Fragmandroid: Google's Android Update Alliance is already dead

Discussion in 'Apple, Inc and Tech Industry' started by *LTD*, Dec 18, 2011.

  1. *LTD* macrumors G4


    Feb 5, 2009

    Google's Android Update Alliance Is Already Dead

    At the Google I/O conference in May, many Android phone vendors and U.S. wireless carriers made a long-awaited promise: From then on, any new Android phone would receive timely OS updates for at least 18 months following launch, as part of the then newly christened Google Update Alliance.

    The back story: If you own an Android phone, you may have watched with frustration as a new version of the OS hit the market. It's almost never clear if your phone will ever get that upgrade—unlike with iOS or Windows Phones, which always get all upgrades (providing they meet the right hardware requirements). With Android, it seems to depend on the phone vendor, the specific model, the wireless carrier, the Android version itself, and whether Google sent the carrier an inflatable plastic food product as a token of its appreciation that week. Worse—and much to our chagrin—sometimes vendors make promises to customers before the sale that they don't keep once you own the phone.

    Many factors contribute to this. But custom versions of Android are the key culprit, either thanks to vendor-specific enhancements (like HTC Sense, Motorola MotoBlur, and Samsung's TouchWiz, though LG, Pantech, Casio, and other vendors do it too), or carrier-specific enhancements of a more dubious nature (such as unnecessary preloaded bloatware and changes to default apps). These changes require many programming hours not just to make in the first place, but to also support and upgrade down the road—resources the carrier would rather throw at making new phones to sell you.

    So the Google Update Alliance was a breath of fresh air. It sounded like everyone would finally come together, streamline their OS update timelines, and stop jerking around their customers. The thing is, while the Google Update Alliance ended up being one of the biggest stories to come out of Google I/O, we've heard almost nothing about it since then. You can bet we weren't just going to forget about it and pretend it never happened—especially after the release of Google Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which is a huge leap in UI design and overall performance.

    So seven months in, we thought we'd circle back and ask all those vendors an important question: How's it going? Here's what they had to say—and unfortunately, it's not at all good:

    Motorola: "We are planning to upgrade Droid Razr Motorola Razr, Motorola Xoom (including Family Edition) and Droid Bionic by Motorola to Ice Cream Sandwich. As we add other devices to this list, we'll be sure to keep you in the loop." They ignored our specific question about the Photon 4G, the Atrix 2, the Droid 3, the Droid X2, and the Admiral, and our follow-up question that if not, how Motorola would reconcile this with the pledge it made back in May.

    Samsung: "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." Our question about the Samsung Captivate Glide, the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, the Samsung Conquer 4G, and the Samsung Exhibit 4G was ignored, as was our follow-up question about the company keeping its Google I/O pledge.

    Sprint: "Sprint will begin to rollout Google's latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, to our customers in early 2012. Ice Cream Sandwich will be available via an over-the-air update to a variety of devices, including HTC EVO 3D, HTC EVO Design 4G and other key products in our line-up. Please stay tuned for more details and exact timing." Our question about the Motorola Photon 4G, the LG Marquee, and the Samsung Conquer 4G was ignored, as was (you guessed it) our follow-up question about holding to the Google I/O pledge.

    T-Mobile: We asked T-Mobile about the myTouch 4G, myTouch Q, LG DoublePlay, and Samsung Galaxy S II. "T-Mobile is coordinating with Google to deliver Android 4.0. While we don't have any information to share regarding the devices you noted ... we'll let you know when we have more details to share," a spokesperson said in response, but T-Mobile did not mention anything about Google I/O, either.

