11
Feb
andy_sisyphus

I think it's safe to say that Android is the best thing to happen to smartphones since the iPhone (though, I'll admit, I may be a wee bit biased). Without a doubt, the massive success of the operating system is due in large part to its openness; the ability for devices to share fundamental code, while still allowing for an amazing amount of customization, has provided something for consumers, carriers, and manufacturers that Apple would never match. And it's for that reason that Android has taken off on such an unbelievable scale, clocking nearly 900% growth in 2010.

But despite all the things Android does great (and the list is definitely long), there are still a few places where it falls short. Four of our editors - Chris, David, Jaro, and I - have decided to take a look at what we see as the worst of these issues, and propose a few ways to improve the situation as we see fit.

Unfortunately, the idea came about because Chris's frustration with Android has pushed him away from the OS entirely - even to the point that he's stepping away from AP. Below is his "editorial" - copied and pasted straight from his farewell email.

Hey team,

It's been a blast working with all of you over the past 9 months, and it's insane how much the blog has grown in content, team members, and traffic.

As you've probably noticed, I've been increasingly absent over the last few months. This was due, in part, to some personal events I had to step away to deal with, but what it really has boiled down to is my increasing frustration with Android.

Most of you probably know I switched to the Epic 4G the day it was released, and while I still think the hardware is some of the best on the market, the software could use improvement. Samsung promised Froyo for the US Galaxy S phones by the end of last year, but we've all seen how that's played out. At this point, unless Google implements a model requiring manufacturers and carriers to push out phone updates in a timely manner, the life cycle of Android phones is comically short before they're obsoleted by the next big thing.

My frustrations with Android as a consumer have begun to bleed into my love of Android as a tech enthusiast. I can't look at a single Android device at this point without wondering how long it will take before that device is obsoleted either by A) better hardware or B) lack of software updates to keep it current (or C) both ).

I hate to say it, but more and more, Apple's model is looking increasingly attractive. Sure, you have more choice with Android, but is that always a good thing? More choice and diversity on Android have led to an ecosystem where system specifications and software versions vary wildly from one handset to the next, and I think we've spent too much time worrying about whether or not fragmentation is hurting developers and ignoring how it's actually affecting consumers.

With Apple's model, everything is pretty simple: once a year, a new phone or a revision to the existing phone will be announced. Along with the phone usually comes a software update with some desired features as well as upgrades to existing capabilities. The software update is usually coordinated to be released alongside the launch of the new hardware, and at that moment, the most recent hardware revisions usually have the option to upgrade their OS.

Compare that to Android: the Nexus S is announced with Gingerbread. The Nexus S is released...and here we all are. We're either waiting for carriers/manufacturers to push out updates, or we're relying on the community to pick up the slack. Even at this point, there's no telling which phones will receive an upgrade to Gingerbread, or which 2.1 devices will receive an update to Froyo. Other than the officially sanctioned Google phone(s) of the moment, it's pretty much impossible to know if or when your phone will ever receive an update.

In moving from the Nexus One to the Epic 4G, I noticed something else as well. Android has a revered community of OS hackers, sure (for example, CyanogenMod), but unless you gravitate towards a very mainstream device, there’s a good chance you may not see much diversity amongst the available ROMs for your device, and, in some rare, unfortunate cases, the quality of the ROMs may suffer due to a community’s smaller size.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that fragmentation is even evident amongst the community, and there's no guarantee that anyone will come along and donate their time to improving the software on your phone, which, let's face it, wouldn't be necessary if the manufacturers did things right to begin with.

I'm for open, I'm for hacking, and I'm for choice, but I'm just exhausted by the complexity of the ecosystem, and until Google does something to fix it, I have a feeling I won't be the only one.

As difficult as this problem may seem, I can think of at least two fairly easy ways to either solve the problem entirely, or at least help put the consumer’s mind at ease:

  1. Google steps in and requires members of the OHA (Open Handset Alliance) comply with a set of Android device update schedules, or risk losing their membership in the alliance.
  2. Manufacturers and/or carriers commit up front to providing updates for devices, and ensure the information is clearly accessible by consumers. For example, I’d be much more compelled to buy a device that I know will receive at least two updates rather than the roulette game that device purchasing is now.

Android is a great platform, and it has tons of potential, but as we’ve seen recently with Motorola’s announcement that they’re killing off the Cliq XT and with it any hope that the device will be updated from 1.5 to 2.1, it’s evident that there are still many kinks to be worked out.

So, sorry for the rant. I loved every minute I spent working with you guys, and encourage you all to contact me when you see me online, whether it be to shoot the shit, or because you have writing questions, it doesn't matter -- just shoot me an IM. My contact information is in my signature.

Signing off,
Chris

We'll be posting one editorial per day through Monday, so be sure to check back every day for the next part in the series.

Aaron Gingrich
Aaron is a geek who has always had a passion for technology. When not working or writing, he can be found spending time with his family, playing a game, or watching a movie.

  • Muhammad

    I hear you.
    but you should have switched to an HTC instead, everyone knows Samsung sucks at software updates.

    • http://twitter.com/tokyomonster Chris Dehghanpoor

      It's not just Samsung. Motorola's guilty of the same thing, and HTC's track record isn't spotless either.

      My main point is that it shouldn't be something the consumer has to worry about. If I buy a phone and have been led to believe by the manufacturer and/or carrier that it will receive updates in the future, then they should stick to that.

      But yeah, I'm not buying Samsung ever again.

      • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

        Plus, you are at the mercy of the manufacturer if you look at the problem from such perspective. And we all know, these are HARDWARE makers, they care about you buying new hardware MORE than updating the hardware they already sold you.

      • http://tech.shantanugoel.com/ Shantanu

        I'm growing tired of Android for the same reason. In fact, the problem is far graver.
        What can Google say to OEMs when they themselves are guilty of this? Gingerbread was announced on 6th dec, nexus s was launched on 16th. It's almost 2 months now and no update in sight for nexus one?

        • Milind

          Exactly!. So far I have been primarily blaming Google for not ensuring precisely the two things that Chris recommends. And then I have been blaming the carriers and manufacturers for not updating the software on older phones. But what can one make from the fact that even the Nexus line with the Google experience can't get the software out.

