Update Me

Android was not designed to be updated like iOS, but good luck getting everyone on board with that idea 

Here we go again. Another year, another "Let's see how long it takes Android updates to roll out" story. The latest comes from Ars Technica, titled "The checkered, slow history of Android handset updates." It takes a look at how long it takes manufacturers to push out major releases to their handsets. Lots of charts. Lots of months. All done with the misconception that phones must be upgraded to the next, major release of Android, or something's wrong.

Only, here's the last graf of Casey Johnston's piece:.

Updates certainly aren't the most important aspect of picking a new phone—if an OS version works well, then you may be content simply to stick with that. But for those who like the latest and greatest, it’s clear that the need for update improvements plagues the entire Android ecosystem.

Hang on. There are, like, 30 paragraphs detailing things that, in the end, Ars says "aren't the most important aspect of picking a new phone." So what did we just finish reading? Circumstantial evidence that shows ... what? Android is not iOS?

Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon.

So how long should a major update take? We'd really like to know

Ars does get close to the real reason toward the beginning of its conclusion. Writes Johnston:

Even the notion itself of software updates after hardware release is still a relatively new concept, let alone the idea that hardware owners are entitled to feature-based updates. Everyone involved is still getting the hang of this. While we can look at the numbers and try to draw conclusions, there may be factors that we, as outsiders to these companies, can’t account for here. Some handsets may receive late or no updates because they sold poorly, or because they were held back or delayed because of a company’s UI overlay.

This. This is the most important paragraph in the piece. This is the part so many people seem to not understand, and we largely have the iPhone to blame. Apple did a commendable job creating a single, vertical platform with the iPhone and iOS. It's not quite a single-phone ecosystem -- there are small carrier variations, but those have largely coalesced into what now is the iPhone 5. But the point Apple designed the iPhone and iOS to be controlled by Apple. As few devices as possible, with the variants so close together on the evolutionary ladder that updates can -- and do -- come much easier, much quicker. It's a quick, quiet river, moving right along. All controlled by Apple. Not a OEM. Not a carrier. Apple. If your goal is consistency and control, this is how to do it.

Android, on the other hand, is a whole mess of ecosystems that happen to use the same OS. There's Samsung Land. And Motorola World. And the happy place that is HTC Hollow. And moving between them is more like simultaneously traversing the Mississippi River and Panama Canal, with its twists and turns and changes in elevation. Toss in the whitewater-rapids pace of hardware development and, no -- you absolutely will not see equal updates between phones, manufacturers or carriers. Not every phone will get every update. Period.

We are users. We're not engineers. We're not coders. We don't have a clue as to what it takes to update a device. Not a single person I've talked to -- up to an including the folks who make phones for a living -- has been able to answer this question: "How long should it take for an update to reach your phone from the moment the code is made available?" And we're not in meetings with the carriers when they're deciding which resources to put toward major updates for phones that might not be as popular as you'd like (that's a tough reality), and which should go toward new phones. But this is business. It's not personal.

We've been spoiled by the way Apple's done things, both in mobile and on the traditional computing side. That's not a bad thing. That's the way updates should be done, and it's the way the will be done in a vertical ecosystem like iOS. But Android is not designed for that to happen. It may never be.

Don't ignore the really important updates

Another point that needs to be mentioned: Ars is ignoring "point" updates. That's fine, and they're transparent about it. But I'd argue that "point" updates -- or maintenance releases -- are more important. (An Ars commenter mentioned this, too.) They fix things that are broken. They're the ones that need to be worried about more in the life cycle of the phone. Look no further than this week's Samsung Exynos brouhaha. That's something that needs to be fixed, ASAP. That's a benchmark that needs to be taken more seriously. It's a bit of a Catch-22. You want to see as few maintenance releases as necessary. But when one's needed, it needs to get pushed out as quickly as possible.

Ars isn't alone here. We had this same talk more than a year ago when CNET's Molly Wood got all up in arms over the "fragmentation" bogeyman. We've seen other such update "studies" published that all ignore the simple fact that Android is not designed the same as iOS. As much as we'd like it, updates won't magically appear a month after Google releases the code publicly. Not every phone is created equal. Some will be left behind.

Maybe, just maybe, things are moving quicker

But consider this: Android 4.1 was released to the Android Open Source Project on July 9, 2012, and five months later we're seeing updates from Samsung. From Motorola. From HTC. (And those are but a few phones seeing upates this holiday season.) Sony, which Ars didn't mention in its piece, says we'll see updates in February and March. LG's bringing updates in the new year.

Of course, none of this matters if the manufacturers and carriers don't deliver. But the Android update process is complex, and it isn't as dire as some would have  you believe.

 
There are 134 comments

WindRunner says:

Yes. Thank you. I'm thoroughly impressed with these 5-month turnarounds. Samsung's even added additional features beyond the 4.1.1 update (e.g. multi-window) - it's those things that take the most time and it's nice to see them make it worth the wait. The multi-window feature is actually making me consider going back to stock...

