Update: ... And apparently HTC has changed its mind and decided to update to Gingerbread after all. Go figure.

So you woke yesterday morning to the news that your trusty HTC Desire will be left without an official upgrade path to Android 2.3 Gingerbread, and now the world seems a cold and uncaring place. Fear not -- we’ve got the complete lowdown on what today’s news means for Desire owners, along with a details of some leading Gingerbread-based custom ROMs that can bring you right up to date with the latest version of Android.

Let’s begin by revisiting exactly what was announced today, and what it means for Desire owners.

What’s the big deal? Should I be angry?

First released on the Nexus S late last year, Android 2.3, nicknamed “Gingerbread,” is the latest version of Android for smartphones. HTC had been promising to update the Desire to the new version of Android before the end of June, but now it appears that there simply wasn’t enough room on the Desire’s internal storage for both Gingerbread and HTC’s Sense software. This means Desire owners who like to stick with official software will remain on Android 2.2 Froyo indefinitely.

Gingerbread is a relatively minor update for Android (in the scheme of things), but the fact that a popular phone like the Desire has been left out of the Gingerbread party sucks for everyone involved. If you're unwilling or unable to hack your phone, you're left on a year-old version of the OS, while HTC loses some face as a result of promising the update and then having to back down and offer an apology instead. However, no amount of bitter, caps-locked Facebook comments or tweets will change the technical limitations of the phone. And no, this probably isn’t part of a vast conspiracy to get you to drop £500 on a shiny new Sensation either. (Though you could spend that money in worse ways.)

Why doesn’t HTC just give us Gingerbread without Sense?

The Sense UI, in addition to being HTC's baby, is a big part of why many customers choose HTC phones. If HTC were to update the Desire to Gingerbread and strip out Sense in the process, their tech support channels would be inundated by regular users asking why their phone’s software had suddenly changed. In stock Android there wouldd suddenly be no HTC clock widgets, no Friend Stream, a different browser, a different mail client, a different lock screen, a different dialer app. And on top of that, a large chunk of user data would have to be jettisoned because it’d be in the wrong format to be recognized by the stock Android apps. Most customers would see this as a downgrade, not an upgrade.

Which is why no manufacturer would ever want to pick apart its own software to suit a small, vocal group of users, at the expense of the vast majority of its customer base.

What’s so great about Gingerbread? Am I missing out by staying on Android 2.2?

There might not be a single killer app or major technological breakthrough in Android 2.3, but a number of smaller improvements and tweaks were brought in, along with some fairly important security upgrades and bug fixes.

We’ve played around with a couple of leaked test builds of Android 2.3.3 for the HTC Desire over the past couple of months, and we found they were pretty much the same as Froyo (Android 2.2). The few things that were noticeable were only minor differences -- the clock widget was animated, the browser looked a bit different, the battery icon was a slightly different color (yes, we notice these things). There certainly wasn’t anything close to the massive performance boost given to the Desire by the initial update to Android 2.2. Nor was any new functionality unlocked, like the Wifi Hotspot app included in Froyo for the Desire.

So the visible differences were pretty small. The more important changes in Gingerbread lie behind the scenes. The infamous SMS message bug is still present in the current Desire firmware, but would’ve been fixed in Gingerbread. A number of vulnerabilities in the OS itself have been patched between version 2.2 and 2.3.3, leaving users less susceptible to malicious apps. Improved garbage collection would’ve boosted performance in memory-hungry apps. All small changes, but certainly not insignificant when considered as a whole.

However, the stock HTC Desire firmware, with Froyo and HTC Sense, still offers a great smartphone experience. If you're happy with the way your Desire runs at the moment, then you shouldn't lose too much sleep over the cancelled Gingerbread upgrade. Chances are it wouldn't have changed much in terms of day-to-day use anyway.

Of course, if you want to try something a little more exotic ...

I want Gingerbread. What are my options?

Well, to get Gingerbread, you'll need to install a custom ROM, and your quest begins with getting your Desire rooted and fitted with a custom recovery. Unrevoked is the easiest way of doing this, though you’ll want to check the documentation and make sure you have the correct HTC drivers installed before beginning. After that, it’s pretty much a case of connecting your phone, pressing a button and you’re good to go.

Rooting the Desire may be relatively easy, but you should still take care and read up on what you're doing first. You'll need to be fairly tech-savvy, and if something goes wrong then there’s a chance you could brick your phone. Rooting will also void your warranty, as you might expect.

