Android = diversity! You’ve probably heard this one before, but what does it actually mean? While it’s a fact that the principle of diversity is as valid as ever in the mobile industry, different groups of people have varied opinions on how useful the diversity of the Android ecosystem actually is, in its current state.
If you happen to notice that the tones widely range from the temperate, on to optimistic, and back to pessimism or even frustration, don’t worry because we’re in this together! If you then start noticing that the general idea of Android fragmentation is one the topics that really drives readers to leave a comment, don’t panic, you are not alone! It’s like all Android fans are talking about it one form or another, but who’s to blame us?
It’s not only people who complain about their device not making it to the device list that will receive official updates, or those staggered by the fact that their top-end smartphone is still not updated to the latest OS (as Google unveils yet another update). You’ll also encounter those who go for custom MODs to get much more timely unofficial updates, or those who actually leave comments hoping that an unreleased device will be updated to the latest version of Android by the time it is released. All these people make it obvious that while fragmentation is not a sign of the apocalypse, it should be addressed much more seriously than it currently is.
The Android fragmentation chart, as of April 2012
The Android experience starts with Google’s development of the OS, the manufacturers build the device and all the money goes to the carriers. Jokes aside, these are the three main parts that must work together to bring OS updates to your Android device. While the US is a market where carriers play by different rules, throughout the rest of the globe, carriers tend to release updates reasonably fast once the manufacturer has it ready for customization. So they are but a small part of the problem (again, on a global scale, things reverse dramatically if we’re to limit this discussion to the US alone).
In conclusion, the problem must lie with the manufacturers, as when Google unveils a new update, it becomes instantly available to all Android manufacturers so they can immediately start working on updating their devices.
In fact, starting with Jelly Bean, Google will release a PDK (Product Development Kit) to Android manufacturers months before the OS is actually ready to go. This way, Google is trying to make the update process go faster, and it’s an idea that should work well in the long run. But while future PDKs will be released to all manufacturers at the same time, with Jelly Bean, Google has decided to work with only a few selected partners, so the problem will not be definitively solved with Jelly Bean.
Now that you know that manufacturers are (at large) to blame for the fragmentation problem, I’ll go on and rank Android manufacturers by the speed at which I think they will deliver Jelly Bean updates to their existing devices.
ASUS officials have announced that they’ve made it a goal to update their Transformer line of tablets to Android 4.0 ICS as soon as possible, a principle demonstrated when they brought Android 4.0 to the ASUS Transformer Prime in early January. The original Transformer was also updated to ICS in February.
I would say that ASUS has the biggest chance of being the first tablet maker to update its devices to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, as they are also the makers of the Google Nexus 7, the first tablet to ever run Android 4.1. ASUS also recently became the first tablet manufacturer to confirm Jelly Bean updates for its devices, as it has recently announced that the Transformer Pad 300, Prime and Pad Infinity will get the new Android version “in the coming months”.
Acer has officially updated the Acer Iconia Tab A500 and the Iconia Tab A100 to Android 4.0 ICS back in late April, the same month they were launched. The Iconia Tab A200, launched in January received its Android 4.0 update in February. ACER really did the right thing here, as it was only after the ICS updates that their Iconia line of tablets was able to distinguish itself as one with true potential. If they can’t provide a fast update to Android 4.1, they will surely lose some customers if ASUS beats them to the challenge, so I’m guessing they will do their best.
Archos have updated two of their best tablets, the Archos 80 G9 and Archos 101 G9 in late March, so chances are that they will not hesitate releasing a Jelly Bean update to as much of their current line of budget tablets as possible; Jelly Bean’s Project Butter should be even more evident on mid-end devices. I’m a firm believer that ARCHOS will start updating their devices sooner than many of the big brands, although chances are that they were not included in the PDK program.
Note: While Lenovo and Toshiba did not seem very anxious to update their tablets to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (both manufacturers did not issue ICS updates for their tablets until June), the wait for Jelly Bean could turn out to be shorter. I just don’t expect them to be faster than the three manufacturers above. We’ll talk about Samsung in the next chapter.