Ratnok says:

Why be impressed with a 5 month turnaround? The standard here is NOT APPLE. It amazes me how even Android Central extends the ARDF (Apple Reality Distortion Field) by acting as if the iPhone is the standard. Android encompasses 75% of the global smartphone market. For all intents and purposes, IT IS the smartphone market. The standard for Android is the Nexus. My GSM Galaxy Nexus received Jellybean 2 weeks after it was announced. TWO WEEKS. The same for 4.2. Both are feature-rich upgrades, and both were free. Apple, on the other hand, launched it's upgrade THREE MONTHS after announcement- the same amount of time the Verizon Nexus did. Windows Phone will never be upgraded to Windows 8, and is just now getting the gimped 7.8. Android has consistently gotten 2 feature-rich upgrades a year, not 1, but TWO.(in 2009, there were 3). And the ironic part of this article is the photo highlights the Nexus 4, which will get more updates faster than any other smartphone device on the market.

The Nexus line invalidates this entire article. Shame on AC for perpetuating the ARDF. The purpose of the entire Nexus line is to define what Android is supposed to be able to do. Android is supposed to update within 2 weeks of announcement. Android is supposed to update OVER THE AIR. Android is supposed to have 2 feature-rich upgrades per year. Anything else is not up to Google's standard- and Nexus is the standard.

It's great that Samsung, HTC, Sony, and LG are adding value with things like multi-window and Lock screen shortcuts/widgets. But most of those could be sent via the Google Play market as exclusive apps, or through a separate update specific to the OEM. The reason I switched back from HTC to Nexus was because when I finally did get ICS, I DIDN'T get the new version of Sense. They couldn't even support their own "experience!" Carriers on the other hand need to JUST STOP WITH THE BLOATWARE. Enough said on that. Google has pledged to offer the next Android version in advance so that OEM's can get to work on their enhancements early. I think that helped Samsung and ASUS with faster upgrades, and since the Nexus program is in LG's hands as well, it should help with their Optimus line.

ivrimon says:

You said yourself, none of the OEMs get the code until the announcement. The Nexus line will always be first as it's what the new update is developed on and until Google dump the code they are the only ones who have access to it. The customisations don't help but I'm pretty sure that even rewriting drivers would take more than two weeks. Even then, that turnaround can only happen for unlocked phones. If Google actually did what Apple do and announce the new OS a couple of months before a planned release it would probably make things a lot easier. Not only would the OEMs hopefully get access to the code but they would also know what has now been included by default.

ruel24 says:

But, Cyanogenmod comes out for many devices LONG BEFORE the OEM gets around to upgrading it to an Android OS release that's one generation behind. This logic is nonsense...

iOS 6, BTW, was announced Sept. 12th and actually available for download on Sept. 19th. Some months ahead... Get a clue!

Ratnok says:

ruel24 is 100% correct that drivers are not an excuse, and Cyanogenmod and peers are the proof.

Actually, iOS 6 was announced by Apple on June 11th at the WWDC 2012. It was released on September 19th. That 3 month gap is 2 1/2 months slower than Nexus. Again, Apple is not the standard. Nexus is.

http://gizmodo.com/5917502/wwdc-2012-apple-had-a-pretty-amazing-day

ruel24 says:

You're mistaken that at WWDC, they simply say "it's coming" and here are some new features, and on Sept. 12th, they announced it was "final", or in Apple's terms "Golden Master". Then, it was available on Sept. 19th. We all know that Google is working on the next Android OS. Google just doesn't share what is on it in that manner. There is a big difference in saying here's what we're working on, and announcing it's ready.

Ratnok says:

You're playing with semantics here. It was fully announced at WWDC. There is no denying or disproving that. Right now you're speaking ARDF.

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/apples-ios-macbook-pros-announcement-to...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cC1TIis-cmI

bp3dots says:

Argue semantics all you want. Regardless of the android field, the standard for the smartphone market is the iPhone. Should it be? maybe not, but it is.

Apple may announce their new version earlier than it's release, but that is their intention. They could easily keep it buttoned up, until launch

As for Cyanogen, it's easy to drop super fast updates when you aren't responsible for testing that those updates will work perfectly on every phone your customers have bought. IF HTC/Sammy/Moto have an update, they need to know thst it's not going to cause huge issues. Then the carriers do the same. Cyanogen won't have to take thousands of calls/emails from angry customers because the update broke the camera flash. You can't compare the two.

mikejs78 says:

Actually, even Cyanogen takes months to reach "stable". Jellybean was released to AOSP in late June, and CyanogenMod 10 went to stable release in mid-October. That's 3.5 months without any carrier interference. Nightlies (which are essentially development builds) are not the same as a stable carrier release.

It's not a fair comparison to say that the Nexus is the standard. Google has months to test and code for the Nexus, and then they release to AOSP. The other OEMs don't have that. Even with Microsoft, they have a "Release to Manufacturing" date which the OEMs get the code and can start porting drivers several months ahead of time.

And as far as Apple vs. Android, at least when an Android phone gets updated with a new device, it gets 99% of the features (unless the hardware doesn't support a feature, e.g. NFC). Each successive iPhone may get each major release, but they lose major features. The fact that the iPhone 4 doesn't get navigation while losing street view and transit directions just floors me. I'll take a 5-month update window rather than *losing* features with a new OS release...

This stuff takes time. And the spin on Android upgrades is not as bad as Ars would make it seem.

Ratnok says:

"Regardless of the android field, the standard...."

