Monday 21 May 2012

Android updates: it's a mess!


  In the last few days it has come to light that Motorola have decided not to update devices which are less than a year old to the latest version of Android! This is in direct opposition to the company's own promise to update phones for 18 months, something which Motorola promised to adhere to by signing up to Google's I/O support agreement. So why haven't things panned out the way we expected?

   The official line from Google is that, hardware permitting, all Android devices would get OS updates in a reasonable amount of time within the first 18 months. This is why customers will undoubtedly be more than slightly frustrating to learn that Motorola and Samsung at the very least have broken their promises.

   Lets start with Moto, their most recent statement read like this;
"You may be wondering why all devices aren’t being upgraded to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Here’s the deal. We work very closely with Google and cell phone carriers for every software update. And, obviously we want the new release to improve our devices. If we determine that can’t be done—well then, we’re not able to upgrade that particular device." - Motorola blog.

   Ok, that is a slight departure from the 'hardware permitting' line issued earlier. Lets dive a little deeper and have a look at the list of updates;

   It's a pretty long list of updates, but, there's a lot down the bottom which won't be moving past Gingerbread. The only two which are justified is the Droid 2 and the Droid Pro which were announced in 2010 and already out of their 18 month update period. The rest, including the Cliq 2, all have the ability to run ICS, as we've seen proven by the HTC Desire C's recent release.

   Similarly, Samsung have stated that;
 "After reviewing various factors such as system requirements, platform limitations, and partner-related issues, we will consider upgrading Galaxy devices to Ice Cream Sandwich. Specific upgrade plans will be communicated separately. Samsung will stay committed to responsibility for its customers as much as possible."

   The question, from an American device viewpoint is about the Samsung Captivate Glide, the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, the Samsung Conquer 4G and the Samsung Exhibit 4G, all of which we have heard nothing about. These are all high-end devices, so it is disappointing that these are not guaranteed an update!

   Again we come back to why? Why no update?

   I can't help but feel it has something to do with cost. Are Motorola and Samsung not updating because it costs a lot of man hours to code a stable and working release? Of course the same can be asked of HTC (to a lesser degree) and the other smaller Android manufacturers like ZTE.

   At this point I have to praise LG and Sony (Ericsson). The former has promised to update it's Optimus line from 2010, despite their low-end 600Mhz processor. The latter has promised to update the whole of their 2011 line-up, both of these are great to hear and we really have to applaud the two companies for keeping their word.

   It seems that now would be a great point for Google to expand their Nexus line-up to about five or six devices a year, each of which is guaranteed an update to the latest OS, in the same vein that Microsoft does with the whole of their Windows Phone devices. It's good to hear rumours suggesting this may become a reality later this year because manufacturers have to realise people expect their expensive devices to be supported for the length of their contracts! The reality is this is not too much to ask, even for a 'lower-end' £200 device.

   The conclusion here is that to guarantee your device will be supported for the length of your contract you have to choose a flagship device or go with a Nexus phone. You have to remember Apple can support all of their devices because they create the software in house and only have one version of each device to support. Perhaps this is a direction more companies should head, given the success Samsung has had with their one-a-year Galaxy series, which has proved insanely popular. Either way, if you take a two-year contract, have a long hard think about which device you choose with it and remember you may have to accept the software it launches with for the length of your contract, but make sure you're comfortable with it. But, remember worst case, you can hide your outdated version of Android with a new launcher!!!


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