          I think that we are cutting waaay too much slack to Google on this. Google has to ensure that every consumer has to get the latest OS the day it is released. The *day* it is released. Period. You don't see Windows 7 being released by Dell and HP and Lenovo. Microsoft releases the OS. Apple releases the OS. Since the drivers/modems depend on the specific model, all manufacturers have to provide that to Google before the OS is released and it can't be that different from release to release that it's a huge burden. If a manufacturer doesn't do it, they are denied Market access to all new phones for a year.

          The hardware obsolescence that Chris talks about is silly. How is it better for me as a consumer if I'm buying a phone not to get the best hardware that I can get at the time I purchase the phone? How is it good for Verizon customers that the iPhone they are buying today is 7 months old? And what is it about a newer model with better hardware that makes you feel that your phone is obsolete? I have a Vibrant and I'll never buy another Samsung phone in my life. But it's because they took so long to deliver Froyo. The phone is running superbly on Bionix 1.2. There will be multicore phones released in a few months. So what? My Vibrant will continue to work well - so long as I get continuous OS updates.

          As far as fragmentation is concerned, I have always felt that fragmentation is primarily on the consumer side. I have yet to have any problem whatsoever to make one release of my app run across multiple Android versions or phones. There may be apps that have a problem, but I don't know of any technical reasons. Sure you have to test everywhere, but I have seen no major problems at all.

        • Noel

          I will give Google a pass on the delay of Gingerbread update to N1. It seems there are a few issues that they are trying to iron out...thats why even new devices will be released with Froyo and then updated later to Gingerbread after the kinks have been ironed out.. IN my view N1 shud just go str8 to Android 2.4 the improved Gingerbread. Google shud also incourage manufacturers to make a few pure virgin vanila Android devices or make it possile to turn off skins on devices so as to be able to enjoy the pure vanila Android experience.

  • http://gadgeticmusings.net/ Soul_Est

    Sadly this is where I find myself as well. While I love Android for the very tight ecosystem as a whole (Google Apps + Services) as well as all of the great applications that I can use on it the update issue is a real problem. I live in Canada and just as Motorola decided to not update the Devour and Cliq XT in the U.S., They decided to not update the Backfilp, Quench (Cliq XT) and Dext (Cliq) here and the rest of the world while the Milestone series still waits upon updates (A853 which will get a buggy update) or will never get them (A854 and variants, and XT720 and variants will be stuck at 2.1). HTC and LG have also had taken their sweet time in updating their phones as well.

    I'm currently running Gingerbread (CM7) on my Milestone right now but I'm one of the lucky ones. For now, I'll wait and see but just like Chris, I am incredibly frustrated by the whole update situation.

  • http://facebook.com/ketchupmakesmeCRINGE Chris

    "With Apple’s model, everything is pretty simply..."

    Guy is so frustrated he doesn't even double-check what he's writing...needs more green underlines.

    • Aaron Gingrich

      Mea culpa. I proofread it three times, it's my fault at least as much as his.

      Also, I loled.

    • http://twitter.com/tokyomonster Chris Dehghanpoor

      I still had to read this comment 3 times before I noticed the error :P

      Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/bryanz Bryan

    Chris is an example of a very well-educated and dedicated Android user. I would argue that the typical smartphone buyer's top priority probably isn't whether or not their device will be "obsolete" in 6 months. It's what the experience is like with whatever version of the software they are using.

    I'd also argue that the word "obsolete" is being misappropriated here. A new version of Android doesn't mean that all previous flavors are obsolete. They would be obsolete if devs stopped making apps that worked on previous flavors, but for the most popular apps that just isn't really the case. Facebook, Twitter, Angry Birds, etc. should function just fine on 90% of the Android phones out there.

    My wife and I both have Captivates from AT&T. I've rooted and installed several different custom ROMs on mine. My wife doesn't want me to do anything to her phone. She's like it just fine the way it is. In fact, she LOVES the phone the way it is and she's convinced three different friends and family to switch from iPhone to Android.

    So while the pace of updates is much quicker than Apple's, no one says that every Android user has to have the latest and greatest software version for them to have a positive experience with their smartphone.

    • http://twitter.com/tokyomonster Chris Dehghanpoor

      I was thinking about that when writing this. I know I'm more involved in the community than your average user, and I'm sure there are people who are not aware or do not care that there are newer versions of Android out.

      It becomes a problem when you look again at the Cliq XT situation. If anyone needs an update, it's users on 1.6 and 1.5. There are quite a few programs that either won't run, or run with limited functionality on the older platforms because they do not support newer APIs or changes Google has made to the code.

      Something I failed to mention is the GPS bug in the Galaxy S phones. I know on my Epic 4G, it's pretty much impossible to get a solid lock, no matter how long I give it. This is an example of something that's needed fixed since day 1, and despite (2, if I recall correctly) maintenance updates being released since launch for the E4G, the bug remains.

      It's things like that, that leave users with hardware functionality that barely works, that really frustrates me.

      • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

        Chris, IMO, the problem is even more serious than you thought. Remember that Javascript security hole in WebKit? Google fixed it in Gingerbread. What does that mean? Out of the millions of Android devices out there, only the Nexus S received the patch, period.

        Sure, many of us say that this hole has been blown out of proportion. But what if there's a more serious security hole? What if there's zero day exploit? Put it this way, can someone from Google say for sure that Android will never be affected by such problems? If it could be affected, when that happen, how would Google plan to address that?

        The way I see it from Google's response from the past is that it believes the market will sort it out, and the manufacturers, the carriers will have the incentive to take care of their customers. We all know that this is not true. But let's say that they do care about their customers, and in case of emergencies, they will do the right thing to patch their phones ASAP. But it will still be messy. Because there are hundreds of carriers in the world, and a dozen of smartphone makers. How long will it take them to patch a security hole is beyond anyone's imagination. Imagine a world where Microsoft couldn't push out Windows update and had to rely on your ISP and PC's manufacturer! Sound crazy, right? But that's exactly what is happening to the Android world.

        • http://twitter.com/tokyomonster Chris Dehghanpoor

          Yeah, if anything, it's clear that Google, at the very least, needs a way to distribute security updates directly to the handsets rather than having to go through carriers and manufacturers.