That statement makes no sense. As I wrote earlier, Android effectively IS THE SMARTPHONE MARKET. To say otherwise is pure Apple Reality Distortion Field nonsense, and to repeat the ARDF is to maintain its existence. It is perception based upon marketing and the media, and anyone with any sense can tell you that perception does not equal reality. The ONLY standard Android has is the Nexus line. That is it's purpose. It exists for no other reason. It is the primary reference device for Android developers in practice and philosophically, it is the role model for all Android phones, and now Android tablets. If you don't understand that, then you don't understand the Android ecosystem. A discussion of another company is irrelevant here- especially on a site called AndroidCENTRAL. Unfortunately too much of the media (and thereby it's readers) are addicted to the ARDF.

My entire point was to encourage people to STOP distorting reality and to remember what reality is. Why is it so hard to take off the Apple glasses and look at the market for how it truly is? I feel like it's 1450 and I'm trying to tell people that the earth is round. Nexus defines what Android should be able to do at a minimum. OEMs can expand upon that, but that's the point of standards. Standards provide minimum expectations.

If you need a refresher on Nexus expectations, I suggest you watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjaYKNwWWiQ

rmunn says:

"I feel like it's 1450 and I'm trying to tell people that the earth is round."

Common misperception. People in 1450 *did* know the earth was round; the argument between Columbus and his detractors was over the size of the earth. Columbus thought the earth was small enough that you could sail west from Spain and reach the Indies before you ran out of food & water, while his detractors were saying "No, you're doing the math wrong. The world is 25% larger than you think it is. You'll run out of supplies before you reach the Indies." As it happens, Columbus's detractors were *right*. If he hadn't bumped into a continent that *none of them* had known about, he and all his men would have starved at sea before reaching China.

Not that this has anything to do with Android. :-)

Dr0me says:

exactly, Apple shows off the new features in June as it is presumably ready for the newest iphone. By the time it goes "golden master" they have completed their backwards compatibility and sent it to the carriers to approve behind the scenes. When the carriers approve, they push it out on the same day and users don't know the difference.

Google on the other hand finishes the update, sends it out immediately to the unlocked nexus line. Then it takes the carriers 2-3 months to release to the VZW and spring (non unlocked) nexus and 3-5 months for the OEMS to layer their skin on top of it and get it carrier approved.

Google could very well show off the new features. Hold the update back for 2-3 months until all the carriers approve the update and then push it out all at once but they instead get it out there asap. which is why it pays to get an unlocked nexus.

Xingularity says:

Cyanogenmod also does do carrier network compatibility, and doesn't have to worry about FCC regulations. Just because they can put out a ROM out faster than the carriers does not mean they are better than the carriers. AND iOS is not android...

ruel24 says:

No, iOS is not Android, but that doesn't excuse how long it takes between when a new Android OS is released and it makes it to the handset. Again, not only does Cyanogenmod have it in a much timelier manner for supported handsets, it's doing it for a plethora of handsets and tablets, and has far more and deeper modifications than the carriers provide. That's a lot to deal with...

TenshiNo says:

Your last line is subject to perception, I think: "has far more and deeper modifications than the carriers provide".

First, off carriers don't customize a phone's ROM, other than maybe putting some bloatware on it. That's the OEM's job, but I'll assume that's a typo for the moment.

CM is a *wonderful* Android-branch. I ran it for years on my Evo 4G and I was hoping it would come to the Evo 3D the whole time I owned the phone. But I don't know that I would go so far as to say that it has "far more and deeper" customization than the OEM rom's. Samsung's new multi-window feature likely required some unfathomably complex modification of AOSP.

And most of the OEM's are also developing for multiple handsets. No OEM that I can think of has only one phone on the market right now.

And to say that CM gets their ROMs out in a timelier fashion is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, the CM *nightlies* are usually out before any carrier releases, but nightlies are not a final working ROM. Frequently, the nightlies have small issues and bugs. Occasionally, they have *huge* bugs.

This leads into the one thing you are forgetting: No (major) "Android-based" handset actually runs "Android" as Google writes it, except the Nexus models. So while, yes, a new version of Android may come out, your Samsung phone does *not* run Android. At least not the Android that Google releases. It's a Samsung built ROM *based* on Android. And that means Samsung has to make the modifications to their code branch, test it, and then get carrier approval on it. That takes time, especially since none of the OEM's get access to the code prior to Google releasing it to the public. Some might argue that that is where the problem lies, but the only way around that would be for Google to not announce the completion of the new version of Android right away and let the OEM's have it for a few months before they make its existence public knowledge. That may sound like a great solution, but I imagine a few Nexus owners would disagree.

If you look solely at the Nexus model, which is the closest thing Android has to the way Apple's model works, it's just about the same. The problem isn't the model. It's the perception.

Targon says:

How long is it from the time that Cyanogenmod first releases the initial version to the time when it is stable? How about with all the custom UI features from the handset manufacturer(Touchwiz from Samsung, HTC Sense, etc)? A manufacturer CAN NOT release an update if there are obvious problems, like crashing, reboots, features breaking, etc.
So, when did Cyanogenmod have JB for the Galaxy S3 fully working, no crashes or obvious problems? Yes, there was a "stock JB" earlier, but then you add the extra features that Samsung had added as well. Seriously, was it ONLY two weeks to get it ready from the time Android 4.1 was released to get it working on the S3 with all of that?

This is also something that people fail to think about, extra features. Do the Nexus devices have NFC? How about AllShare Cast(since Samsung has been pushing extra features), that would take some time to make sure it is working.

