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11/18/2013
11:40 AM
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Android OS Updates: Don't Hold Your Breath

Google has started making KitKat, the latest Android update, available to some mobile devices. But if you've been promised an upgrade, prepare to wait.

Google Barge: 10 Informative Images
Google Barge: 10 Informative Images
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Last week, Google said it had begun seeding the Android 4.4 KitKat system update to the Nexus 7 tablet. So far, few Nexus 7 owners have received the new operating system. If you're wondering where the update is, keep in mind that Google doesn't operate like Apple. Android system updates are rolled out gradually.

For better or worse, Apple has set the standard for providing system-level updates to its iOS devices. When Apple says iOS X.x is ready, pretty much every iOS device owner can download and install it right away. This is why such a huge percentage of iOS devices are running the latest version of the operating system. iOS 7, for example, saw incredible uptake in late September and early October after it was made available -- the adoption rate was estimated at about 60 percent in the first month or so. Apple deserves kudos for this, because it sidesteps manufacturer and carrier approval processes and gets the newest software to users in a timely fashion.

Android just doesn't work that way.

Google announced the Nexus 5 smartphone a couple of weeks ago. It shipped with Android 4.4. KitKat, which is the newest version of Android available. Google promised to provide Android 4.4 KitKat to the Nexus 4 smartphone as well as to the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 tablets within a few weeks. True to its word, the company said that KitKat is ready for the N7.

[ For more on Google's KitKat launch, see Google Pushes Android KitKat To Nexus Tablets. ]

I own both the 2012 and 2013 Nexus 7 tablets. So far, neither has received the update. When Google offered Android 4.3 Jelly Bean to the 2012 Nexus 7 tablet earlier this year, the update didn't hit my tablet for several weeks after Google made the announcement. For whatever reason, Android updates trickle out; they don't gush. The same scenario is likely to play out when Google makes KitKat available to the Nexus 4 and the Nexus 10. In other words, a bit of patience is required if you want to install the update over the air.

There are options, however. Users with a little command line know-how can download the factory image of KitKat for the Nexus 7, which is available directly from Google, and install the new operating system manually. The Android 4.4 factory images for all the Nexus-branded devices (including the Nexus 4, 5, 7, and 10) can be found here. If you want directions on the best way to do it, you can find some here. (Please do this at your own risk, InformationWeek assumes no responsibility if you brick your device.)

Android 4.4 will hit some other devices soon. For example, Motorola said that it will push Android 4.4 to the Moto X handset within weeks. Keep in mind, however, that wireless network operators, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, will need to approve the update for their individual versions of the Moto X before the update is actually delivered to end users. This process can take from days to months.

Same goes for the HTC One. HTC committed to delivering KitKat to its One smartphone, but all the carriers will need to approve the software first. If you're using the Google Play Edition HTC One, KitKat will arrive a bit sooner. HTC submitted its build of KitKat for the Play Edition of the One to Google last week. Assuming the code is clean, Google can begin pushing KitKat out to the Play Edition One shortly. Google hasn't made any such announcements just yet.

The upshot: When the manufacturer says an update is on the way to your Android device, don't expect it to arrive immediately -- or even soon.

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Tom Murphy
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Tom Murphy,
User Rank: Author
11/18/2013 | 12:03:19 PM
Why is this so?
Please excuse a naive question, but why does this happen with Adroid and not other OS systems?  Microsoft, for example, makes updates available for all devices that are "update-ready" -- does Google lack a standards program like that?
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