Mobile
Commentary
2/16/2012
11:05 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
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Motorola's Messy Ice Cream Sandwich Speaks Volumes On Android

Motorola says that many owners of its most popular devices will have to wait as long as six months for Android 4.0 updates. The Android update model is clearly broken.

Android system updates have been a contentious issue for as long as the platform has existed on more than one device. The newest system available from Google, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, was announced in October, and Google released the code to its manufacturer partners in November. So far, only one smartphone--the Galaxy Nexus--is shipped with Android 4.0 on board.

Motorola has brought a number of new smartphones in the last few months to market, including the Droid Razr, Razr Maxx, and Droid 4. All three phones, sold by Verizon Wireless, were sold with the promise that they'd be updated from Android 2.3 Gingerbread to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

According to Motorola, those updates won't arrive until the third quarter of this year.

The company provided an update to its update schedule on Wednesday, and the outlook is bleak. The vast majority of Motorola's Android smartphones are looking at a four- to nine-month wait for the latest system software to become available. In the meantime, smartphone makers will begin to bring Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich smartphones to market and they'll be in numerous supply by the time the third quarter comes around.

[ Check out 10 Epic Android Apps. ]

Other manufacturers, notably HTC and Sony, have committed to slightly less awful time frames for updating their devices to Android 4.0, but we're still looking at months and not weeks before those updates show up.

The pattern is repeating. The same thing happened when Android Gingerbread arrived in December 2010. Smartphone makers promised to update Android 2.2 devices to Android 2.3. Guess what, those updates are still being delivered 14 months later. You can bet the bulk of Android phones that ship during the first half of 2012 with Android 2.3 won't see Android 4.0 until late in 2012 the earliest.

Why does this take so long? As Motorola explains, the process is not a simple one. First, it has to decide exactly what devices are going to be updated, evaluate whether they can be updated, and then make the necessary plans to devote the resources to make it happen. Only then do developers get to work writing the code. Now, the code needs to be tweaked for different screen sizes and resolutions, for different processors and baseband radios, for different chip makers, and on and on.

Once the code is complete, it goes to wireless network operators for testing. This step in the process can take months. Only after carrier testing is complete is the software offered to customers. The whole process, from start to finish, can take three to six or more months, and, according to hardware makers, can cost almost as much as developing the original system for the device.

I have to ask, why the hell bother at all?

Don't get me wrong, I want the latest and greatest system software on my phone, too. But considering all the time and resources it costs the manufacturers--which could otherwise be spent on developing new products--the effort hardly seems worth it. Moreover, by the time the updates are available, the devices and even the software itself has been outdated by newer, better stuff.

The Android update model is clearly broken. It doesn't serve anyone: not the handset makers, not the carriers, and least of all not the owners of Android devices who are stuck waiting ages for the updates to arrive.

Although I'd argue that every smartphone deserves the best and newest software, the idea has its practical limitations. We appear to have reached them.

I say bag the whole system-level update thing. Device makers and carriers do need to provide maintenance and security updates to keep smartphones running their best and safest, but I think smartphone owners need to simply get used to the idea of owning outdated software. If you want the brand-newest mobile platform, buy a device that has it installed from the get-go. Otherwise, don't get upset if it is almost a year before your device is updated.

The other alternative: Google needs to devise a way so core system updates can be provided independently of manufacturer and carrier control.

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rayanclouds1
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rayanclouds1,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/4/2012 | 4:21:11 PM
re: Motorola's Messy Ice Cream Sandwich Speaks Volumes On Android
Some of these updates donG«÷t even do what they claim to! I remember waiting an eternity for the last Android update , as said in the cloud computing blog ,that G«£promisedG«• to decrease some of the lag I was getting when I switched apps. As you can guess, I noticed absolutely no difference in the performance of my device after the update.
JGRIMM631
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JGRIMM631,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/20/2012 | 11:54:01 PM
re: Motorola's Messy Ice Cream Sandwich Speaks Volumes On Android
Gigaom pointed me to a CNN article about the US Gov going with Android for all secure smartphones because 1. Apple refused to participate and 2. Android was shown to be able to push a secure update in 2 weeks.

