Android updates continue to worsen not improve [sigh]

When it comes to Android, one of the hottest topics has always been how fast updates are. It has been a problem for a while now and there’s no question that Google recognizes that. At last year’s I/O, they announced a new agreement with OEMs that would make them commit to updates over an 18-month period. That didn’t seem to do much, so at this past June’s I/O, they announced the PDK. which is the hardware equivalent of the SDK. It gives manufacturers of hardware and chipsets early access to Android builds so they can get a jump start on current and upcoming devices. It’s still too soon to judge if this will help or not, but I really have to point out that things are going in the wrong direction in a major way.

Lets start with Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The SDK was launched in December 2010 and by December 1st, 2011, it was on 50.6% of devices. I’m not sure what you think, but to me, 50% of devices after a year is pretty dismal. It will actually sound pretty good when you read how Ice Cream Sandwich is going. The SDK for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was released last October and we just reported the figures as of October 1st (1 year later). It was sitting on 23.7% of devices. That’s not even half of what Gingerbread was able to achieve in the same time frame. To say it’s a disappointment would be a huge understatement.

Considering the trend in the numbers, I’m not sure Google will be able to ever fix this. The fact that there are so many manufacturers and so many devices makes it that much more difficult. Even Motorola, who is owned by Google, can’t release new devices with Jelly Bean.

Maybe the PDK will improve things or maybe this year’s rumor of more Nexus phones is a way to speed things up since those devices get update quicker. If Google does indeed release four or five Nexus phones, it could dramatically change these percentages, and at the same time lessen the effect of OEM differentiation in the marketplace. There still would be one question, and that’s how LTE would affect things? I can only assume the next flock of Nexus devices would be LTE capable. If that’s the case, could that slow updates a little?

So it’s that time of the year again when people wonder if they should buy a Nexus phone or not, and things haven’t changed. If updates are important to you, your next phone needs to be a Nexus.

About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.

  • Nudo

    Nexus is all I desire :)

  • BrandoHD

    This issue is one the manufacturers/carriers created and due partly to lackluster hardware and moreso, due to having too many devices tied in with the carriers

  • SuperAndroid

    Well, there’s only one question then… is this really a problem? Most people would most likely say ‘yes’, but I’m not that sure. Let’s check with Androids biggest rival – Apple. A lot of all Apple-devices get iOS 6, yea? So let’s compare with iPhone 4 (which is two years old)…

    iPhone 4 got iOS 6, but did it recieve all features? Well… no, it didn’t. It’s still missing Maps: Flyover, Maps: Turn-by-turn, Siri, Panorama Photos, Snap stills while recording, FaceTime over cellular and hearing aids (, So yes – it got the latest number, but it’s still missing a lot of features.

    So I would say that the iPhone version number is all about the number. In the same time is Android version number telling the truth, it directly tells you “this is what you get”. Something clearly have to change, but I’m not sure if it’s the manufacturers or the people using Android (yepp, that’s us).

    BTW; I love Android <3

  • Kary

    Clearly it’s a problem when brand new devices are still being released with ICS rather than Jelly Bean. They can’t even get the new release out when they should be highly motivated to do so.

  • brennanyama

    If u want a device thatll always be updated So badly, go get an iphone. If you want a device with a freely open source operating system capable of operating on a slew of different devices, all of which with highly varying hardware configurations,get an android handset–just be prepared to cope with the inherent limitations of using an open sourced operating system, fragmentation amongst them. If you want a middle of the road approach, go for a nexus device.

    Also, if you ever took a proper stats class in college, youll realize that the numbers of handsets updated to the latest version if android has to exponentially decrease with each new version.

  • garfield

    why do you always need the greatest and latest?….iOS just got features that were present on froyo and gingerbread.heck it still cant do most of the things that I can do on android gingerbread(2.3)….so it doesnt matter even if i am stuck on 2.3.7(althought 4.04 is coming next month)

  • RTWright

    All that needs to happen is let us get the OS updates from Google, and the OEM’s write the drivers needed for the devices for that version of the OS. I just don’t understand why they make this so bloody difficult. Hell, there are millions of different varieties of PC’s out there when you count in all of us that build our own and put them together. Do you see me having to wait for the latest update for Windows? No! Because just as soon as it’s released I download and update it or if needed I purchase it if it’s a entirely new version ( Like 8 for example ).

    What’s really needed is a “Standard” by which all OEM’s would follow, this would allow them the ability to write their drivers and have them available for download. With us getting the latest OS from Google, then we update our drivers and DONE! Cut the Carriers out of the picture, they shouldn’t have a damn thing to do with this part of it period! All they are is a “Service Provider” just like an ISP is. They shouldn’t have a dang thing one to say about the hardware ( Other than the chipset that runs what they need and that’s added to the phone by the OEM based on which carrier is selling said model ).

