I wonder if the Android manufacturers, especially the top 5 ones – Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG and Sony – can sleep well at night knowing how many millions of devices they’ve left behind without upgrading them even for a year, or many times without upgrading them at all. I’m thinking they sleep pretty well, knowing they sold the devices to customers, and now they don’t have to care about them anymore. Because if they didn’t, then they’d probably actually do something about it, wouldn’t they?
This graph has been going around the web for the past couple of days, and while I think it was created with some mal-intentions to take a jab at Android by someone who is very much in love with Apple, and normally I wouldn’t support it, this time I just have to. Because I’m afraid it’s the only way the Android manufacturers will learn – by being publicly shamed into doing something about it already! They need some tough love, if we are to receive more upgrades on our phones.
Remember how after the continuous outrage about the locked bootloaders, we started seeing a glimpse of a future when phones will stop being locked? Samsung stopped locking them. HTC offered an online unlock tool, and Motorola is just getting around to having unlocked bootloaders, although they still seem to blame the carriers for now allowing them to do it. I don’t know how true that is, but hopefully things will change when Google finalizes the acquisition. LG and Sony seems to keep them open as well.
So at least we set the direction for them. It’s time to do the same for software upgrades, too. Enough is enough. We heard about the Android Update Alliance in spring at Google I/O, but it was very vague, with no specific plans or commitments from them, and when I saw the Android 4.0 event, I realized they didn’t say anything about it, which made me think that things might not be going too well with that. The manufacturers might be starting to backtrack on that plan.
I really hope I’m wrong on this, though, and it’s more of a matter of starting over with Android 4.0. Perhaps the new Android is easier to upgrade, and it could be why Honeycomb devices get updates much faster. On the other hand, it could be just because the tablets are mostly using the stock version of Honeycomb. That again leads us to another thing. Maybe manufacturers need to stop doing such deep customization of Android?
I was hoping that with Android 4.0, Google would set some sort of guidelines that allows them to only lightly customize it – like change the theme, colors, widgets, whatever. As long as it’s all a surface customization, and it means anyone can find common traits in all Android phones, so all Android phones can have a certain identify. Also, it would be a lot easier to revert to stock Android, and disable the theme on top. Google hasn’t given any details about this, and they probably do want manufacturers to do more of that, but knowing some of the manufacturers, they’ll keep messing with it.
Either way, fast updates are important, but what is even more important, is at least getting the updates in the first place! If they can promise me that if I buy a phone today, and I’ll be getting at least 3-4 next major Android versions for the next 18 months or so (considering Google releases one every 6 months or so), then I would be quite happy with that. They’d end up supporting their customers for 75% of the their contract’s lifetime, while in the same time still leaving room for them to want to upgrade to a new phone once the contract is up.
I don’t think 2 or more years of upgrades is necessary, because then technology would move slower, and people might start hanging on to their phones for more than 2 years. I get that. But at least give me 18 months of upgrades, not just 3-6 months with just one upgrade – maybe.
All Android manufacturers need to commit to 3-4 major upgrades of Android, and they need to do it NOW.