The Desire has a lively custom ROM community, most of which is based around the XDA Desire Development forum. There you'll find a whole host of Gingerbread-based custom firmware for your phone, some based on the Android Open Source Project, some based on HTC Sense ROMs from newer phones like the Desire S and Sensation. These include:

  • CyanogenMod, the granddaddy of them all. The current stable version 7 is based on stock Android 2.3.3. If you're feeling more adventurous, you can try the nightly builds, which are based on version 2.3.4. As well as the latest version of Android, the CyanogenMod team has added a ton of new features for controlling almost every aspect of your phone, from automatic brightness levels and lockscreen gestures to CPU clock speeds.
  • Oxygen was one of the first Gingerbread-based ROMs for the Desire, created by XDA members AdamG and Thalamus. Oxygen aims to be as clean and hack-free as possible, while still improving upon stock Android with new features like FM radio support, Facebook contact sync and notification area widgets.
  • DevNull is another custom ROM by the Oxygen team, designed to be as minimalistic as possible. Basically DevNull is as close as you'll get to turning your Desire into a Nexus One -- this is pure, vanilla Gingerbread without any mods or hacks.
  • MoDaCo offers fully customizable Desire ROMs based on AOSP (Gingerbread) or Sense (Froyo). After selecting your base, you can cherry-pick features and pre-installed apps to create the ideal software package for your needs -- much easier than juggling apps between zip files.
  • InsertCoin is a Gingerbread ROM that combines elements from Sense 2.1 and 3.0. You get the fancy new ring-based lockscreen and weather animations from Sense 3.0, along with familiar Sense 2.1 features like the quick settings and app switcher areas in the notification pull-down. As with many larger Sense-based ROMs, you'll need an ext partition on your SD card to install InsertCoin. 
  • CoolKingdom is one of the more ambitious Sense ROMs, as it aims to fully port Sense 3.0 to the HTC Desire. It's currently in the early stages of development, and so there are bugs to be found, but it's still impressive to see features usually reserved for the likes of the Sensation running on hardware over 12 months old.

There are dozens of other custom ROMs available for the Desire, which will surely see its life extended long into the future, even if official support ends at Android 2.2. It's disappointing that HTC hasn't been able to deliver on its promised Gingerbread update, but at the same time today's news serves to demonstrate one of the greatest strengths of the Android community. With hundreds of developers still hacking away at phones like the Desire, there will always be a way to breathe new life into older hardware.


Reader comments

Ask AC: Why was the HTC Desire Gingerbread update canceled, and what can you do now?


Great article. Those are great options for anybody who really has to have Gingerbread. However, as a whole, I feel that Gingerbread isn't an aesthetically big enough change from Froyo to demand immediate attention from the general user. The under-the-hood tweaks are what really makes it shine.

Also, I think that people aren't generally persuaded into buying an HTC phone particularly for the Sense but rather for their premium build quality and excellent community support which continues to outshine their competitors time and time again.

Desire users: this doesn't mean your phone is useless now -- it continues to be a top-contending device in today's market.

See, this is almost exactly why I'm switching to android! Unlike my current Pre Minus, where whenever their is a new update, it gets totally left out and forgotten, while everyone else continues to get new and better things, its just simply forgotten...

But with android, when an older phone loses its "support" from the big shots who made it, there are still plenty of ways to keep them fighting hard against their newer counter parts. And this is just a perfect example of this!

The Desire loses the ability to get Gingerbread from its makers, and yet it is still possible to GET that upgrade without needing to rely on htc!

Granted I am not completely sure if I personally want to root my future htc Evo 3D after I get it next week, but at least I know that when its near its "supportive limit" I'll still have plenty of options to keep it fighting strong!

HTC Disire has 147 MB of Free Space to install apps after FROYO upgrade. If After Gingerbread if there is only 100 MB or Less, its far more useless.

Even with Froyo, i always had a problem of low space, since all my email accounts, fring, facebook app and some more which cannot be moved to SD (by default) + widgets, eats up all the space and end up suffering more.

When CyanogenMod Stable Released I switched to CyanogenMod and it greatly solves the issue.
1. I got gingerbread.
2. Even Non Movable apps can be moved to SD Card like the facebook app.
3. Dalvik Cache can be moved to SD which greatly saves your space.

Now I am more than happy with it. Even if HTC releases official gingerbread I will stick to Cyanogen.

All you desire owners can thank HTC for canceling the gingerbread update because as any EVO4G owner that updated their phone will tell you the update sucks. It jacked up all our phones to the point that half of the apps that were working fine no longer work at all. Stay with froyo and be glad. Trust me, the grass isn't greener on the other side.

To be honest, anytime you accept an update from any manufacturer, you run the risk of getting bugs in the system.

C.I.P. , the infamous 2.2 update pushed to Desire near the end of last year. Result, pretty much killed WiFi, and a couple other radio related systems on a large percentage of Desires.

That's when new owners discovered the words "Gold Card". Funny HTC never mentioned this. Just a slight on their part.

All's well that ends well. Root, flash to Cyanogen, and life is wonderful. HTC by far, has the best products, even if they miss the mark on occasion.

It's pretty funny when you can root your phone and there are less bugs or no bugs and it runs faster with better battery life. The manufacturer's OS update is buggy right around the time they've released some new phone that they are itching for you to buy? Too much coincidence for me.