  • Paul

    I do believe Google needs to take better control over updates. Requiring carriers or handset manufacturers to comply with certain standards for updates. I also believe they should be able to do security patches within the same version. Connect to the market, an update pops up and says "You have 2 pending security patches, install them now?" and you do, and it doesn't break compatibility within that version. So motoblur or tap-n-touch or touchwiz, etc. will still continue to work and the carriers bloatware will still be there and working, etc. I'm also not entirely happy with how Google handles issues, like when the developers were only seeing 50% of their transactions get approved. The problem lasted 2-3 days and Google was just silent, until they fixed it. They didn't care that developers lost 2-3 days of full revenue, not even an apology. They seem less concerned about consumers and developers than I'd like. I love Android but I too wonder how it will survive if something does change. The current model and attitude towards things can't survive indefinitely.

  • wirbly

    Amen. I couldn't have said it better myself.

  • Eric

    While I agree with this, it is not the huge issue overall. I'll give an example from my personal experience a week an a half ago. My cousin was looking for a new phone. I recommended the captivate, the iPhone, or wait for the Inpire (She's on AT&T). She saw the white Xperia X10, and despite my explanations of out of date software, that was the one she wanted and got. She could care less that she is running 1.6 (or did the AT&T one finally get 2.1). She loves that phone despite it being the butt of the geeky community.

    In other words, I would love to see a requirement to get the closed source Gapps include timely updates, but it's nowhere near a major problem for the community at large.

  • Art

    So he wants a free eco system but only on his terms and rules? He is perfect for the iphone! Goodbye!

    Samsung did roll out the 2.2 update before the end of the year, I got it here in Canada in October and Europe got it and Asia got it. What you have to ask yourself is why the US cell companies did not roll it out. That seems to be a regional issue that has more to do with your carriers than the phone, obviously the phones has the update everywhere else.

    As for his suggestion of rules and threats to companies for not doing what Google thinks is best, that is way too apple for me, I left that for android and don't need some malcontent trying to put me and my phone back in that closed box.

    Right now I have a Galaxy S Vibrant and a Nexus S, choose your phone more wisely, being a grown-up with total freedom also requires some thinking on the part of the free peson.

    • Aaron Gingrich

      One of the things I love about Android compared to the iPhone is that most Android fans are still level-headed and willing to admit both Android's flaws, and that other systems still do some things better.

      Thanks for reminding me that that's not always the case.

      • three_pineapples

        Well you're bound to get people angry if you write a series of articles that talk about how android is flawed, without correctly addressing the fact that either a) the majority of android users don't care or b) There are 3rd party customisations/apps that fix the problem.

        I think the problem is that there are a growing number of people who are aware of the android platform enough to criticise it, but not willing to go the extra step to taking the problem into their own hands.

        Custom ROM's, for example, will fix many problems. Now if you don't put in the time to figure out what device will be mainstream and have good ROM support, who's fault is that? If you feel you need custom roms but don't buy a phone that supports them well, you have no one to blame but yourself for buying a crappy phone.

        3rd party apps. In part 2 you mention problems with the stock messaging app, with how the GUI works, and yet i've never seen this with handcent SMS.

        The list goes on.

        The facts are that there are a large number of people who don't give a rats about fragmentation. 90% of users are on 2.1 or 2.2, which the majority of apps are written for.

        There is also a group of people who buy phones based on the hacking capability of the phone, and what custom ROM's are expected to be available. This does require you do a lot of research on not impulse buy.

        It's the group in the middle of these that are becoming disillusioned, and maybe iOS is the better choice for them.

        Every platform has it's flaws. It should be remembered that the user is often one of them!

    • http://twitter.com/tokyomonster Chris Dehghanpoor

      I think my suggestion of the just having the manufacturers being up front about the updates is fairly reasonable. I made my purchase based on what we were told by Sprint and Samsung. How am I, or any other consumer, supposed to know better?

      At the time the Epic 4G was released, I'm not even sure there were rumors of the Nexus S, else I would have opted for that.

      And really, I can't see how Google enforcing updates can be seen as Apple-esque. Yes, Google would be forcing the manufacturers and/or carriers to adhere to another standard (one of the many they already have to adhere to in order to remain in the OHA). Not a single part of enforcing an update timeline would do anything to harm the openness of the ecosystem.

  • bk w/ bloody sauce

    I agree with Bryan, I myself run a custom rom on the EVO, (Cyanogen), I've also converted six iphone users to android, all of which keep the stock rom on it, 3 of the users are on Heros btw. and they love them, and they have no idea what gingerbread or honeycomb is, they don't care, as long as it works. No one has come to me and complained that their phone is obsolete. At the end of the day it comes to this, you love it and tinker with it constantly like me or you love it and leave it alone or you thought you loved it and simply changed your mind. And that is all good as well. Good luck to Chris and his future plans, as for us, we'll be here enjoying Android....in any flavor.

    • http://twitter.com/tokyomonster Chris Dehghanpoor

      I replied to Bryan and I mostly agree -- this is only really a 'problem' for those really involved with Android - for the most part at least.

      Chances are that I'll stick with Android in the future, this is just something I'd like to see resolved before I make my next purchase.

  • Beaker151

    I have a samsung vibrant and was lucky to get froyo. though I agree it gets frustrating watching the world pass you by with the aggressive pace in software and hardware changes. Though android is a great o/s it has spiraled out of control with everyone trying to out do the other and themselves. Competion is great but not when it is in a small segment it becomes counter productive and hurts the user experience. Control is needed to some degree, a better commitment from hardware and software to work together in there releases. this cart before the horse scenario is getting old. But good luck to you Chris in your new endevors.

  • JCopernicus

    Comparing Apple's "hold it back and spread it out" updates to Google's "something new, every time" updates is pretty funny.

    • SiliconAddict

      From a consumer standpoint yah its funny. From the handset manufacturers standpoint its probably killing them. Android's core point is that it should be saving these companies money because there is no license fee. However when you have to keep up with the jone's for anywhere from 2 handsets to 5 handsets that can get expensive as hell with debugging, testing, certifying it with the carrier or carrierS. Then you have post rollout support. What you think 100% of every new OS that gets rolled out never borks an handset? And guess who has to deal with the fallout when someone calls in and says your update just fried my phone?
      I can guarantee you that the OEM's are NOT happy with the pace Google is rolling out these updates. If anything is going to make WebOS and Windows Phone 7 take off it may very well be this.

      • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

        No one forces the manufacturers to put in all the customizations.

        They choose to do it THEMSELVES. They could just take the stock OS, and optimize it for their devices.

  • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

    Chris, I think you guys can do a lot more than posting an editorial here.

    Being a part of a popular Android related blog, you guys have the power that we ordinary users don't have. Use it.

    It's a problem beyond just one blog -- may I suggest you guys to do a noble thing. Work with other Android blogs out there to host a round table. Ask Google to join and discuss the problem with you. Together you guys represent a large number of active Android users. We are the momentum behind the rise of Android (especially since Google has done next to nothing to market it.) We are not asking them to give up their principal on being open. We are asking to face the fact that there are some very real problems on how they are handling the ecosystem, and they need to address it.

  • SiliconAddict

    How do you force them to update? I mean really is it practical to tell them to update software every damn quarter? I mean its not as if an update to the OS is free. Every time Google drops another OS there is development costs involved. In some cases where the handset manufacturer has an deeply integrated overlay in android, because lets face it Android by default IS missing some functionality, it probably costs them a crap load.
    In short you want to fix this problem? There is a solution. Stop dropping updates on handset manufacturer's doorsteps every 4-6 months. As much as I love a new OS, Google should be doing this ONCE....count em. ONCE per year. With a 3+ month lead up to the release to actually give manufacturers time to get their crap tested and debugged. As it stands one handset gets updated and oh look another OS is about to be released. So we now need to update 3 other handsets along with the one we just updated. Seriously. While part of the blame can be attributed to handset manufacturers, and carriers. Google is just as much to blame with their insane rollout pace. For the first year and a half I can see why they did it. There was a lot of clean up and catch up to do. But at this point? Slow the hell down.

    • http://twitter.com/tokyomonster Chris Dehghanpoor

      This is an excellent point. I think a compromise needs to be reached between Google and the members of the OHA. Something can, and should, be worked out, and when it is, the entire ecosystem will benefit.

    • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

      Let's separate the update problems into two different categories:

      1) Necessary update, including security patches, and bug fixes.

      2) Feature enhancements, including OS updates.

      For the necessary update, it's the manufacturers' responsibility to fix their own product. It's not up to them to decide, say, whether a security hole should be patched. If there's one, they need to fix it. Right now, no one has to authority to tell the manufacturers that they have a bug to fix, or a hole to patch. The only thing that would enforce them is probably to sue them, may be a class action lawsuit or something. But do we really need to go down that route everytime?

      Now, the second type of update. Yes, it costs the manufacturer money to develop. I understand that, and I don't expect them to update a 2 year old phone, given that the hardware quickly gets obsolete in today's mobile computing market. But 1 OS update within the 1st year of a device's life really isn't asking for much. If the manufacturer couldn't even commit to this, I have a hard time believing all the marketing talks of how they care about their customers (I don't they do, for a second.)

    • Milind

      I completely disagree! One of the best part of Android is that we are getting updates through out the year as opposed to once a year. I'm not suggesting that manufacturers should have their OS with customization overlays updated the same day as Google releases a new version. But they need to be able to have the Google experience new OS working on all their current (last 2 years) devices running. How many devices would a manufacturer have at a given point in time? 10? 20? If they can't test a new OS on these devices in a couple of weeks, they need to stop manufacturing! If communities can do it on third party devices, then the manufacturers can hire a couple of devs and testers to test/update modems/drivers for new versions and pass them off to Google for a new version launch.

  • Snail

    Mhm, i have the G Nexus One running Cm7 and happy with it. But as time goes by, it cannot (and it wont be supported by cyanogen forever) live forever. I am always on lookout for a new android in case of an emergency (brick/destroyed) but i have yet to find a new device as loved as the Nexus one was/is. None of the devices has a fanbase as strong as the n1, which makes me uneasy about any future choices of device...

  • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

    Imagine how bad the situation will become when the same problem surfaces on the tablets.

    Imagine Apple telling the iPad users that their iPad will forever stuck with the current OS when the iPad2 comes out? I don't think even Apple (with its loyal fan base) could manage the outcry from their customers.

    Now, if Motorola told us next year that their $799 Xoom will forever stuck in Honeycomb ...

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    I think the only realistic way of making them upgrade at this point so late in the game is to let it occur naturally. I don't think Google will be able to change much, due to the technical difficulties and licensing restrictions of working with so many phones and hardware components.

    My hope is that, like Sony Ericsson, manufacturers will realize that upset consumers and internal headaches related to over-customizing their flavors of Android are not worth the effort.

    Sony's latest phone - the Xperia arc - is an example of just that. It was showcased to us running Gingerbread at CES, which was the only phone doing so besides the Galaxy S. Nevertheless, it still looked really nice and custom inside, but with most of the software decoupled from the core OS.

    HTC, Motorola, etc, can you follow this please? Make our lives easier.

  • http://AP sfv

    I think you are all missing the point. The real issue of this freedom comes when Rovio releases a new game and 32 handsets (out of 70, or 90) can't play the game, and start to inundate the developer with complaints; ranging from screen ratio looks weird, control buttons mis-matched, unanble to install to sd card, or force crashes on version! If its difficult now, imagine in another years time when honeycomb is out with qHD screens and quad-core processors; there will be the 10-30% haves, and the 70-90% have nots running out-moded hardware and 2.1 - 2.2 software!

    • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

      Well, I am actually not too worried about the differences on the hardware. This is what makes Android shine and I definitely don't want to see it go away. Traditionally, software makers have adapted comfortably when there are multiple configurations of hardware available.

      May be next year, there will be a lot of qHD, quad core phones, but game developers could code their games to target different profiles. Yea, it's a mess, but as long as the user base of the Android is large enough, the developers will continue to develop games for us. The key here is, our user base must keep growing, to a point that the competitor's market share look laughable even if it's easier to develop. That's exactly what happens to the PC game industry.

  • abee

    So Chris quits his job because he didn't get an update to the latest and greatest ?!

    those 9 months are going to look really awesome on his resume...