    Verizon Wireless: A spokesperson confirmed two existing upgrade announcements for the HTC Rezound and the Droid RAZR, but couldn't release any more information at this time. Our questions about the Samsung Stratosphere, the Motorola Droid 3, the LG Revolution, and the HTC Droid Incredible 2, and the Google I/O pledge in general all went unanswered.
    (Note: We didn't ask Sony Ericsson, since it is the only vendor that has publicly committed to upgrading its entire 2011 Xperia line. AT&T, HTC, and LG didn't respond to our requests for comment in time for publication; we'll update this story if we hear back. Of the three, HTC is far ahead, as it has pledged Ice Cream Sandwich updates for almost every recent Android phone it has released; only the HTC Rhyme was left out, which is what we asked about.)
    View SlideshowSee all (18) slides

    To put it mildly, this doesn't look encouraging. The original promise wasn't about a vendor evaluating if it would issue an upgrade, or about letting us know sometime next year when it made a decision. It was that hardware permitting, all Android devices would get OS updates in a reasonable amount of time within the first 18 months.

    Yet, as we close 2011 and head into 2012, we're still running into the same confused messaging, empty promises, and delayed announcements that have plagued Android OS updates from the beginning. This means that for all intents and purposes, the Google Android Update Alliance is already dead.

    What's strange is that if you look at devices released before May 2011, which technically wouldn't qualify for the Android Update Alliance pledge, some vendors have actually promised Ice Cream Sandwich updates for those older devices. LG, for example, recently promised updates for its popular Optimus line, despite its 2010 launch and 600MHz processors. (We were thinking 1-GHz single-core as a baseline for Ice Cream Sandwich, since we've seen official demos of actual devices with that class of chip running Android 4.0.)

    Sadly, our hopes for reduced Android fragmentation may not pan out. It will never disappear entirely, of course. By definition, there will always be issues with third-party app compatibility, because Android devices support multiple screen resolutions, button layouts, and a wide array of CPUs. But a stable, consistent OS version available across all current model phones would have helped both consumers and developers tremendously—not to mention all of the other benefits you'd get with each OS update. Unfortunately, it looks like we're still not going to get that reassurance.


    Once again, universal licensing and loss of control of the main product are what continues to contribute - years later - to the same problem that has always plagued Google: Android fragmentation, that seems to get worse and multiply in the wake of an increasing number of different devices churned out by different OEMs, with custom versions of Android, different form factors, all running on a variety of carriers with different policies.

    Too many cooks spoil the soup.

    There is no overarching vision, no centralized control of Android, mainly because Google doesn't care about that. It all comes down to Google's priorities, what they care about in tech. Everything, in fact, boils down to a question of priorities. What's important to you? What motivates you? For Google, it isn't the user. If it was, they would pull Android from OEMs and assume total control of their own product and forget this whole "open" fantasy. What Google does care about is enriching their *other* revenue streams by simply using devices as vehicles to that effect. Phones, tablets, and anything else that runs Android are really only incidental and totally subject to this goal.

    It's all the same to Google, because at the end of the day, this strategy results in some heavy (and heavily-padded) market share numbers. So they can go right ahead and perpetuate the notion that Android is "winning", even though there is nothing really behind it (certainly not profit), except every OEM one can think of pushing volume at the expense of everything else.

    What is not an illusion, however, is the race to the bottom. That is very real. And Android users are along for the ride.
  2. ChazUK macrumors 603


    Feb 3, 2008
    Essex (UK)
    Wirelessly posted (Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 4.0.1; en-gb; Galaxy Nexus Build/ITL41F) AppleWebKit/534.30 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Mobile Safari/534.30)

    This, is why I primarily buy Nexus phones.

    I do feel it is bad that the teams at Cyanogenmod and the like will achieve more regarding software updates and support than many carriers/OEMs.
  3. vitzr macrumors 68030


    Jul 28, 2011
    One writers opinion based on a very broad set of variables.

    While having the latest version of the OS is appealing to many of us, a recent study revealed what Apple already knows. Most mainstream users don't know what an OS is, nor do they care.

    Or like many people here like to say "it's not all about specs". Very true.

    I maintain that Apple is already on top, and has been when it comes to profit per unit, for quite some time. What's to be concerned with?

    Apple has the premier Eco-System, the reputation, the "cool factor", and a world class marketing program.

    There's nothing new of consequence, and no serious challengers on the horizon.

    It's as simple as that. Nothing to be concerned with.