HTC updated the HTC Sensation and Sensation XE to Android 4.0 in March, the Sensation 4G, the Sensation XL, the Amaze 4G and the AT&T Vivid in May, so it’s not doing as badly as other manufacturers when it comes to updating their smartphones to the latest Android version. However, HTC’s pre-ICS flagship, the HTC Rezound is still running the outdated Android 2.3 Gingerbread, as is the Droid Incredible 2 and the EVO design 4G.
The Taiwanese manufacturer was rumored to be included in the PDK beta project, and is also the first top-tier company to confirm that it is working on Jelly Bean updates for their smartphones. I expect the international version of the HTC One X, the HTC One XL and the HTC One S to be amongst the first high-end smartphones to be updated to Jelly Bean.
Samsung is definitely not the manufacturer you think of when debating quick Android updates. While the international version of the Galaxy S2 was updated in late March, some US variations of the model weren’t updated until months later. The Samsung Galaxy Note is another perfect example on Samsung’s unwillingness to release timely updates: the Note was just recently updated to Android 4.0, a couple of weeks after Google unveiled Android 4.1: Ice Cream Sandwich. When it comes to their tablets, however, Samsung is doing even worse.
Despite all this, there is still the possibility that the current king of the Android hill – namely the Samsung Galaxy S3 – will be updated to Jelly Bean considerably faster than the two previous Galaxy S models, given that Sammy is now offering only two variants of the smartphone: one internationally and one for all North American carriers. In addition, Samsung was surely included in Google’s PDK beta program – as the biggest Android device vendor in the world – so that should help too. I just don’t believe that Samsung will officially bring Android 4.1 Jelly Bean to the S3 before HTC updates its HTC One X. It’s just not how Samsung executives approach the problem.
Just so we’re clear on this, the Galaxy Nexus (the first smartphone to officially get Android 4.1 Jelly Bean) and the Nexus S (that was recently updated to Jelly Bean as well) don’t count as Samsung smartphones in this context, as their OS updates are managed exclusively by Google.
Unfortunately, as bad as Samsung are doing, there are other Android smartphone manufacturers such as Sony (who updated most of its ICS-capable smartphones during April) and LG who have shown no real interest whatsoever in delivering timely Android updates to their smartphones. But what strikes the most is the fact that Motorola (a company that was bought by Google) was incredibly slow in delivering the ICS update to their flagship smartphone, the Motorola RAZR / RAZR Maxx. The Android 4.0 update became available for DROID RAZR users in early June.
Although chances are that minor manufacturers will upgrade their devices faster than the big boys, the entire fragmentation problem within the Android ecosystem should be judged by how the major players play the game, as they account for the majority of Android devices. Or in other words, it shouldn’t surprise you if unimpressive smartphones such as the ZTE N880E get updated to Jelly Bean at least a couple of months before your uber fast Samsung Galaxy S3.
Note: It is obvious that tablet manufacturers were faster in providing the Android 4.0 update, but the main reason for their quickness is that Android 3.x Honeycomb – the first and last (thus far) tablet-only version of Android – sucked in a major way. On the other hand, Google’s Android 2.3 Gingerbread was, by all means, a success, and therefore smartphone manufacturers were not pressed to release the update as Android 2.3 Gingerbread smartphones were still flying off the shelf months after Ice Cream Sandwich was released. It remains to be seen if tablet manufacturers will be as quick to adopt Jelly Bean as they did ICS.
Fortunately, there is a way to make sure that your smartphone/tablet will get new Android versions almost as soon as they come out: buy a Nexus device. For a moment, just sit on the fact that the almost two year old Nexus S has already received its update to Jelly Bean, as will soon be the case for the Motorola Xoom, a device more than a year old. The Galaxy Nexus was officially updated to Jelly Bean in less than a couple of days. In contrast, bear in mind that up until a month ago, top-end devices such as the DROID RAZR, HTC Rezound, or the Samsung Galaxy Note were all still using Android 2.3 Gingerbread. If getting the latest Android version is of utmost importance to you, get a Google Nexus device.
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Just got my Nexus 7 yesterday and Ordered my Galaxy Nexus from Google last night, I am done with HTC and T-mobile’s going back and forth blaming each other for not updating their phones. HTC says its T-Mobiles responsibility to tell them to update the phones and T-Mobile says its HTC’s job to decide when to update the phones. End the end they are both saying we have your money and you in a contract we really don’t care what you want.
Thank Google for the Nexus.
