be released, it’s more about Android version updates or lack thereof. Both phones come with Ice Cream Sandwich onboard, and for now seem like the latest and greatest. A little later in the year, Android 5.0 Jelly Bean will be announced and the SDK will be released. This will probably take place in October, and unfortunately neither of these phones will see Jelly Bean until at least March/April 2013. If you’re in the U.S. the prospects are even more dismal. So for now everyone is enjoying their new greatness, but come November, the crying and complaining will begin about why their phone isn’t getting updated.
In case you’re thinking that things will be different, unfortunately we go through this every year, and to be honest, things aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse.
Lets go back to the Gingerbread release. The SDK was released in December 2010 and other than the Nexus devices, no phones received it until April 2011, and that was the global Galaxy S. Other big ticket phones like the DROID X and DROID Incredible 2 didn’t receive it until June 2011 and July 2011 respectively. That’s basically 4 months for Samsung’s flagship but more like 6 to 7 months for a lot of the other phones. It should also be noted that it was only the global Galaxy S that started receiving the update. The U.S. versions didn’t get the update until several months later. In looking at it on percentage basis, Gingerbread was only on 4% of devices 5 months from the SDK release.
We will skip over Honeycomb since that was made for just tablets, and go right to Ice Cream Sandwich. The SDK for ICS was released in October 2011. No devices (other than Nexus devices) received ICS until January 2012, and that was the ASUS Transformer Prime tablet. As far as phones, it really wasn’t until March 2012 when we saw the HTC Vivid get it along with global versions of the Galaxy S II. Even some of the unlocked versions of the GSII didn’t get it until April. This year Motorola hasn’t even updated any of their phones going as far as saying it won’t happen unless the “experience” is improved. So if we look at the Galaxy S II, it took roughly 6 months, which is longer than last year’s Galaxy S’s 4 months. Again, only the global versions have the update at this point. In comparing the percentage of devices that had ICS after 5 months, it was only 1.6%. As you can see a lot worse than last year’s Gingerbread updates, which were at 4% at the same time.
I can hear all the rooters and ROM fans yelling at me saying that you can grab ICS for yourself with a custom ROM. I’ve been over this before and things haven’t changed. The rooting and ROM community seems large, but it’s a very small percentage of the overall Android users.
The other thing to consider is even when The Galaxy S III and One X receive the Jelly Bean update, it won’t look much different. Look at what HTC did with older phones for the ICS update. They included it with Sense 3.6 so the look is similar. The kept the new and improved Sense 4.0 for the new devices like the One X and One S. Samsung on the other hand did the same thing, but unfortunately didn’t bother changing the TouchWiz interface for the newer Galaxy S III.
The bottomline is that if you want the latest version of Android you simply cannot buy any device except for a Nexus, and if you really want to make sure you do it right, it needs to be the GSM version. The CDMA versions will never get the updates timely as evidenced by the Sprint Nexus S, which didn’t receive ICS until April of this year (6 months after the SDK was released).
For now everyone is excited and happy to get their hands on the Samsung Galaxy S III or the HTC One X (and other variants), but in 6 months everyone will be wondering where their update is. No need to wonder, I’m telling you now that it won’t be until at least March 2013 if your not in the U.S., and if you’re in the U.S., you probably will have to wait until next Summer. That’s how you go from top dog to goat in 6 months. Ice Cream Sandwich seems really refreshing right now, but trust me, in about 6 months it’s going to get old quickly.
Of course, if you don’t care about Android updates then disregard everything I just said and enjoy your new phone.