If the Gov can do this in 2 weeks and the Industry can not, it shows that there is a profit incentive to not push timely updates. People complain about not getting the update, but instead of rooting the phone or learning to live with what they have, they reward the Industry by purchasing a new phone.
Jonathan142857
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Jonathan142857,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/17/2012 | 11:13:29 PM
re: Motorola's Messy Ice Cream Sandwich Speaks Volumes On Android
It does speak volumes of Android that in order to get a quality experience you have to root your phone's OS. Talk about not working out of the box.
Jonathan142857
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Jonathan142857,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/17/2012 | 11:08:02 PM
re: Motorola's Messy Ice Cream Sandwich Speaks Volumes On Android
"I think smartphone owners need to simply get used to the idea of owning outdated software."

I think you mean ANDROID owners. A complete lack of OS updates is just one of the many features of Android that you need not simply get used to, when you can buy an iPhone or a Windows Phone, two platforms that get this right.
EVVJSK
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EVVJSK,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/17/2012 | 8:38:08 PM
re: Motorola's Messy Ice Cream Sandwich Speaks Volumes On Android
Flexibility and choice are inherently complex. What this is likely to do is cause some vendors to realize they don't need to make 10 models of phone, but maybe 3 or 4 (if the U.S. were a GSM only country, some of the complexity would also go away, but Sprint and Verizon adding CDMA into the mix and now LTE only complicates the issue). Also, I agree with some that if it takes a while to get the new OS, that isn't the end of the world. After getting ICS/4.0 out the door there should be an easing in future upgrade requirements as the table and phone OS will likely be less fragmented. I would use the term cumbersome before I would use the term broken to describe the process.
ANewNickname
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ANewNickname,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/17/2012 | 8:33:46 PM
re: Motorola's Messy Ice Cream Sandwich Speaks Volumes On Android
"People bought the phone working as it is."? It hasn't worked since I bought it. The uninstallable apps from Verizon clutter up and already shaky system, and probaby further inhibit Android updating.
ANewNickname
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ANewNickname,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/17/2012 | 8:31:09 PM
re: Motorola's Messy Ice Cream Sandwich Speaks Volumes On Android
The other alternative: Google needs to devise a way so core system updates can be provided independently of manufacturer and carrier control.

That's what I want, otherwise I'm going back to an iPhone.
whatever!!!
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whatever!!!,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/17/2012 | 1:29:10 PM
re: Motorola's Messy Ice Cream Sandwich Speaks Volumes On Android
Ok i am not a professional in this field but just a consumer. This is what i have noticed. Promise the customers a new flashy shiny toy by a date...then push it back as so to increase demand, then when you get the new shiny toy it has old software version running it and you get another promise of update timeline. This too gets pushed back...then when you finally get the new version of software it takes about 2-3 weeks for all the issues to start...like
texting keyboard freezing up,
camera locking up,
camcorder video loss from freezing up,
NO 3G at all so no data connection,
loss of ability to actually call out when 3G glitch happens,
CONSTANT battery pulls to reset all issues
and oh by the way you are past your 30 days so you are now STUCK with this "updated" POS!!!
CHARLOW201
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CHARLOW201,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/17/2012 | 1:18:58 PM
re: Motorola's Messy Ice Cream Sandwich Speaks Volumes On Android
Actually, you are the one rationalizing.

Only a small percentage of people care about having the latest OS. The point is perfectly valid. People bought the phone working as it is. Unless that phone has serious issues doing what they want or need it to do, the majority simply don't care about the latest OS.

Clearly it is important to you (one of the small percentage). I strongly advise that you get off the treadmill.
Steve Hillshire
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Steve Hillshire,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/17/2012 | 3:12:44 AM
re: Motorola's Messy Ice Cream Sandwich Speaks Volumes On Android
The author is completely wrong in the title of this article. The update mess does not speak volumes about Android. Android in its pure form always has been historically updated on a timely schedule. Look at the original Droid. That thing got updates quickly. Of course that is before Motorola joined the "Android phone of the month" club. Motorola took care of that phone and made sure it remained on top for approximately a year after its release. What's the difference between that and a Motorola phone today? MOTOBLOAT! The carrier isn't to blame either. Droid 1 updates came on time with no real delays. That tells me it is NOT the carrier. Its all about their crappy UI that bogs the living daylights out of what would otherwise be a great speedy piece of hardware running Android. This is all about the OEM and their insistence that what you REALLY need is another new phone, not a really good phone.

Pure Android + unlocked bootloader = future-proof beyond what Apple can even hope to accomplish. THAT speaks volumes to Android.
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