Seems like Nexus is the way ahead!
Though, with the PDK [Platform Development Kit] that is baked into Android 4.1+, it should, in theory, really level the playing field, so that more and more manufacturers have a chance to update their phones and tablets more quickly. I have faith in the big G. Plus, more and more people are waking up to the joy of owning a Nexus device, and so more manufacturers are going to be stepping their game up.
Either way – i’m with you on that. Long live Google Nexus devices!
This was a good read. I found it from what seems to be a daily search to see if my Rezound is updatable yet. I bought the Rezound because on paper the specs were better than the soon to be released Nexus. Now after 8 months of rumors and even announcements of an ics update Ive decided I will only be buying nexus devises in the future. HTC is lagging and it is very frustrating.
I have faith that my hox will be updated by htc quicker than Samsung’s update on the s3
For me been there done that. I had the VERIZON GALAXY NEXUS yeah I know it wasn’t really a true NEXUS and bou has Verizon treated it just like so. It was horrible from an reception/signal strength standpoint from day one of my purchase on December 15th 2011. The dBM was horrendous and Verizon already knew that the problem existed and did nothing about it they released the device with all those problems. I took it as long as possible till June 5th when I forced 4.0.4 update to my device and YES it made it better but by that time I was very frustrated. The poor battery life on Verizon’s battery draining LTE NETWORK made life like hell. Phone switching from LTE to 3G TO 1X all day long and this happened in areas that on the coverage map stated that I had nothing but LTE. I said to HELL WITH VERIZON and it’s CDMA network and bolted. I went to tmobile June 27th purchased the Galaxy S3 on tmobile’s GSM 42mbs network and boy what a difference it has been. My Galaxy S3 works in ways my Galaxy Nexus never did. Thank god for the change now I can purchase the NEXT NEXUS in November which will have way better hardware than the current Galaxy nexus and place that on tmobile and purchase it from the GOOGLE PLAY STORE. Truthfully I am really stuck now as to what I really will be purchasing this coming October or November. With what the Galaxy S3 has shoiwn me from a software standpoint has BLOWN ME AWAY and with the Galaxy Note 2 arriving soon that just might be the device I wait for. But Samsung will have to launch it on all carriers just like they did the Galaxy S3 otherwise I will be purchasing another NEXUS. It’s very hard to pass up the Galaxy line of devices Samsung is really showing the market from a software standpoint that they are the top manufacturer of smartphones.
I hope a Nexus 10″ tablet is due soon…
This lack of manufacturer initiative is actually a good thing.
Charles Dickens said: “Genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains.”
What the manufacturers who are tardy with their updates are telling us is that they are not willing to take pains; that they really don’t truly care about “service after the sale” as they all purportedly claim to be faultlessly dedicated to in PR releases.
This means, DAH! That we as consumers must (God forbid) use our heads; actually think about which phone, which manufacturer we favor with our purchases, rather than hope that some big brother organization is going to do our thinking for us and make the world safe for our mental and personal laziness.
This “fragmentation” is a strength, not a weakness of Android and in the end will push any manufacturer who wants to survive to raise its actual performance to a level more in keeping with the lip service they give to customer service and caring.
Android = diversity may not be the reality in the future, given that Samsung and cheap manufacturers are squeezing the rest at both ends.
I am looking forward to the HTC One X getting an update to Jellybean,and the next Android update next year.24 month contracts imply that a top of the range phone should be capable of at least a couple of major updates,otherwise I will point my hard earned cash at the manufacturer with the best update history in 2014 when the next contract is due.
Your advice to get a Nexus is true, except that Verizon is slow to allow the updates on their Nexus products.
Actually, the ICS update for the Moto Razr and Maxx was released the last day of June, and it is quite buggy. I have spent hours working with Verizon tech support, and they even sent me a replacement phone, which made no difference. If it had been like this when I bought it, I would have returned it immediately. All the problems I’m having can be easily duplicated on the ICS Razrs in Verizon stores, and the same functions work fine on the Moto phones there that are still running Gingerbread. What a PITA — maybe it’s time for my first iPhone.
Verizon and the HTC Rezound are a huge disapointment. Sold me on first quarder update to ICS and then turned there back. Never would have bought this device knowing this. Bad move Verizon.