    • http://twitter.com/tokyomonster Chris Dehghanpoor

      Heh. It's not why I left, and this wasn't a job, as much as it was a hobby. I left primarily so I could focus on my full time job that I was balancing along with blog duties.

  • Kindroid

    As far as Google's upgrade strategy is concerned, its the best for Android. Number one reason, most of the buyers coming to the market are still mostly first time smartphone buyers. And among those buyers most are going to be swayed to the latest/greatest phone being advertised and talked about. And Nokia may just have poured gasoline on that fire. The Nokia loyal have been waiting for the first/greatest Meego and now they are being told they will get WP7 sometime down the road ( 6 months maybe). A phone that still has issues with cut and paste and even rudimentary multitasking. That's enough of a case against walled garden OSs' by itself. But that would short change the value of software upgrades fueling hardware upgrades....fueling software upgrades. All fueling phone sales. Which in turn fuels app and game development. For buyers who want prompt upgrades of their Android phone, they should reward OEMs' that do prompt upgrades by buying their phones. Over time this will be more effective in dealing with software fragmentation than Google throttling innovation. Lets face it, not every smartphone buyer knows what version he's on, what features he's missing and probably wouldn't care if he did. Why reign in updates for that buyer?. Thats the beauty of Android, so many choices for the buyer/user. My original Droid was killed after 10 months. Thankfully the Droid was no longer in production, so my phone insurer replaced it with a Droid X, my phone of choice at the time anyway. Had I owned an iPhone 3GS on June 1st and that happened and I needed to replace my phone immediately, what would I have gotten? Last years technology that was 11 months old. As long as Apple continues it's once a year hardware/software cycle, Android is going to continue to pull further away. The nature of Apple's hardware development cycle means it's not cutting edge when it releases. And because Apple only has one phone. And that phone maintains legacy capability for at least a couple of years, the software has some limitation to its ability to utilize the latest hardware technology. Now thats OK for existing iPhone owners and for that group of buyers who don't value rapid innovation. And it may be OK once the dynamics of mobile communications reaches a mature state. But for right now I am going to stay right where I am.

  • Mr.Salve

    This is exactly why i bought the HTC Incredible and vowed not to switch for at least a year when hardware improvements warranted it. The snapdragon processor was the first major step to a finished Android OS. It has made the OS what it is today and I have yet to see anything else in the near future that will change Android as much as the snapdragon did. I will probably buy a new Android in a year when LTE, dual core, and FFC's are the standard.
    With Android I have owned a G1, MT3G, Eris, Droid, and Incredible(GF has the DX). I found that after spending over $2500 on phones in a year I need to be happy with what I have and be picky about my phone choices. The selection won't stop and I think its great that the market is becoming flooded with handsets, you just have to do your research on what to buy based on your wants.

  • http://www.graesen.com Graesen

    Ok, so forgive me if this is completely idiotic as I'm not familiar with the programming side of Android. But... why can't Google handle the OS and push the updates across all phones similar how Windows does? The manufacturer only worries about the drivers and turns their add-ons as market apps, maybe exclusive to their network. I know it hurts things like their custom framework (HTC sense for example). It might make it easier,speedier for the manufacturers to put out their updates. A model closer to that would solve a lot if it's possible.

    • Kindroid

      You knew more than you thought. Each OEM controls implementation to suit their marketing and to optimize on their hardware. Only the OEM can update the Android update to make sure it works right on each handset. Further, Android has progressed so fast in its updates, some handsets just don't have the hardware capability to execute the updated software.

    • http://www.jaduncan.com James Duncan

      This would make me happy. Basically the simple answer for that is that the customer is not you, it is the operator. The operator does not wish you to have control over your own OS. This also suits the phone maker, as you will buy to get new SW rather than keeping the hardware.

      As long as you accept the situation, everyone is happy they control your actions.

  • Tuxedolady

    Yeah, well I've lost my virtual and phone voice trying to get AT&T to even make one update so if Google can flex their muscles to get BIG BROTHER to move I'm all for it. As far as product updates are concerned, yeah guys 1.6 is obsolete.....all the new apps are being written for 2.2 so those of us stuck in the ones are sol. I even went so far as to intimate that AT&T was in cahoots with others to conspire against Android to limit their exposure. For sure, they definitely have a superior product!

  • Sebastian

    I agree with the need for a system for pushing security updates directly to the phones( like every linux distro)

    But that aside from the security part is a crippling need to upgrade I don't see, at least not from my own experience.

    I got a Nexus one day one and rooted day 2 been tinkering with it since and love well how android works for me.

    My Sister got a Galaxy S and I have to ask nicely and promise to be careful to even be allowed to touch it, she loves that phone more than anything.
    Then her boyfriend got a HTC desire and boy did he go off the deep end with that one, he's been over every rom out there and now only runs his homecooked rom and never been happier with a phone.

    mom and older sister X10 Xperia mini owners and very happy.

    father went with a G2 and in his words "best phone I ever used" he used to buy a a phone every 6-8months when the old one where destroyed since he just shoves them down in the pocket with keys etc but with the G2 he got protectors and a deluxe car mount to protect it. Also since he refuses to run Windows on any of his computers he's very happy how well android works with his Ubuntu installations.

    Now this is the strength of Android, we all have different needs and requirements on our phones and Android allows the hardware that suits everyone in our family yet we can still share apps/tips among us!

    That's 3 ex iPhone users and none of us misses it.

    Besides the slow security updates this system creates (and that is serious!) the other isn't really an issue.

    • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

      If this is how you feel, you should be worried. Why? It's obviously that Google doesn't think they need to push out security patch neither. Did you hear them saying anything about the JavaScript security hole besides fixing it in 2.3? No!

      Seriously, it doesn't take a genius to realize that someone will try to exploit this weakness of Android one day. But no one from Google has ever said a word about how they plan to address this problem.

  • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

    By now, we all know what Google's stance on this topic -- they believe the market will work it out.

    In principle, I agree with them. In reality, given the current condition of the mobile market, it will not work in Google's flavor.

    The reason is simple, the mobile market is not a free market.

    We can compare it to the desktop computing market. When you look for a PC, you as a customer, have a lot of freedom. There are Apple, which is an entirely closed system (on both the software and hardware side). There are Linux and DIY PC building, which is completely open. In the middle, you have Windows, which is partially closed. Many components in a PC can be replaced by an easily obtainable component. If your isn't fast enough to play a game, you can upgrade its video card. Not enough memory, buy more RAM. Need more storage, get a bigger hard drive.

