Could Froyo and Gingerbread become Android’s IE6?

by: Gary SimsMay 21, 2012

A little while ago I posed the question: Is Android 5.0 Jelly Bean too much, too soon? The reaction from the net was lively, with most people falling into one of two camps. First, those who want the latest and best, and they want it now! And those who say that, as long as the phone works, most people don’t care about the version of Android on their device. Well, now the app developers have spoken  – and perhaps they matter the most!

There are, of course, three main groups in the Android ecosystem: There is Google (and the handset manufactures), there are the consumers, and there are the app developers. Android is a great mobile OS, but where would it be without Angry Birds or a Facebook app?

A few days ago, San Francisco hosted the AnDevCon III technical conference for software developers building Android apps. There were lots of top people there from Google, Barnes & Noble, HTC and so on. And, according to, developers at the conference aren’t in a rush to see Android 5.0 Jelly Bean, but rather they are concentrating on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

The problems that Android app developers face were summed up nicely by David Mathisen, of Allegiance Software: “I want to make sure that everybody can use our app that has an Android phone.” And that is the main issue. No developer in their right mind will release an app that only works on ICS. With a little under 5% of the Android population using Android 4.0, app developers need to make sure their apps are compatible with Android 2.2 Froyo and Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Talk of Android 5.0 Jelly Bean is at best theoretical and even when Google releases the software (and the source code), it will be six months or even a year before there is a significant number of real world users.

This “fragmentation” can be a pain for app developers who need to spend extra time (and money) making sure apps work across the board. “Sometimes, you need to implement different tools to actually make the application work in different versions,” said Teresa Jimenez Arreola, of France Telecom R&D.

In considering the possible impact of Jelly Bean on the Android ecosystem, William van de Lagemaat, a “new technology” consultant, made the excellent point that the Android 2.x series could become Android’s IE 6. He is drawing a parallel with the difficulty web developers have in ensuring that web pages are viewable across the myriad of different web browsers that exist today, in particular Internet Explorer 6 has stuck around much longer that it should and has been the bane of web developer’s (and Microsoft’s) life.

If he is right then this is bad news for app developers and consumers alike. If Android 2.2 and Android 2.3 stick around for another two or even three years, and between them manage to count for anything over 25% of Android users, then everyone has a problem. App and game innovation will be limited as developers  will want to use the most popular version to increase revenues. Everything will need to remain Android 2.x compatible which will leave ICS and Jelly Bean without value add apps.

What can Google do about this?

I am tempted to say that Google already missed its chance to get this right, but I think that it can learn something from Microsoft. Windows XP was a runaway success, so successful in fact that even eights years after it was originally released you could buy a new PC with XP pre-installed on it. The reason for its longevity was Windows Vista. It was a disaster and it didn’t run well on older computers. The answer was Windows 7 which, from the get-go, was slimmer and faster, plus Microsoft released Windows 7 Starter edition which was even slimmer for netbooks and PCs will less resources.

One of the reasons that handset manufactures can’t put ICS on some devices is that a) they don’t have enough RAM, b) they don’t have enough flash memory to hold the OS. Google should be working to make an ICS Lite which fits onto older devices. Failure to do this will result in years of pain as the Android 2.x series dies a slow but lingering death.

What do you think?

Do you think I am right? Or am I just fussing about nothing? Let me know what you think… But be sure of one thing, if Google get this wrong it will hamper Android development for years to come. As always, all sane comments will get a reply!

  • Sounds like you might have a good point there! My Samsung Captivate is on Froyo 2.2 and it works perfectly fine. I know I can upgrade to Gingerbread 2.3, but my phone works so I haven’t. Very rarely have I have problems with my phone. Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones but as long as apps continue to work fine on my phone, I don’t see any reason to upgrade or get the latest. I’m happy with what I have.