    Tim Cook has the upper hand, and _that's_ not_ about to change anytime soon. Count on it.
  4. *LTD* thread starter macrumors G4


    Feb 5, 2009
    Yes, and others have mentioned this as well. Good point.

    Now, given that, would you prefer Google pull it all in under their roof, and put everything they have in to the Nexus line?

    (Which also, by the way, means no Android for Samsung.)

    Or would a better strategy be to cut out a lot of the "other" OEMS and restrict Android to in-house, Samsung, and perhaps HTC? After all, Motorola is now Google's baby.
  5. macking104 macrumors 6502


    Jan 14, 2003
    California, USA
  6. Stike macrumors 65816


    Jan 31, 2002
    "It's a zoo!!" - Steve Jobs about other smart phones, 2007

    And he is still right.
  7. Steve121178 macrumors 601


    Apr 13, 2010
    Bedfordshire, UK
    The vast majority of end users don't care what version it's running, as long as it works they are happy.

    A lot of people I know will just get a new phone every 1-2 years and won't even update their apps. So what do they care of it's running Android v2, v3 or v4?

    It's only people like us who actually understand technology that have an opinion on the matter.
  8. neiltc13 macrumors 68040


    May 27, 2006
    This is going to become less and less important in future as the operating systems get more and more developed.

    We've already seen that Apple, Google etc are scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas, so if in a couple of years time you buy a phone with iOS 7 or Android 6 and you don't ever get an upgrade, who cares? What will you be missing?
  9. RawBert macrumors 68000


    Jan 19, 2010
    North Hollywood, CA
    My iPad 1 has been great from the day I bought it (launch day). But it has only gotten better and better with each update. About the only thing I didn't like before was that I had to backup on my Mac. With iOS 5 and iCloud, I don't need to worry about it and I have a new backup every night - instead of every couple of months. I welcome new iOS updates.
    My wife's android phone hasn't been updated since she got it - about a year and a half ago.
  10. gkarris macrumors 604


    Dec 31, 2004
    "No escape from Reality..."
    An "Open Platform" includes modding the OS to suite your own needs/hardware... :eek:

  11. ravenvii macrumors 604


    Mar 17, 2004
    Melenkurion Skyweir
    [BRLawyer/*LTD* imitation]

    Android is dead. DEAD!

    So is Microsoft!

    So is Samsung!


    [/BRLawyer/*LTD* imitation]
  12. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus


    Jan 9, 2004
    Grand Rapids, MI, USA
    Maybe they come up with some sort of Android Premier program where devices with the logo have enhanced update pledges, etc, and other people put Android on their devices, but who knows what you'll get.

    Your threads are usually a lot of melodrama about how Apple has the game wrapped in the bag :p , but I do have to agree that Android is a zoo, and as a prospective buyer, this whole issue of carrier-limited upgrading of the OS would be a major detractor to me. They've gotta do something. ICS sounds like it's actually fairly impressive, and I would be pretty upset if I had a device as recent as 18 mos old and it wasn't supported, when iOS 5 runs on 2+-year-old 3GS's.
  13. Consultant macrumors G5


    Jun 27, 2007
    Malware is a real problem on Android that is made worst by lack of updates / security updates.
  14. entatlrg macrumors 68040


    Mar 2, 2009
    Waterloo & Georgian Bay, Canada
    Nice spin there;)

    But not the point of the article.
  15. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    Same here, I think there's a huge advantage to get the vanilla version of android straight from google.

    I bought a Droidx when it came out, it was already shipping with an old versino of android and it took them until 3 more months to release the update. Unfortunately that update was so buggy, yet I had to wait another 3 months for the fix. I'll never buy a motorola phone, unless google provides the updates directly (that is after the merger they rely on google programmers)
  16. vitzr macrumors 68030


    Jul 28, 2011
    Actually as I see it, there are two points here.

    1) The point of the linked article, ie: Android fragmentation continues to exist despite the earlier agreement of the "Update Alliance".