If the goal is to turn a device with extra features into a "base OS" device, it could be done faster, but to make EVERYTHING work, plus the new extras? Then you MUST have it bug checked, and fix all the problems...five months feels right.

Remember, all the people that brick their phones due to a bad Cyanogenmod update would be fully unacceptable to the manufacturer, and making sure there are no problems deserves at LEAST two months.

revtech says:

Ladies and Gentlemen, Phil Nickinson, the voice of reason . . again.

Ratnok says:

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Nexus line invalidates the entire thesis voiced by Phil Nickinson.... again.

ruel24 says:

Yes and no. First, only if you are on a GSM carrier. Second, I believe he's arguing that ALL Android devices should get timely regular updates/upgrades, similar to Nexus and iPhone.

phor11 says:

Timely updates make all the sense in the world from the consumer prospective.

But from a business perspective, the manufacturers don't have any incentive to push timely updates to all their devices. The more they update, the longer you are bound to stick with your current device, and they make exactly $0 from that.
Apple incentivizes their new hardware by leaving out key new features any time they update older phones. But Android manufacturers can't really do that.

In my opinion, expecting timely updates when you leave that process to the manufacturer just doesn't make sense. It makes more business sense for them to provide "value add" features at the time of release so that they can sell more devices, and then only worry about updates when they HAVE to for security reasons.

If you want timely updates with an Android phone, the Nexus program or third party ROMS are going to continue to be your only options.

Gotta wonder what HTC's market share would be right now if it:

1) Designed it's UI in a modular "app like" fashion, so that
2) It could provide timely updates for 2 years
3) Or be entirely disabled/removed in favor of a stock Android experience

The #1 reason I'm not buying another HTC device (and in fact am getting the Nexus) is the lack of updates.

Given the option between two roughly equivalent phones, which would you choose, one from a manufacturer with a history of updates, or one from a manufacturer that doesn't?

Targon says:

The issue has NOTHING to do with the financials, and considering older phones are sold for well over a year beyond when they are beyond their prime, doing updates will continue to make sense. The Galaxy S2 is still being sold today.

You MUST understand that you need device drivers for ALL components in a device, and it has only been in the past year that Android has REALLY been seen as a powerful enough force for component makers to REALLY release updates for older components. So, first, you need to get Android support for the older devices IN FULL, not just the basics. If the old version of Android had a bunch of hardware features supported, then the NEW version must have those same features working, and not just "it sort of works". So, the new update MUST be an improvement in virtually all areas.

We are mostly at the point where component makers actually release drivers for their older components, and not just the latest and greatest, and you saw that back in September when you saw Samsung and others release a big list of which devices would be getting Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean updates. The reason they could FINALLY commit to these updates is the drivers were finally released for a bunch of them.

Now, 4.0 to 4.1 to 4.2 isn't a huge change in terms of the drivers, so from that point of view, you have the case of making sure the new release will WORK, but also, you have the customizations beyond the base version of Android. Some handset makers do very little, and some do a lot and add special features. Samsung has their split screen stuff for the Note 2 and S3 for example. Not standard in Jelly Bean, and the way the system is set up for TouchWiz is also different. Things like S-voice may not matter as much for people now that Google has added voice searching and such, but S-voice DOES do some things and has certain controls that Google doesn't have at the moment.

So, testing after the update. How long should a company test an update before pushing it out? Seriously, with a Nexus device, the idea is you get the latest updates, but Google is testing new Android versions against Nexus devices, so the delay in new Android versions is QA. Not everyone wants to live on the bleeding edge of technology. How many people have bricked their phone with a nightly Cyanogenmod?

To be honest, I love my Galaxy S3 stock, and stock Android doesn't feel as comfortable for ME. I have nothing against it, but Samsung really has done a good job making their latest devices feel very intuitive, and it makes sense that Samsung would do testing. Carrier delays are the bigger cause for annoyance. If you think about it, AT&T and Verizon users are forced to wait over a month longer than anyone else to get updates for the same device.

TenshiNo says:

+1 Excellent points.

Ratnok says:

phor11- Exactly.

ruel24- Sorry, but wrong again. The Verizon Nexus is not GSM, it is CDMA. It was ungraded to Jelly Bean 4.1 in 3 months after announcement. Android 4.2 was announced in November. That means that carriers only need 3 months to review and approve- assuming they didn't delay. I would be surprised if it didn't upgrade to 4.2 by late January, early February. I would wager that the GS3 gets 4.2 in May- which is of course around the time that Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie will launch on the Nexus.

ruel24 says:

The Verizon Galaxy Nexus is the ONLY Nexus phone ever developed to work on Verizon's network. That is the problem. If I opted for the Nexus phone route to get timely upgrades, I'd still be stuck with the Galaxy Nexus because there is no upgrade path to the new Nexus. Only if you're on a GSM network can you keep upgrading from Nexus device to Nexus device. That was my point, not whether or not there ever was a CDMA Nexus device. As someone pointed out, the Nexus phones are always released as unlocked GSM phones, and thus you can always move to the next Nexus phone when your current one seems to get slow or just seemingly outdated.

revtech says:

I still don't understand how you guys justify this entitlement attitude. I'm sure you'll have an answer to put me in my place, but we buy what we buy and we have what we bought, its nice to get upgrades but how does one justify feeling entitled to it? I'm sure this isn't a perfect example, but if I buy a new car and next years model has some cool enhancement I can't take it to the dealer and demand that mine be upgraded so I have what this year's model has. I can't complain because someone's 2013 car has something my 2012 has, if I want it I have to trade in and buy the new model or be content with what I have.