    You can't do that with your phone. Almost nothing is upgradable. Some phones don't even accept a microSD card. On top of that, you have the carrier b/w you and the phone makers, which means you can't even move freely from one service provider to another. This ecosystem is closed by nature. Leave it alone, players in the system will only try their best to squeeze as much as money from the playing field they have controls. They know that their tactics will reward them because everyone has to play similar games. They don't need to fear that a new smartphone maker would pop up one day and promise their phone will receive updates for, say, 2 years -- only an idiot will do it because no one else does. Doing so will only put yourself in a situation that worsen your chance to compete.

    That's why Google has to step in. We are not in an ideal world, and things will not play out like they hope.

  • Silver Fang

    This is why I wonder if my D2 will ever see Gingerbread. If the carriers are going to require us to keep a phone for two years, the least they could do is keep it updated.

  • avar

    /rant
    what if CM team become a company specialized in providing CM roms for manufacture dismissed/killed phones ? they are quick in adapting new versions/patches.
    /rant end .
    i never thought they will do. but even if they did there could be legal problems? .
    btw. i own samsung galaxy i9000, from what samsung did with froyo leaked roms i think we'll never see gingerbread on i9000 from samsung ( galaxy s 2 is coming soon ). but hey i got cm7 alpha running on it.

    • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

      >>what if CM team become a company specialized in providing CM roms for manufacture dismissed/killed phones ? they are quick in adapting new versions/patches.

      There could be some legal problems for the CM team itself to become a company.

      The primary problem doesn't come from the ROM but the market app. Rooting a phone is not illegal. Installation of a custom ROM isn't illegal. But distributing the Market app is -- it's not open source. What may be legal is to set up an independent company, separated from CM, that provides installation of CM and support. Before installation of CM, that company will "save" the market app of a particular phone, then after installation of CM, put it back into the phone. This may be legal (I think).

  • http://bit.ly/samirsshah Samir Shah

    The next two years are what I call "excitement years" for smartphones and tablets. Historically, I recall the "excitement years" that started with Windows 3.0 and finally culminated a year after Windows 95 launch. It was "land grab" time for many companies that were in Windows ecosystem.

    Same is true for many companies in the smartphone and tablet space. I will not be surprised if new hardware came every six months and new software every three, I would even recommend that Google go on a three month cycle.

    Google should definitely lean on OEMs and carriers for updates but THAT SHOULD NOT STOP THEM FROM BRINGING NEW VERSIONS OF SOFTWARE EVERY SIX MONTHS, MAYBE EVEN THREE. That is what "excitement years" are all about, "LAND GRAB".

    • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

      I agree. Coming up with a way to update existing devices and slowing down development are two different issues.

      Apple won't slow down, Microsoft won't slow down, even RIM and HP won't slow down. Why would Google do so?

      I also don't agree that the hardware of the smartphones need to have more consistent components or form factors.

      But finding a way to update existing device, at least for security patch, in a more centralized way is a must. I am really disappointed at Google's attitude towards this issue so far. They are avoiding it, not facing it.

      Frankly, I can even accept that the manufacturers won't be forced to update the OS, but they must be forced to deploy bug fixes and security patches made by Google, period. There's no excuses not to do that.

  • http://www.twitter.com/xAndroidAddictx AndroidAddict

    I agree to a point. There does need to be some kind of requirements on the OHA to get updates out to the older devices. I pretty much rely on the hackers of the community to keep my devices up to date, and even that can be a challenge because having enough devs to make a decent ROM is hard. ALL of my Android devices are rooted for the very reason of keeping them as up to date as possible and sadly only one of them is running Gingerbread (Nexus One). I think that either the manufacturers of the phones or the cellular companies putting them out need to make some kind of guarantee that the phones they are selling now are at least going to be kept up to date until our two year contracts are up. Otherwise we are either forced to use outdated software like in the case of the Cliq XT or buy a new device. Although truthfully I think most carriers would rather you buy a new device seeing as the customer service aspect of their businesses is pretty much gone

    • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

      It's not realistic. I think the manufacturers and carriers are treating some of the mid and low end smartphones like a feature phone (the diff now is that the carrier gets to force you to pay for a data plan.) The profit margin of those phones are probably so low that the manufacturers will never be willing to absorb the cost of continuous development. On top of that, how do you define that 2 years lifespan of the phone. If you are the first consumer who purchase the phone, your 2 years will be different from the last one who buys it. Let's say the last one is sold 2 years later, if the manufacturer has to provide update to that last phone also, the total development cycle becomes 4 years, for a low-end device? I doubt any manufacturer will do it.

      As far as I can tell, the best they will be willing to do (if forced), is to provide, at the maximum, OS update within the first year after the phone is released (not after it's purchased.) If there's an OS update within that 1 year, they will be required to update -- how long it will take is hard to put into writing, but if they are required to do that, they have the incentive to finish it as soon as possible.

  • http://camera-control.com Rod

    Guys, the apple model is not good, it´s static, i had a ipod 1G and suffer of same update lack problem! But.. Google model is much more interesting.
    What Google NEED do now, is force carriers to mantain update schedule, its easy. Just put a condition to stay on Open Handset Alliance, the condition is release a update for every model at least 2 years old, and release the update at maximum 2 moths after main release is.(today Ginger 2.3).

    • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

      >> Just put a condition to stay on Open Handset Alliance, the condition is release a update for every model at least 2 years old, and release the update at maximum 2 moths after main release is.(today Ginger 2.3).

      If you look back at most of the comment here, if Google would do that, most of the people who complaint will be satisfied. The problem is, Google doesn't seem to think it's necessary.

      Also, I don't think it's realistic to force a manufacturer to release update within a stated timeframe. Sometimes it's just not possible -- many factors could affect development schedule. Sometimes, one single bug could take week to resolve.

  • Teece

    I can only thank Chris for putting his thoughts on record,
    I do feel the same as yourself to a great extent. I transitioned all my family members to various Android phones and was a keen fan of the OS.

    I have purposely not upgraded my Nexus one to one of the newer phones because I feel that the N1 should be able to handle a few more updates.

