Recently Motorola talked about the difficulty and complexity of updating the operating system on phones, placing the blame for the ‘expectations game’ squarely on Google and how they choose to roll things out:
When Google does a release of the software … they do a version of the software for whatever phone they just shipped. The rest of the ecosystem doesn’t see it until you see it. Hardware is by far the long pole in the tent, with multiple chipsets and multiple radio bands for multiple countries. It’s a big machine to churn.
So when Google released Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich a few months ago alongside the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, it was sort of like the way Apple does things – it was designed, optimized and released for exactly one phone. Then they simply cast it out to the world to deal with.
The expectations game is that people think that once the new OS is released, hardware makers will immediately begin working on implementing it on new releases. I have said as much, that releasing a Gingerbread phone after the end of (calendar) Q1 2012 is simply unacceptable. Well, I would take that further and say that making users buying a phone that was brand new in Q1 wait beyond the end of Q2 is also unacceptable.
I guess that means I have a decision to make … because I just got a Motorola Droid 4 and Motorola just released a timeline of updates that doesn’t even have an estimated roll-out for any of their recent high-profile releases! Here is the list:
As you can see, there are some phones identified for Q2 (business, not calendar), some for Q3 (April – June), and others in the limbo of “Evaluation & Planning, Further details to follow.” Those include the Droid Razr, Razr Maxx and Droid 4 among others.
I look at it this way: if a new version of Windows was releasing on July 1st, you would expect hardware vendors to have been playing with it for a while and to offer an upgrade path. If a laptop came out on October 1st and had no path to an update and no indication if there ever would be an update … the product would be a commercial disaster. Yet that is exactly where we are (once again) with Android.
Many said that ‘Ice Cream Sandwich will fix fragmentation’. Well, time to meet reality – it didn’t happen. And I am with Motorola on this one – it is all on Google. If Google is interest in the end-user (i.e. us), they need to work with hardware makers before, during and after the release of new software. But again, Google isn’t in this for the end user … or even for helping the handset maker or carriers. They really don’t care about any of that stuff. How do I know? Their actions are 100% consistent – and have nothing to do with ensuring customer satisfaction, helping handset makers build loyalty, or easing things for carriers.
Android has massive market share, make no mistake … but think back to 2006 when the market divided into RIM, Windows Mobile and Symbian. And while I love my Droid 4, it came loaded with crapware – like 99% of Android phones – after one day it has already been altered to work around definciencies of Gingerbread. It is SO MUCH like the HTC Touch Pro 2 from 2009!