    • Tony,

      Exactly most customers are happy if the phone works… But consider this… What if a security vulnerability was found in the version of Android you are running or what if an app was released (like Google Chrome for example) that is ICS only… Wouldn’t you want to upgrade the software on your phone?


      • That’s a very good question! I actually do have the desire to have the latest version of Android, but I’m not very tech savvy. I would most likely just live with the security vulnerability hoping nothing bad would happen. When AT&T made Android 2.2 available for my Captivate. I read the instructions very carefully. I didn’t understand any of the technical terms or what the instructions were telling me to do. I looked up videos on YouTube so that I could watch someone do it before attempting it myself. I have to admit, that I didn’t find it very easy to do. (I know people are probably gasping right now). I had to download files then connect my phone to my computer and the whole process was really something I wasn’t comfortable with. I would rather have my OS update in a much simpler way. The way that apps update. That would be the ideal. If AT&T issued the 2.2 to 2.3 update the same way that apps update directly into the phone, I would have updated to Android 2.3 immediately. I haven’t updated because my phone works fine and I don’t want to go through that uncomfortable process again. Do you understand what I’m saying?

        My next phone purchase will definitely be one with the latest version of Android right out of the box. The reason for that, is to avoid having to go through that update procedure all over again.

        Thanks for replying to my comment!

        – Tony

        • Nicholas Mazzuca

          You should definitely get the nexus. To update, you just have to go to settings, and click the update button. It’s also straight from google, so no worrying about having old software.

          • Thank you. That definitely sounds like it will be my next phone. I appreciate the advice!!!

  • Ya you do have a point there there must be a lite version for ICS so that most of the devices in the market can use it!

    • +1 from me for an ICS Lite.

    • tBs_Battousai

      I wouldn’t say we need a “lite” version of the OS, just a “Lite” version of the handset makers UI as that’s the reason ICS doesn’t fit on most devices…

  • tBs_Battousai

    All 2.x devices are holding back Android as a whole, you can’t argue with that… and hardware makers are making the problem worse by not rolling out updates on time and filling the OS with bloat, that’s why they don’t fit on their phones… I’ve seen ICS running on a HTC Desire, without Sense and bloatware it fits just fine…

    I wonder if even Google are shocked by the growth of Android, and since you can still walk into a shop and buy a 2.x device on a two year contract mean that this problem isn’t going away anytime soon..

    • “since you can still walk into a shop and buy a 2.x device on a two year contract mean that this problem isn’t going away anytime soon…”


  • Stephen Sucena

    The problem is you people who write these tech blogs dont understand what you are writing about. You note that ICS only has a 5% share of the market while Gingerbread and Froyo basically dominate. Of course this is true. People cant afford to replace their phones every time a new OS is developed and the manufacturer and carriers dont want you to be able to keep your phone longer because they want you to buy new phones. I would love to have ICS on my Droid X but guess what, Motorola says no way. Why? Their answer is the OG Droid X doesnt have the horsepower to run ICS, which is a blatant lie. There are several ICS Roms that work just fine on the X. So obvioulsly the problem is the manufacturer and then the carrier. This is why Gingerbread has such a dominant share. The manufacturers and carriers dont want to continue to update their phones. They want us to buy new ones.

    The real fix for this whole issue is something that will never happen. I hate to say it, but the fact that there is only 1 iPhone is the reason there are more apps for apple and the reason the iOS feels so polished. The app developers dont have to worry about compatibility. What needs to happen is Google needs to set a standard for the minimum operating spec for a manufacturer and then license the Android OS to said manufacturers and Google has to tell the carriers to stop covering up Android with their 2 sense which does nothing but Blur the field, not distinguish the field (see what I did there). Basically they need to have a “Built for Android” campaign similar to the one Microsoft had. If the manufacturers product does not meet the minumum spec, then it doesnt get Android. The second step is to make Android more backwards compatible in the first place. There is no reason for Android to be doing these leap frog jumps in ram and processor requirements each time a new OS is released.