Dirtman16 says:

If you're going to buy a subsidized Android phone, which I understand is necessary for some folks who need Verizon's coverage, you should expect no more than 1 major update. And that's only if you're buying a popular, high-end device.

I feel as though once Verizon and Sprint make a major switch away from 1x voice to VoLTE, we may get some traction in the unsubsidized phone market. At that point, it should theoretically be easier for manufacturers to limit the number of model variations required to operate on US carriers.

ruel24 says:

There is still, form what I understand, some differences between AT&T's LTE and Verizon's LTE, making them incompatible. Carriers are trying hard to keep from just becoming a commodity of wireless service with their phone differentiation. If wireless service becomes commoditized, the price of service will plummet, and no carrier wants that at all.

bp3dots says:

They won't be universal phones, bt not having the CDMA radio makes production of similar models for different csrriers easier.

Clak says:

"We are users. We're not engineers. We're not coders."

So AC has no readers who are engineers or coders? Well, ok then.

tmcquake says:

If THAT is what you are taking away from this article, than you have entirely missed the point.

KwietStorm says:

I think you missed Clak's point. Assuming that none of us are programmers or engineers is not only silly, its unrealistic. I'm sure Phil was generalizing, but even for those of you who are "only" end users, you should still have a right to voice your opinion on this matter. The fact that the carrier and custom ROM situation is still such a big talking point, should prove its substantial impact on these users, and obviously not in any good way. There is always going to be the argument that we're all in the minority, and the average person doesn't even know that Android has alphabetical pastry names. However, I have a Nexus 4 myself, and it annoys me to no end when I see people say if you updates and on time, get a Nexus. That's not only not a viable option for everyone, but it ignores the actual "problem." Seeing some phones getting updated to Ice Cream Sandwich this month hurts my cerebellum.

rpz3.14 says:

I was thinking, "Wait, I AM an engineer" when I read that, too.

Pollster says:

The fact that I am a coder only proves his point. I have no idea what goes into making an update happen on my phone.

Xingularity says:

No, we should not have to be engineers and coders to fully enjoy our phones...

commonplace says:

I, too, think it's interesting that people have come to expect these updates. It's fairly unique to the mobile space. I mean, when you buy a computer with Windows 8 on it, you don't expect that you'll get Windows 9 and Windows 10 and Windows 11 for free later on down the road. Even Mac users don't get free upgrades like that.

Armada says:

Microsoft also doesn't release a new OS as fast and can push necessary security fixes whenever it wants. Don't compare apples and oranges.

rcook55 says:

However if I buy a PC or Mac today and Windows 9/10/11 or OSX 11/12 is released, unless the hardware requirements change, I can go out day of sale buy and install the new update. Yes I'm not getting it for free, I understand that, but I am at least getting it which in Android land is not a guarantee at all.

That there is a new version of Android available for my Galaxy S3 that I can't have unless I go ROM'ing isn't right. I'd be willing to pay for an update if it guaranteed that I'd get the updates ASAP.

ruel24 says:

Wrong. You can keep upgrading Windows until your hardware simply no longer supports it. Same with the Mac, now that they've gone Intel. At some point your OS will be too demanding for the old hardware and it'll get cut off. However, that's like 4 years down the road. My PC is about 4 years old, and running Windows 7. I can easily upgrade to Windows 8 if I wasn't so repulsed by it.

You know, I'd even be willing to shell out a few bucks for OS upgrades, since I know Google doesn't make the handset. The iPhone does it free because Apple traditionally made OS upgrades free from way back in the Apple II days. It's was only the Mac platform that they ever charged for OS upgrades and they're a measly $29.

jim_joe_bob says:

Maybe if the carriers didn't pack their devices full of shitware, we'd get more updates.

CoolBeit says:

Not getting updates is only part of the problem. A lack of OEM updates COMBINED with locked bootloaders is what really irritates users. We get android phones because we can mod/customize them. Don't lock down our bootloaders and then tell us it's too hard to keep up with all the updates. Meanwhile, the mod community is pumping out updated version of cyanogenMod every night.

ruel24 says:

BINGO! And I'd consider getting Android and running Cyanogenmod, if I wasn't so afraid of bricking it.

CoolBeit says:

And we wouldn't have a chance to brick our devices if bootloaders were completely unlocked. Just have a look at the viewsonic g tablet. It's basically completely unbrickable because you can always nvflash the entire system.

sleblanc1976 says:

There is a problem, and it lies with the ODM/Carriers. There is tons of blame to go around to both of them. Bottom line is that if that is an issue for you, buy a GSM Nexus, if that doesn't work for you then you gotta weigh the pros and cons as they relate to you.

I agree that if the lack of updates are an issue for you, buy a Nexus. And since the updates do mean a lot to me, I sold my Acer A100 (ICS) and bought a Nexus 7 as well as updated my LG Thrive (Froyo) to a Samsung Galaxy Nexus slightly used from ebay. I believe the Nexus line products will get the updates in a timely manner for 18 to 24 months (depending upon hardware specs) after the product launch and that's works for me.

Byzantium says:

Here's a better solution for the manufacturers:

Make less phones.