    The sooner they go to this kind of model, the better. We’d not have to worry about any of this any longer. As a matter of fact, Google could easily or even the OEM add the ability to update the drivers automatically with the OS from Google. But yet they try to micro-manage this stuff to hell and that’s why we have to wait so bloody long.

  • Derail Doax

    Timely updates is such a old and tired complaint about Android. If you only look at the iPhones OS version number you would think that all iPhones are up to date. However so many people do not realize so many features are removed from the newer OS versions on older iPhones. This causes fragmentation within the iPhone OS yet they cleverly number them identically so your average computer illiterate person thinks there is no fragmentation.

    If you look at the jump in UI design from Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich in Sense UI and Touchwiz most average users (which are not power users like us) end up getting confused with the new settings menu layout and also with the new UI button changes. I had to send out an email with a screenshot of the new three dot application settings button that has been worked into applications after the JB update. I knew for a fact that older people, the ones who always turn to me to fix their computers would not realize that applications we’re updating their interface style for the new Jelly Bean generation of Android phones that did not come with a physical menu button.

    Most young people will easily adjust to these UI changes because we have grown up with computers since we were kids. However many people who are 50 years old or older will end up getting frustrated with often user interface changes. This is why iOS works great for elderly people. They are not very technically inclined and therefore need slower changes in user interface. Which Apple has been nice enough to leave their UI the same for the last 6 iPhones.

    The only instance that I see issues in OS version number is if applications are not designed to work with the most common version of Android out there. So if all of a sudden most of the developers out there stopped supporting Gingerbread or older phones then I could see the version updates being a problem. These days it becomes a complaint that power users ramble about, yet frequent updates would actually frustrate your average user more than no updates at all. For all of us power users out there we should be buying manufacturers flagship phones anyways which manufactures usually are pretty good about keeping their flagship phones on the newer versions for a year or two. For the users out there who are still frustrated waiting 6 months for their flagships to get updated to the newest version you should get a Nexus phone directly from the Google Play Store. In other words these are First Nerd(World) Problems, and in general do not harm the functionality of any phones out there.

  • Someone

    Personally, I don’t see much of a concern. You don’t get the exact same product, but 99% of all features past 2.2 are reproducable by downloading apps from the play store.

    Face unlock, for example, is available (visidon app locker).

  • rich_bown

    I blame manufacturers, they want people to upgrade and buy new phones, rather than get latest version of Android as a new update. (Motorola I’m looking at you!)

  • Trey Waters

    Here’s my 2 cents, which I don’t think anyone has ever touched on: There is no incentive for manufacturers to produce devices (phones/tablets/etc) that are upgradeable. And when you factor in OS bloat over releases, that knocks out older (and cheaper) devices from being able to upgrade.

    My question – can I go buy an iPhone 5 with iOS3? No! So, why can I go out and easily find a slew of BRAND NEW Android devices running Froyo? Because there is no incentive to make decent hardware the norm. A lot of this is because the consumer is typically lazy and just wants a “smartphone”. They don’t know a dual core CPU from a pixel.

    So, you have a consumer base that doesn’t know/care what they are buying, so even if you are releasing a phone with the latest Android version, you build it to specs that just meet the requirements for that Android version. After all, not very many consumers know the benefits of 2GB RAM over 512MB, so why bother making your current phones with the best specs available? It just ups the price of the phone, and drives customers away. Now comes the next release of Android, and your brand new shiny phone only barely supports the current release. With feature bloat, the new release requires even more horsepower and RAM, so now your phone won’t even run the new release. (rooting/modding/and flashing aside).

    I think the whole manufacturer-specific UI “enhancements” is another factor, but that’s been talked about elsewhere quite a bit.

    There are 2 things that I think could help here. First is a roadmap from Google indicating minimum HW requirements for future Android releases. This would allow manufacturers to build devices that can be supported for a few release cycles. The second is to somehow enforce a release schedule to devices (such as: existing devices get the latest Android release within x weeks after the Android release, and for x months after the device is EOL’ed. For example, if you can still buy a brand new Galaxy S II, the Galaxy S II should get all Android release within x weeks after release.)

    The first could happen. However, I don’t see the second happening. In fact it’s already failing.

    As one commenter posted, at first I liked the idea of decoupling the Android release from the manufacturer. However, you are still reliant on the manufacturer to release drivers for newer Android releases. If they don’t release updated drivers, you can’t upgrade, and we’re back in the same boat we are now. This could have other benefits, but it’s not going to be a cure for this issue.

  • Stoker

    As soon as Motorola releases ICS for my OG Droid, I promise I will load it! LOL!