I think the issue with rooted ROMS being "less buggy" has to do with the amount of money companies like HTC are willing to spend on developer teams tweaking their code.
Let's face it. The guys and gals out there who are building these GREAT custom ROMS like the Cyanogen and MikMiks (and MANY others) of the world do this because they LOVE it, and they love the platform. I doubt the developers from HTC are as passionate about the platforms as us in the user community are.
ADD to that, HTC developers have to develop for several levels of hardware and limited time to build for different hardware platforms, and for different phone networks, etc. I can cut HTC some slack.
I'm still REALLY happy with my Evo, more so than I was with my "Pre Minus" and EXTREMELY more than I was with my iPhone.
I'm excited to see what the development community does with the base updates that HTC puts out for our phones. AND I am happy to see regular updates from HTC for their products, because that gives the developers new tools to work with.

Indeed. All the rooters with EVO's that are running fine while the GB update jacked up Sense will tell you how ridiculous this nonsense is. HTC may not be the only manufacturer who does this, but for certain, their updates seem to jack up phones around the time they've released some new phone that they REALLY want people to buy.

I find it strange because the Wildfire S has reportedly lower RAM and memory than the Desire and yet it has 2.3.3 with Sense. Am I missing something here?

HTC and Sprint want users to buy the new EVO 3D. So they put out a half baked EVO GB update and won't update the desire with lame low memory excuse. The EVO 3D only has 4GB of storage. The Moto Photon will have 16 Gig and as stated, Samsung Galaxy S phones have 16 GB. HTC seems to build in low mem to insure that you have to upgrade to a new phone within a year or two and they hope you get one of theirs, but that trick won't work on me. This EVO is my last HTC phone To heck with Sense and a phone with low mem. PHOTON is next.

As much as I would love to support an AMERICAN company (Motorola) They have to get off their "Lock it down" mentality before I buy any more of their products.
(That said, they DO make good hardware)

I hate ignorant people like you and their backwards thinking. You should buy an item for it's quality and features, not because it was "made" here in America. Besides, the majority of the components are most likely made overseas. Buy something you like because it was build good and has the features you like. Besides, do you think the people running Motorola are being loyal to the american consumer? No, it's a business, not an ideal. All they care about is their wallet. So all you should care about is spending your hard earned money on things that will get you the best bang for your buck.

In addition to the custom ROMs named above, I would recommended the Redux Gingerbread-based ROM which can be found on XDA. I tried a few out and found this to be fast, stable and had plenty of familiar features.

Because HTC phone don't have enough built in mem

ory that limit the HTC phone user has problem upgrading to Gingerbread rom.
HTC has very nice aesthetic phone but stingy on memory. Their phone memory only mearly around 512mb. And always has to depend on external sd card.

Where else Samsung always very generous of having 4GB or more. For Samsung Galaxy S they have 16GB built in. Almost have no problem of installing apps on phone.

Reason why you need to upgrade froyo to Gingerbread because the new update run much faster. The apps run more smoothly. Facebook run smoothly as well.Especially startup. That is why you need to update to Gingerbread.

I'd have to agree on Sense being half baked. After the Gingerbread update on my EVO, Sense crashed randomly and often. After installing and using Launcher Pro, not only has my EVO become much more stable, the battery life has improved dramatically, leading me to believe that it is Sense that is the cause of the battery drain the EVO is well known for. I will never use Sense on this EVO again and if I ever purchase another HTC Phone (which will NOT be the EVO 3D), I would definitely avoid Sense and use Launcher Pro. If I had an HTC Desire, I'd definitely root, since Gingerbread is not an option.

I also have to agree that the under the hood improvements in Gingerbread are what it's good for, not any sort of interface or user experience improvements. It's possible that Gingerbread had more bugs in testing on the Desire than it did with the EVO.

I highly recommend CyanogenMod. Smooth and 100% improved my user experience on the Droid Incredible (1).

One of the ironic things about switching to CM7 is that you'll start to have a hard time distinguishing "cool things in Gingerbread" from "cool things in Cyanogen".

For instance, I saw a friend's Gingerbread Android recently and couldn't understand why I couldn't see handy power widgets in the notification bar.

I've gotten so used to CM7's exclusives, I doubt I'll ever buy another phone that doesn't let me replace stock with CM7.

Guys switch to Samsung phone, u would not have run out of internal memory problem.

HTC phone not good at having long Talk Time because smaller batt capacity and yet having bigger screen. Unless they use energy saving super amoled or plus screen.

That is why I switch to Samsung phone. More internal memory, much more talk time, the new SGS 2 has 10hrs talk time and crystal clear screen.

Since we are talking about UPDATES...why would I care how much memory is in any Samsung phone? They dont update their phones! Seriously, this thread its about UPDATES! Samsung has proven they suck at updates. Why would you even plug Samsung in this thread?

Excellent article. When my Nexus One updated to Gingerbread the only things I noticed were icons changing to green and the nice screen closing effects. jk. :)

Remember that the Desire comes in CDMA and GSM versions. Some of the custom ROMS mentioned won't run on CDMA Desires. Cyanogen will, and so will MIUI and, my favorite, Ultimate Droid. Just make sure you install the ROM for your particular phone. I often see lists of ROMs for the Desire without making it clear which version they are for. CDMA is the BravoC and GSM is Bravo. Also, CDMA phones don't use Gold Cards.