That's the main reason that Apple gets updates quickly. They roll out only 1 phone a year. Instead of rolling out 12-15 phones a year, manufacturers should roll out 3 to 5 phones a year. Most of the phones that are rolled out today are crap anyway, so why not just put your resources towards making a few great phones instead of a 1 great phone, a few average phones, and a whole lot of crap?

We can already see Windows Phone starting to follow this model, with less handsets coming out for WP8 than WP7, and Android of all software should have the same hardware ecosystem.

The less phones, the better for users who want support, and the better for developers that have to spend money on a TON a bunch of new phones every year just to track down bugs on their apps that don't play nice with an average phone that a lot of people got simply because the price was so low.

Let me preface what I'm about to say by agreeing with you wholeheartedly that Android OEMs do need to make fewer product every year. However, I don't think that the problem lies with putting out what you call "crap".

Sadly, in America, we rely on subsidized handsets. A lot of people only perceive the up front cost of a phone and so they don't believe they can afford higher end devices. Conversely, perhaps they want a smartphone off-contract or on a prepaid carrier and they don't want to spend $600 on a top of the line phone. That is were the low end comes in to fill the want for reasonably priced handsets with last years specs. Manufactures will always need to make different models for different price ranges in any market.

You are also forgetting that the low end market is were some OEMs make most of their money. How do you think Nokia has stayed in business so long?

What really needs to happen is that manufactures need to create a few solid and well put together handsets for each price level (low and mid range as well as high end)and release them UNIVERSALLY across all major carriers. Samsung made an absolutely brilliant move by releasing the S3 relatively unchanged across the big 4. Other OEMs should take note and follow suite. No more of these carrier exclusives.

I will get off my soapbox now...

bearballz72 says:

I agree there's a lot of blame to go around for the lack of OS updates for Android.

Besides buying a Nexus or an Iphone people should really not expect more than one major update during the life of the phone. Frankly most people beside us phone geeks could really care less about updates.

But if a company really wants to build a loyalty base like Apple has with IOS, timely updates are a start. Samsung seems to be getting it right by not letting U.S. carriers dictate the specs of the SIII. Plus rolling out additional updates to the SIII like this premium suite update helps to (we'll see if that continues well into 2013).

If Sammy should copy anything from Apple it should be Apple's suppost of it's devices.

And, lets add this little caveat to this piece. The majority of smartphone users like my wife (who owns a Verizon Galaxy S3 that just got updated to Jelly Bean) don't care about constant updates as long as the software works and the phone does what it's meant to do. I'm pretty sure that a lot of folks that come onto Android Central are rooters, unlockers and Rom'ers (I made that term up!!) like I am, but take this stuff so seriously! I like the developer community for Android, it kicks butt; they feed my need for latest and greatest. However, I am also comfortable knowing that I'm not going to get the latest and greatest Android update from the OEM's once Google drops the code. It takes time for them to implement and test things out onto a device and to just nonchalantly push an update out without thorough testing is asking for customer backlash. The fun part of Android is that you do have a choice when it comes to so many devices running so many different skins. Pick what you like and what works for you. My Galaxy Nexus has served me well for the past year, but I may move back to a more conventional device like the Note 2 and I would be perfectly happy with 4.1.1 on there with that very useful multi-window view.

movielover76 says:

I think your right, most average Android users don't care about updates.
With the exception of people who own a very old Android phones and cannot run some popular app. (For instance one friend had a very old HTC Hero and he couldn't download songpop)
I've never heard an average user mention updates to Android phones, unless an update broke something or even had an average user know what I was talking about when I mentioned Jellybean or Ice Cream Sandwich.

So while android lovers like us here may care a lot about updates, it's probably not as big of a problem as it is to us, which can be solved by owning a nexus.
OEM's are starting to do somewhat of a better job too, let's hope that continues as does the trend towards less devices by each OEM so they can support their devices better.

Their is one exception though, security updates.
Security updates are very important and their are too many phones out their with old vulnerabilities that are unpatched. That's a big problem for Android.

I agree with you on your points. The security vulnerabilities should always be high priority and need to be fixed ASAP.

MERCDROID says:

+9000

steve0617 says:

"I've never heard an average user mention updates to Android phones, unless an update broke something or even had an average user know what I was talking about when I mentioned Jellybean or Ice Cream Sandwich."

Update to whatever OS is current? They're not interested, I agree. But they see the fancy Google Now commercials and are impressed.

'TAKE THAT SIRI!' they silently think. '*I* bought Android and didn't follow all those iPhone hipsters...'

And then they realize that their 14 month old phone can't do Google Now and there's nothing they can do about it. They're at the mercy of when their particular carrier and/or OEM gets off their collective asses.

The 14 month owned iPhone 4S users have Siri. And virtually everything else that Apple currently advertises. Who cares if it's 'as good' as Android.

'APPLE USERS have X! I see the commericals. WHERE'S MY GOOGLE NOW???'

And *that's* where carrier and OEM dependent (NOT Google) OS updates fall down.

Because if the answer to 'why don't *I* have Google Now?' is 'sorry. sucks to be you as you bought the wrong Android phone,' Google will continually fail when compared against the iPhone's marketing.

oscarnyc says:

that argument fails miserably, though, b/c the 4S came w/Siri, and owners of the 4 could not get SIRI when it came out 1yr ago. this whole fragmentation argument is ironic b/c iOS is becoming more fragmented as each new version restricts more features to the latest hardware.

bearballz72 says:

That is true. One of the dirty little secrets of IOS updates is that older Iphones, Ipads and Touches do not get the full blown OS update, but merely pieces of it. When I updated to IOS 6 on my Ipad 2, I only got bits and pieces compared to the more recent Ipad.