    The carriers are going to put a hurt on the manufacturers pretty soon by discontinuing subsidizing the phones. Verizon will soon be telling its customers…If you want a cheaper price for your phone, we will subsidize the price but then we will discontinue your unlimited plan and expect you to pay more for less data. If you want to continue to use unlimited data, then you will have to pay full price for the phone….. This is going to kill the phone manufacturers because 99% of the people out there cannot and will not pay 600 bucks for the latest phones. In a perfect world I would say the carriers are doing this to reign in the rampant fragmentation of devices from the manufacturers but in reality, it is merely greed. Some customers wont care about the loss of unlimited data but the tiered plans are not priced fairly. 30 bucks a month for 2gb of data is just not realistic, its highway robbery. I would like to see the senators get involved with that because to me, it seems like price gouging. But, since AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and the others are all campaign contributors and lobbyists, that will never happen either.

    • Stephen,

      Thanks for your reply… About 60% of what you have written is basically in agreement with what I wrote in this post and others (see, especially the bit about “Built for Android”… I called it “Verified Google Android compatible” but it is the same idea.

      I also point out in the first post that Apple released the iPhone in 2009 and yet it can run iOS 5, so the idea that a handset manufacturer isn’t prepared to let users upgrade so that they will buy a new handset doesn’t seem to be always true.


      • Boone Simpson

        That is because apple was able to negotiate a draconian level of control. They even get a piece of the data plan, which is why apple is so rich right now.

        This is one instant where apples authoritarian nature actually helps the consumer as it gives apple (the manufacturer) the control, not the carrier

      • anon

        But Apple aren’t just the handset manufacturer. They’re the proprietors of the whole IOS ecosystem.

        They make money from every app sale, every ringtone, music download and in app purchase, and every licensed accessory (also compatible with multipne iOS devices), not just handset sales.

        HTC for example gains far less from updating Android on it’s devices to improve the user experience as they don’t get a slice of all of those ancillary sales like Apple does.

    • byno

      Ha! “Sense” and “Blur” :)

    • This is EXACTLY true.
      Why would they manufacturers and carrier push out the latest OTA when you can buy the newest version of the phone and put more money in your pocket.

      And even when your phone finally gets the OTA to the latest and greatest, BOOM! The is a newer version lurking right around the corner.

      The best way to NOT have to get caught up in this messy cycle: ROOTING!
      You can throw whatever ROM you want to on your phone then, that’s one thing about us geeks. We know ways around dropping $500+ on every new device that drops.

  • Joshua Powers

    You need to look at things from a big picture perspective, last year at this time froyo had 65-ish percent of all android devices, a year later gingerbread had 65-ish percent, next year ICS will be at 65-ish percent, See the pattern here, when dealing with third parties in a free market system there will be lag, look at windows, MS doesn’t let OEM’s screw with the OS but they release it to OEM’s 4-6 months before the public gets it even though it’s finished, why? These things take time, Large publicly traded companies think and operate in terms of months and years not days and weeks, why did that smartphone that just released last week have gingerbread even though ICS has been “out” for months, because they started development on that phone 8-11 (or more) months ago when ICS was just a rumor, they can’t make a phone for an OS that doesn’t exist yet and they have deadlines to meet, they can’t just do a 180 halfway through a project just because Google decides to release more source code. Also remember as Geeks we are the minority of smartphone users now and what we think and want doesn’t matter that much compared to the majority of their customers which are Average Joe’s/Jane’s that aren’t even aware that their is a new version of android available.

    • Joshua,

      A lot of what you say is true and this does demonstrate a weakness in the model that Google is using with Android. In general when Apple announces a handset and/or a new version of iOS it comes available within days.

      The difference with Microsoft is that they work with a fairly standard hardware base and allow third parties to write drivers for their OS… Something Google doesn’t do… Also Microsoft release Betas to way before the actual release… Look at Windows 8 for example.


