Nearly every Android smartphone user has suffered the irritation of knowing that a new version of Android has been released by Google, and they haven’t received it yet. Sometimes they never do. Updates can often take around six months to come, if they do at all. Why does this happen, and why does Google let it happen time and time again?
The bloatware process
The biggest cause of update delays which increases device-software fragmentation is not caused by Google, it is the fault of mobile phone carriers who install their bloatware.
Once Google has released a lightning fast, gorgeous new version of Android like Ice Cream Sandwich last year. The smartphone manufacturers then dirty it with their own bulky add-ons, and make a few tweaks here and there to help it run on a specific device. HTC adds HTC Sense, Samsung adds Touchwiz, and so forth, in addition to that and other cumbersome applications.
After the manufacturers are done (about 1-2 months), the software is passed on to the mobile carriers, who then add all of their custom software on top of the manufacturer’s. When I first got my Desire HD it was littered with HTC and T-Mobile applications I didn’t want or need, stealing up space, processor cycles, battery life, etc. Once the carriers are done putting on their bloatware and testing it out (3-4 months sometimes) the software is finally pushed to the devices the carriers and manufacturers deem ‘compatible’. Many devices do not receive software updates, even then they are perfectly capable of running the new Android builds…
The money-making racket that follows
One of the ways manufacturers and carriers make money off of Google announcing software releases is to hold the software back and only allow it to be released on their newest devices. This ensures that existing customers who want the ‘newest and greatest’ software will be motivated to purchase a new phone which runs it. This shouldn’t be the case — existing customers should receive a prompt over-the-air update.
This is only sleazy marketing to help start initial sales of new devices. Most devices currently running Android 2.3 Gingerbread are perfectly capable of running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the manufacturers and carriers just don’t want you to. This means that disgruntled customers like myself go and download custom ROM’s from the community which allow us to enjoy Ice Cream Sandwich, with the hassle of research and warranty busting that comes with it.
Google should put their foot down
All this bloatware and the delays of upgrades only hurts Android’s name and public perception, and the customers themselves. Google should lay down the line and give firm instructions on how software should be released to Android fans. It isn’t fair that Google make us a great new build, and the Scrooge-like manufacturers and carriers won’t release it on older phones just so they can make ever more money.
Google should start stating that if carriers and manufacturers continue to deliberately delay the release of Android, then those companies will be penalized by having to endure delays before receiving a new software build, while all their competitors already have it. That would certainly motivate carriers to distribute updates faster, since they can’t afford to fall behind.
Perhaps Google should put additions into Android to help networks out
I can see one of the viewpoints the carriers may have which causes them to hesitate releasing the newest Android builds.
When you look at sales records, networks are still having no trouble selling devices running Android 2.3 and in a lot of cases, Android 2.2. Why should they start making things more complicated for themselves by moving up to 4.0 when they’re already getting plenty of market share by selling the older stuff?
When you look at the new features in Ice Cream Sandwich, they’re all lovely additions for the user to enjoy, but offer no benefit to the network providers. It may be the case that, as well as Google being stricter with networks delaying Android releases, they should also do things to make releasing software upgrades worthwhile to the networks. After all, I can see why T-Mobile wouldn’t want to spend funds sending out a new build of Android 4.0 if it didn’t benefit them in any way.
Personally, I would be in favour of Google enacting a policy where carriers delaying releases invokes penalisation, as it would get the carriers into gear. With the popularity of Android right now, no carrier could say no and risk losing precious modification time with the next release of Android.
Do you think this is a good idea? Should Google release the newest builds of Android to companies who have shown their goodwill first? Did you want Ice Cream Sandwich as soon as it was announced, or were you happy to wait for carriers to make their additions?