My 3rd gen Ipod touch didn't get IOS 6 at all.

But I guess getting something is better than getting nothing.

ruel24 says:

Because of hardware limitations. Siri has a chip in the iPhone 4S and later that makes it work, for instance. Must be some sort of DSP chip, or something to enhance it's capabilities. I had the Siri app before Apple bought it, but Siri was on steroids when released from Apple. Big difference. I'm sure the chip helps it.

movielover76 says:

75% of the market is hardly failing against the iPhone.
But I'll give you that current average Android users may get miffed if they don't have google now or photo sphere when they see an ad for a JellyBean 4.2 device.

And that's the reason OEM's should care about releasing Android updates, to keep customer's happy and ensure that when they upgrade they buy the same OEM brands newer phone.
And users who buy higher end phones are more likely to be the ones that get annoyed when they don't have an update.

But I think it's important to realize that each OEM's version of Android, especially when it comes to the big guys like Samsung, HTC and Motorola are really different Operating systems based on the same core Android OS. It's like Ubuntu vs Slackware, the features aren't exactly the same even if they are both based on Linux.

You can't assume that every Android phone on even the same version of Android has the same features. My nexus 4 can act as a wifi hotspot without any additional charges, you can't say that about all android devices.

return_0 says:

"And, lets add this little caveat to this piece. The majority of smartphone users like my wife (who owns a Verizon Galaxy S3 that just got updated to Jelly Bean) don't care about constant updates as long as the software works and the phone does what it's meant to do."

"I think your right, most average Android users don't care about updates.
With the exception of people who own a very old Android phones and cannot run some popular app. (For instance one friend had a very old HTC Hero and he couldn't download songpop)"

I agree with this. But I find it so ironic that my aunt is a coder/software engineer/developer/whatever you want to call it (although not an Android dev) and she still uses an HTC Dream (T-Mobile G1)!

HAAS599 says:

Great job phil. Be ready to re-post this once a year.

MERCDROID says:

+9000

SSherris says:

I do assume I'll be getting OS updates regularly and no, it has nothing to do with Apple. I came from WebOS where at one time I did get regular OS updates. And why not? Why not sell more hardware today with the promise that it will get better over time? It's magic! Instead of holding off a purchase because I'm afraid it will be obsolete, I can buy today knowing that an OS update will make my phone run faster, cooler, and smarter sometime in the near future.

Yes, I can understand a profit-maximization rationale for withholding updates (force people to shell out for hardware they don't need to get the software they want). But the carrier's desire for more revenue doesn't make it right for me as a customer. The legality of this doesn't change the morality.

I get updates for all sorts of software on my phone. Thankfully Google has broken parts of it OS out so it can send updates to those pieces without carrier intervention.

And while we're on the topic, yes I do expect updates to Windows, and yes I do get them (especially on patch Tuesday). No, I don't want Windows 8, but regular improvements and bugfixes I expect. I mean, when i buy a new computer, I have to repurchase Windows, even if it's the same version. Because I never owned Windows - I just had a license to use Windows on one machine. So of course I should get upgraded as long as I'm using that one machine.

Ziptied says:

It's called Nexus, buy them and you won't have any issues about updates, unless you have VZW or sprint

MERCDROID says:

+9000

ruel24 says:

Okay, so you're on AT&T and get a Nexus. What's to say, in 2 years when you're ready to upgrade, the next Nexus is even available on AT&T? See the dilemma? If I went that route, I'd want to stay on the Nexus, but it's not even possible to upgrade from Nexus to Nexus. This is just a clusterf*ck of a distribution model. I'd be so willing to leave iPhone and get on the Android bandwagon if I could get a high-end phone like the Galaxy SIII and get regular timely updates for my entire 2 years of ownership, just like I do on the iPhone. But it just isn't happening, so I'm not buying.

MERCDROID says:

+9000 I see what you mean. However, I believe that as long as the rest of the world operates exclusively on GSM, Google will continue to release GSM-Unlocked Nexii. Use what works for you: we're not going to waste time trying to make you switch from something that you're completely happy with. Even though the lion's share of us care for updates, we're happy using Android the way it is.

ruel24 says:

But I'm not completely happy with it. As a Linux user, and KDE desktop user, I love configurability. I love a lot about Android. I just can't fathom giving Samsung/Verizon my money for one, though, without getting regular updates. That simply isn't customer service, IMO.

Now, I'm seriously looking at a Nexus 7 or Nexus 10. Getting an iPad just seems like having exactly the same thing I have on the iPhone, only a bigger format, and it'll be wi-fi only so carriers are of no consequence.

MERCDROID says:

I don't have a Nexus or 10, but I think they would make great tablets since you love the configurability of Android and don't want to be tied down to a carrier device. It couldn't hurt to give it a go =)

*facepalm*

Firstly, AT&T doesn't sell the Nexus directly at all. You have to buy it off contract from Google and then activate it on AT&T's network, if that is even the network you choose to activate your phone on.

Seconly, AT&T is the major GSM carrier for the US and so it will, in all likelihood, continue to support the necessarily frequencies to activate any international Nexus sold directly from Google's play store in the future.