      • AppleFUD

        It seems the big problem, as it has been form Android’s beginning, is Google’s release cycle for Android. It used to be around 3–4 months and is now about 6 months. That’s still too fast. They aren’t taking enough time to allow OEMs early access to be ready to get handsets out quickly after the new OS is released — WiFi only devices like the Xoom did get ICS rather quickly which again points the finger directly at the carriers, not to say some OEMs are bailing on devices before they should — after all they are hardware companies that want to sell more hardware.

        However, that may be changing, at least for the main Android OEMs, at least for getting *new* devices out with the latest OS quicker. If the latest Nexus rumors are correct and Google is working with 5 OEMs then that means those five are getting early access to the new version. This *might* help them get the new version ready for other devices other than the Nexus device they build. Furthermore, if Google would just go to a yearly release cycle we would see a quicker shift, at least for new devices, if that is combined with the above early access.

        As for upgrades. . . well kids, we only need to look at MS to realize that not all mobile operating systems are going to upgrade long term. WP8??? Not for devices currently selling from the latest statements.

        iOS? Well, you get a “version of the new upgrade” lacking any major features, of course. How was Siri again on the 3GS, 4, and OG iPad? Oh yeah, that’s right. . Siri was silent on those devices ;)

        Right now, Google is using Android as a straight up open-source OS and letting it be a free for all. My guess is, they were hoping that competition would drive adoption. But it hasn’t. Why? Carriers mostly but also the fact that probably about 80% of the users don’t have a clue what version they are running in the first place and get a new device every two years on contract, and only a small (~200K) users are vocal about the issue and want the latest and greatest asap — Google has a remedy for them. It’s called the Nexus line.

        However, I think Google has gotten fed up with the Carriers’ BS and this is why they have opened up unlocked device sales again and are working on having several devices with several OEMs. . .

        But, like the update pledge. . . it all means nothing for now. We will have to wait and see.

        Nonetheless, consumers could have changed it all by now. . . by simply buying a Nexus One, or Nexus S, or Galaxy Nexus — carriers and OEMs would have responded quickly to that. Yet those were not and are not hot selling devices which clearly shows that the majority of Android users just don’t big a s%!t about this issue at all. Developers might care but really it is somewhat of a non-issue for them as well. They only need to develop for the main versions and it is clear that it takes approximately one year for Android’s version upgrade cycle to take hold. That gives them plenty of time to tweak their apps for the next version — not like they have to get their app updated asap like on iOS. . . they have plenty of time to work it and get it right lol . . . nor do they need to release a different app for each and every device like they do on iOS — Android is designed to handle different screen sizes & resolutions. They just need to build the app properly.

        • tBs_Battousai

          “WiFi only devices like the Xoom did get ICS rather quickly” –
          – Only in the states, the rest of the world is still waiting six months on so even the exact same hardware in different corners of the world are not running the same version of the OS… no carrier involved at all…

          • AppleFUD

            that sucks. . . so, it’s basically the opposite to the states with carrier updates.

  • Boone Simpson

    I would like Google to take a different approach here, Keep Android open, as they now have to do to make China happy, but to be a “Google Blessed” device ( have market access, g-apps etc) require the OEM / Carriers to unlock any phone / bootloader after X number of months, say 36. This way, a user has an incentive to buy the latest and greatest, but if they don’t or can’t, the dev community can build and ship roms helping to move the eco system forward.

    If I recall, someone got honeycomb and a low-fat ICS on the G1.

  • Mamoon Noorestani

    Google should definitely release a Android 4.0 LiTE version for lower-end smartphones which come with a low resolution display, less than 1GB of RAM and, single-core processors (600-800 Mhz). If Google does do this then more people will move to Android OS smartphones. Or, when Google releases Android OS 5.0 in October/November they should leave Android OS 4.0 available for all lower-end smartphones which release in 2013.