    2) The point brought forth by the OP, assuring we would all see the article.

    Conversely had someone posted a similar analysis of some Apple or iOS shortcoming for the purpose of discusion, it's highly likely that person would be labeled a troll, as well as being accused of starting a flame war.

    My point was not to spin it, but to Apply the predominate thinking in AppleLand. To remind them of the often repeated, much loved Apple refrain, "it's not about the specs" ie: fragmented or not, the latest top of the line Androids are excellent, as is the iPhone 4S.

    Furthermore it hardly matters now that both camps are targeting the same mass market consumer, and Apples "it's not about specs" logic applies to both platforms.

    I have the latest & best iPhone 4S, as well as the latest & best Android, the Samsung Galaxy S II. I find them each outstanding for their various strengths. Therefore in my mind it's the consumer that benefits from the competition between them.

    Personally I celebrate the differences between the two, it keeps things interesting :)
  17. 0dev macrumors 68040


    Dec 22, 2009
    Indeed, there was actually an app made for Android which finds other Android phones on your network and exploits them, as a proof of concept to show how easy it is. Security is a real problem when you lag behind on updates.

    As others have said, I'd only ever buy a Nexus Android phone.
  18. juliusaugustus macrumors regular


    Oct 8, 2011
    It is funny that people always complain about fragmentation even though many of those who complain about it aren't even Android users or own multiple devices. I used to Own an Archos 5 with Android 800mhz ARM Cortex A8 Ti Processor, 4.8inch resistive 800x480 touchscreen screen, 512mb of RAM, Android 1.6/1.5 plus Archos Angstrom modifications and then I replaced it with an HTC flyer which has a 7 inch 1024x600 capacitive touch screen and N-Trig pen system, 1.5ghz Qualcomm processor, 1gb ram, Android 2.3/3.2 + heavy HTC Sense Modifications. So what is the point well both devices have very different hardware and software and yet neither device had a problem running the same Android apps.
  19. reefoid macrumors regular

    Aug 5, 2011
    Android is no less secure than any other OS. I support nearly 100 Android phones at work and since the rollout was started 18 months ago there have been exactly zero security issues with them.

    Additionally, most of the phones are running older versions of Android. Do the users care? Except for the 5 or 6 tech heads they neither care nor are aware of how OS updates work, and I suspect this is the case for the majority of Android users. As long as their phones work, they're happy.
  20. Hellhammer Moderator


    Staff Member

    Dec 10, 2008
    That would definitely help. I think we as consumers can affect that by buying phones that will get the latest updates. As long as people buy the phones that lack future support, they will be produced. After all, it's still money for Google.
  21. 0dev macrumors 68040


    Dec 22, 2009
    Android is no less secure than any other OS - that is true. But outdated versions of absolutely any system are less secure than their more up-to-date counterparts. I would never trust any device running outdated software with anything, especially not corporate information.

    But hey, if your workplace wants to be lax on security, that's your prerogative.
  22. kdarling macrumors P6


    Jun 9, 2007
    First university coding class = 47 years ago
    Depends on the bugs. Sometimes it can be better to stick with the devil you know.

    Newer software simply means newer security holes that we don't know about yet :)

    For example, almost every iOS update has included security fixes.
  23. 0dev macrumors 68040


    Dec 22, 2009
    It depends, because we're talking about two different things here.

    Most big businesses like to stick with old supported software. This means that they don't get new features and they stick with what they know, but they still get maintenance and security updates for that software. They will then update it when this support expires, which is usually a couple of years after the software was discontinued, by which time the new software will be more solid.

    Mobile operating systems do not work like that, though. You can't stay on Eclair and get the security updates from ICS. So you need to make sure you stay on the ball with every new update, else you have a security risk.

    It's also worth pointing out that encryption on Android phones was only just made available in ICS. Anything below that is highly susceptible to data theft from anyone with physical access to the device.

    And yes, iOS updates include security fixes, so if you don't install those updates, you don't get the security fixes. Same with Android.

    Remember: a system is only as secure as its weakest point.

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