    However Google's current strategy regarding any N1 Gingerbread 2.3 upgrade is puzzling, and the silence surrounding any potential firmware upgrade is strange to say the least, it is after all a pure Google Phone so some explanation for any delay would be welcomed by the community.

    Because of what seems to be a strategy of delaying an N1 update in order to help uphold sales of a new Google phone, I have decided to mothball my N1 and try the Windows Phone 7 experience and see how that evolves.

    The sheer amount of new Android phones that are being released is mind boggling and It just seems that the manufacturers just will not have the time, resources or inclination to continually update a multitude of different phone even though they have the same fundamental operating system.

  • Chopper Joe

    There are many thoughtful comments posted but I'd like to mention something that will possibly offend some folks but I'm just expressing a personal opinion.

    I'm reminded of Pogo's "We have met the enemy and it is us."

    1. Right now, there is no downside to releasing a new phone "model" that has some improvement. Add a buzz feature of the week and people will cancel contracts and pay penalties to have the "latest" hardware.

    2. Look at what is happening with tablets. The Galaxy tab comes out, is nothing but a big phone running 2.2, and folks pay a whopping price. Now comes "Xoom" and people can hardly wait.

    We vote with our purchases.

    Personally, I am keeping my EVO until there is a replacement that (a) adds a feature that I really need and (b) is from a manufacturer who has a track record of keeping phones up to date (no Samsung in my future).

    Also, I hope Android folks will keep flocking to the nookColor to force manufacturers to be more realistic about tablet offerings.

  • Todd

    I too have been very frustrated with Google. I think that they should do no more than 1 major upgrade a year -- then, keeping all things the same -- at least the handset makers and carriers have a chance to get out the version before two more versions come out. But I think the model is fundamentally broken. Carriers and Handset makes should NOT be responsible to push out upgrades. Imagine if you had to wait for Dell to upgrade every security upgrade and Windows upgrade? I can understand that there is technological issues right now with hardware customization but perhaps Google/Android needs to rethink their software -- perhaps they need to virtualize the OS and run a hypervisor on the phone. Let them make the manufacturer skins something like Stardock was to Windows XP-- a true overlay of functionality that sits on TOP of the base. In that way Google could simply push out releases and upgrades directly without worrying so much about it breaking base functionality. Second, Google needs to get a customer service department. I had a friend who upgraded an older Samsung model to 2.1 and along the upgrade it lost his Google GMail preferences. Unfortunately, my friend, not being tech savvy had his Gmail setup at Sprint, never logged onto it from the web, had only actually sent and received a few emails. But he did have about 70 contacts he kept solely in Gmail. Trying to get a password recovery out of Google was futile. There was no one to call and no one to help. Although I don't really like Apple products other than my iPods, I will say that when I had an issue with Apple using all my machine allocations under their DRM (hard drive crash) -- I was able to call someone and they were able to immediately help me, reset my machine counters and get me back and running in less than 10 minutes.

    Finally, Google's got to do something about security in the Market. How Google thinks that putting what an app uses from a security standpoint up and that users must approve it is insane. Sorry -- Pandora needs SMS information why? That's not a security model. They could have an approval option that stated -- I am maleware and will access your phone to dial 900 numbers and people will still install it. I would think at least that Devs should state exactly WHY they need any special phone access. There should be more granularity (What the h*ll does "Read phone state and identity" mean to anyone? And why does a specific app need that?)

    So yeah, totally in agreement. Slow down the major upgrades to concentrate on quality. Have them ready when you announce them and get it out next to immediately to your supported Dev phones (Hey, why does my Nexus 1 not have GB? We're 2 months past when Google stated "It will be there in a few weeks").

    Oh, and have someone pick up and fix real bugs instead of waiting for a sh*t storm of bad publicity with the SMS bug -- or sit on not fixing something as simple as the fact that the DELETE folder in the mail application sync for files in but NOT files OUT -- so if you don't know this, you can end up like me with 2000+ "deleted" email messages that didn't delete when I deleted them from my sync'd inbox still sitting and eating my phone resources up -- and guess what -- no one though of "delete all" in an email app -- so I had to one by one by one delete 2000 emails from my deleted folder. And then come to to find out this has been a known bug since the email app existed. (regular email, not the gmail app). And to what I can see, not one Google employee has even peeked at the original incident and long change of comments following. Kinda like the SMS bugs.

  • Andy Droid

    I simply do not understand the upgrade entitlement some people have. If you want upgrades every year to to the latest feature the iPhone should have had years ago, by all means go apple. If you want a full featured phone out of the box go android. Just don't bitch and complain that your Android 2.2 phone doesn't have 2.3 the day google announces it. The jumps between 2.1,2.2,and 2.3 are extremely minor (flash support aside). What has fundamentally changed in these updates that make you say, oh man I NEED that right now?
    This guy just needs to get over it, who cares if your phone is behind the latest phone out there, it ALWAYS will be, you have to be happy with what you have.

    • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

      Why? I am using CM7 on my original Droid right now. Even though it's a nightly build, it's at least 10% to 20% faster than my previous production Froyo running on exactly the same hardware. Everything just runs smoother by jumping from 2.2 to 2.3, a 0.1 version upgrade. Even Google itself admitted that phones that run 2.2 should run faster with 2.3, but the chance my Droid will see the day of 2.3 is next to ZERO. How old is my Droid? I bought it last Feb. 1 year old, and it's abandoned by Motorola and Verizon like it has never existed.

      Look, if you read my comments above, I am a very reasonable person when it comes to upgrade policy. I am fine that if my Droid would never see 2.3. At least, Motorola keeps its promise and update it to Froyo. But there are serious problems when it comes to bug fixes and security patches. It's a bomb waiting to be exploded. Just ignoring such problems exist will not solve them.

  • Tuxedolady

    So you say, Andy Droid boy. When you're stuck in 1.6 the LEAP to 2.2 is a huge deal. The idea of this write up is that Google needs to get on board to get suppliers like AT&T who have NEVER issued an upgrade to any android version make them get on board. I'm sorry if you think that makes me "feel" entitled but quite frankly those of us stuck with 1.6 are entitled when all of the new apps are written for 2.0 or greater. Deal with it & get on board with the movement!

    • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

      And there are also mortal souls like us who can't afford to upgrade our phones every 6 months ... well, some of us may not even have the budget to upgrade every 2 years!

  • Bobba

    You don't need to switch to Apple to have the simplicity you desire. You just need to take a step back...relax...and enjoy your 2.2 phone just as it is.

    I agree with a previous poster, obsolescence is not at all an accurate word here. What about android 2.3 suddenly renders 2.2 obsolete? Does it still make calls? Does it still do 99.9% that 2.3 will do? So it's not obsolete at all.

    Apple gets to release a new phone and new software once a year. Maybe you should just relax and expect that Android updates will come once a year. The reality is that most new phones will get at least one update within 6 months to year. That's better than Apples update schedule, yet why do they get flamed for having a faster release schedule than apple?

    And do you not know that almost all of the major updates are available on the marketplace? Updates to Google Maps, Google Search and Gmail, have all occured through the marketplace so most can enjoy without a major upgrade. Is sufficient cred being given to google for doing that?

    I realized myself when I was burned out much as you are...I just had to take a step back, enjoy the ROM that I have, and just enjoy using my phone without going nuts for the latest and greatest updates.

    I truly think that we are driving ourselves nuts with this stuff. If you stop and think about it, it's pretty nuts the expectations we have that our cell phones will be updated 2-3 times per year. I think in large part it is our expectations that are the cause for the let down.

    And everyone please remember, Google creates Android and gives it to the Open Handset Alliance for free. That's where their involvement in Android begins and ends. From there it is up to equipment manufacturers to adopt and implement and upgrade Android as they see fit. Blaming Google for this I think shows a misunderstanding of how this all works. Unlike a PC, where you are the final gatekeeper to what OS you install on your machine, with portable devices, the device manufacturer is the gatekeeper. If you want to get pissed, you should be pissed at them.

  • favosys

    I gotta agree with some of the latests posts here and disagree with Chris' letter. What you gotta understand is that it took iPhone 4 years to get to where they are now. For years and years iPhone users begged for features that Apple refused to give them. Now thanks to Android, Apple has improved there iOS severely. At the same time Android users have gotten tons of features in just one or one and a half years. Yes the phone companies don't release timely updates but:

    1. You can't compare making a software for one, two or three iOS devices to making software for like 100+ Android devices. Obviously it will take time to customize each one.
    2. It's open software so this is acknowledged and accepted. When you buy an Android phone specially if you're a technical person you know that it will work in all the basic things a phone does. You may or may not be able to update it, this is expected. If your not technical then you'll just use the phone as is and it will work.
    3. What's the deal with updating? Specially to gingerbread. As some people have explained the differences are minimal. I got an LG GT540 for my GF and updated to 2.1. For me I got an LG GW620 and updated to Froyo. They're practically the exact same thing, I see no difference whatsover except app2sd so I rooted and installed link2sd on the 2.1 and problem solved, apps on the SD card.
    So updating doesn't have to be a do or die thing plus you can get features from the new versions in old versions. I've seen articles about getting the new 2.3 keyboard on Froyo or getting the new market place on Froyo.

    There are reasons to leave Android, my GW620 is pretty slow, specially compared to the GT540 which is very fast. It sometimes crashes, I don't really know if the GPS works, the ADW launcher or something crashes too... but leave Android cause I don't have gingerbread? That really makes no sense. Have you seen the google gingerbread release video? Cause I saw it like 5 days ago and it was so un-important that I barely remember what they said. I think there's a new API for making better games or core programming something like that I didn't even get it and I'm a programmer. Nothing in the video made me say OMG I need 2.3 now or my life will be sad and miserable.

    I have always hated Apple and their business model. I wouldn't change my Android and my freedom for anything in the world.

    I will always prefer being subjected to what the Android community can offer me with their hard effort timely or not (For free cause nobody pays them). Then being subjected to what one highly overpaid insane person (Steve jobs, he's on leave but let's say Steve Jobs for the sake of argument) will force me to have. And will force me not to have because he takes as much as he gives in order to keep his sheeps in order.

    100.000+ Android phones are sold every day. If you want to leave then leave... we got millions more. Everybody is welcome to come and go, that's what freedom is about. Of course I have a factory unlocked Android phone. You on the other side might be looking at a 2 year contract and in a year the new phone will come up so you'll have to either be be outdated for a year or pay a hefty fee to change your phone for which you already paid (200 + (100*6)) 800 dollars but anyway you do have a choice between AT&T and Verizon I really can't say which one is worse, did you see that CNET video explaining why the iPhone on verizon sucks even more? Oh it's a good one: http://cnettv.cnet.com/reasons-skip-verizon-iphone-4/9742-1_53-50099578.html?tag=api

  • sal

    The evo and epic 4g are the top android phones on sprint. I don't buy the argument of tieing in a 50 dollar pos barely running 1.6 with top of the line 300 dollar + releases... htc promised the 2.2 upgrade for the evo and they delivered. Samsung has time and time again vaguely dismissed us with empty promises and false selling points. This is there flagship phone, this is not tommys tech company next to larrys sub shop on broad street it's samsung and there is no reason why there top selling and top of the line phones have no support for 2.2....no reasoning for pushbacks and delays except vague promises. Promises which have no weight when you think about the pre launch 2.2 statements the company has made.

    Google is giving them the software for free... as a term of the companies taking there software it will remain stock android and will have all provider-ware accessible on market or provider websites. Running 1.6 or flashless 2.1 does not help the open argument. I love the platform but that whole open argument is a copout when it comes to timely updates. No excuse again I know updating the jalopi cheap phones with old hardware is out of the question but the flagships should remain updated.

  • Cameron

    So instead of staying in ecosystem that is growing by leaps and bounds which has these sorts of growing pains the plan is to unplug and move over to static ecosystem that has little true development by comparison. Then to launch a watered down multi-paragraph diatribe about said move seems a bit self involved to me. IMO, skip the its you not me speech and just leave if you are going to leave. Otherwise, stay and appreciate Android as a true marvel to come so far so quickly while still promoting growth both inside and outside of its environment. If you cannot reconcile that with these growth pains, then you do need a well groomed product that offers little in the way of excitement other than an annual product announcement with a couple new features.

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