  • Rick B

    they should have made it light from the get go, forced phone manufacturers to work with a standardized version of android and (light, no crap, optional launcher and all gapps on play) if the manufacturer wanted a unique feel of the device, they should make a launcher that suits their taste. this way google would have had less trouble updating the core program and manufacturers would have been able to roll out updates faster because the only thing they would have been bothered with would be new driver software and the possible UI up-dates/grades

  • SamsaraGuru

    There is an old saying that the situation we are all facing – unnecessarily – consumers, manufacturers and network providers – that I think fits the mental orientation that has created this quandry, namely the people who came up with Android are so smart they are stupid.

    It is not as though Google did not have prior models to examine from the past that might give them a clue that if you do A, then B is likely to happen because you didn’t take into account C and because you chose to lazy and hope everyone would play nice and be fair (yeah, sure – the check is in the mail, I love you, etc. etc.), because Google didn’t use some of their unlimited warchest to actually think things through – well, basically they helped things to go to hell in a handbag.

    Now, we have a situation where we have entrenched, basically greedy players each protecting their turf and operating with business models that are not positively oriented; not truly interested in helping, but more interested in hindering anything that doesn’t serve their individual, selfish self-interests.

    Gee, who woulda thought?

    People who are truly are smart would have; people who are truly precient and who truly CARE about making sure that what they unleash on an unsuspecting world given their creative potential needs to be watched over and cared for just as one would a child – not left to fend for itself and forced to “rely on the kindness of strangers”.

    Blanche Dubois found out the hard way that that didn’t work for her and because Google didn’t do its due diligence Android has faired little better.

  • Disturbd1

    Cell phones are so very different from PCs. Expecting Google to produce different versions of the Android OS is just unrealistic. Not when one considers that the average cell phone user has their phone for less than 2 years. That can’t be said about PCs. Even a person who likes to keep up on the latest/greatest in the PC world can’t afford (and/or simply doesn’t care to) build/buy a new PC every 2 years. It simply isn’t cost-effective, or really necessary from any standpoint. To give a 2 year old PC “new life” is to maybe upgrade a component here or there, and reinstall the OS. You can’t do that with a phone, which is why we replace them as often as we do. Personally, I’d rather Google focus on making the best and fastest phone OS as possible, while simultaneously finding ways to make it less resource-intensive. Isn’t that the goal of any OS? That being said, I realize that as an OS matures, it needs more features to catch the eye, and those are typically what cause the slowness or use of more resources than previous versions. It’s why my Evo 4G won’t ever get ICS. It also forces consistent consumer purchase, which obviously stimulates the economy that much more. If nothing else, I’d say that, gas, and food, are things that we (at least here in the States) place the most importance on. Once my OS on my phone, or my phone itself, is no longer supported – what to do but buy a new one that probably has a newer OS anyway? 2 birds, 1 stone. In a nutshell: comparing Microsoft to Google on a PC-vs-phone OS is hardly fair for far too many reasons. If Google had the mind to create a desktop OS that could run Windows apps – Microsoft could count their days to extinction.

  • Aikonix

    why dont we let developers control the way carriers produce android versions to their phones if Google is not going too? Developers can easily make apps work for 4.0 only which in turn would consumers take a second look at out-dated phone models. “Oh heres a LOVELY new phone that has 2.3 android operating system, buuuutttt cannot use any of the newest apps! so have fun with your new phone!”

  • dilharo

    why do google bring ics lite….they should bring jellybean tough!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    bring new device if you want power

  • Ray Marx

    It’s not like individual phone manufacturers can’t “dummy down” the ICS experience for their phones but, they’d rather not deal with the lawsuits therefore they just say they can’t put it on certain phones and be done with it. If you just happen to have one of those outdated phones come time for Jelly Beans to be released the phone manufacturers are betting that you’re going to upgrade to one of those shiny new models that more than smoke the one you have now, even if it’s an ICS device.