Thirdly, if you do get international carrier unlocked Nexus (which you should if you are trying to go Nexus in the first place), you will, in fact, get the absolute most bleeding edge and up to date software directly from Google as soon as it is released for at least 2 years, if not more.

Stop buying from carriers and subsidizing your handset (which interestingly makes your service more expensive in the long run) and there will be no dilemma to speak of. It's actually the smart distribution model if you want to save money and not be tied to a carrier for several years.

Oh, and you want a high-end Android phone like the GS3? The LG Nexus is just about the best phone you can buy right now (beating out the GS3 in several areas) and it starts at just $300 off-contract. Cannot beat that.

ruel24 says:

Except that I'd have to go with a GSM carrier like AT&T, and that'll NEVER HAPPEN. Verizon coverage kicks major a$$ and I laugh at my friends who have other carriers and have coverage problems. I've been down the road with other carriers and I'm not leaving Verizon coverage for anything.

movielover76 says:

Then keep your iPhone and be happy with it, seriously.
And stop flaming this article, we get you won't switch to Android because of updates
Case closed.

CDMA phones are harder to get updates on when it comes to Android.
Is it ideal no, but on a cdma carrier your going to wait on Android updates.
OEM's are getting better with updates, but you'll never get the newest version of Android on every Android phone on every network within a month or two.

I left Verizon for this reason and went to prepaid T-mobile, and I'm very happy and lucky to be in an area that's well covered by all carriers.

MERCDROID says:

"I left Verizon for this reason and went to prepaid T-mobile, and I'm very happy and lucky to be in an area that's well covered by all carriers."

I sort of left Verizon for this reason. I'm not crazy about updates, but I did want the freedom of not being tied to a contract, not to mention the savings of over $50 a month that prepaid provides on the regular.

return_0 says:

I'm glad to hear T-Mobile's prepaid plans are working out for you. I'm planning to use T-Mobile prepaid plans myself, but… I CAN'T fR*cKN GET THE NEXUS 4!!!!! Grrr…

Whew. Sorry. I got a little angry there.

ruel24 says:

No one is flaming this article. I'm neither an Apple fanboy nor an Android fanboy. I've stated over and over that I'd love to jump ship and become an Android user, but the problem this article outlines is the very reason I haven't. I'm simply agreeing with the author that this needs to be addressed.

Funny enough, I just caught wind of the upcoming "X Phone" from Motorola/Google and it just might fix this very problem. Now, of course, is whether or not Motorola can do a better job of building phones than they have in the past. I really like Samsung much better for quality.

return_0 says:

Verizon is actually pretty terrible. Their coverage is great, I'll give you that, but they have outrageous prices and horrendous customer service. And their phone selection isn't that great either. Sure, they have the Droid DNA and the Galaxy Note 2, but where's the Nexus 4 or Optimus G or One X+?

ruel24 says:

It's funny you say that because I just had a friend jump ship from Verizon to Sprint. When he got his plan to where it was apples to apples, the difference was a measly $5 a month... He went ahead with it and now regrets it because his coverage sucks so bad.

bangishotyou says:

"You're obviously not a bowler." - The Dude

Sorry, I couldn't resist saying that after reading your comment. No offense meant. I'm not sure if you are aware or not, but let's say you are on AT&T. You should have NO problem getting a Nexus device, why? Because all Nexus phones thus far have been GSM phones. What is a GSM phone? Put as simply as possible, it's a phone that uses a SIM card. Therefore you would have no issue upgrading Nexus phones with AT&T. "Aha," you say, "but AT&T doesn't even get Nexus phones to sell!" To which I'd point out that that is a non-issue. Being that you can get Nexus phones directly from Google (via the Play Store) or buy them via a plethora of other means (Amazon, T-Mobile, etc) it becomes a non-issue. If AT&T doesn't specifically carry or have the Nexus phone in its official lineup it doesn't matter, because being a GSM unlocked phone from the get go means you can purchase the phone through whatever means available to you (or from where you can find it) and just pop in your current AT&T SIM card and you're good to go. And it very much is possible to upgrade from Nexus to Nexus for the same reasons. New Nexus comes out, buy it, remove SIM card from old Nexus, insert SIM card in new Nexus, profit!!! As for that last bit about a high-end phone and timely updates, again I have to say, "I take it you're not a bowler." Otherwise, you'd know that Nexus devices tendd to be high-end devices (and usually feature the latest and greatest hardware available at the time), in addition to which they get timely updates directly from Google (meaning the moment there's an update from Google, you'll get it... at worst you'll have to wait a week at the longest, but you'll get it ASAP, pushed directly to your device from Google).

So yeah, your entire comment is basically you not having any understanding or knowledge of Nexus devices. That's not a knock against you, I'm just saying all the "aha!" points your raised aren't actually "aha!" points. They're just flat out wrong. I do, however, hope I've helped you by informing you of how Nexus devices work and maybe helped with your understanding of them in the hopes that you'll go out and get one.

I say all that as someone who is stuck with a Sprint contract for another year, but is rocking Jelly Bean 4.2.1 on his Nexus S 4G (hurrah for unlockable bootloaders, meaning I can update my device on my own with any of a plethora of ROMs available for my phone from the XDA community). But I should add, I'm also the proud and completely happy owner of a Nexus 4 (obviously GSM/SIM card model/phone), which I'm using through T-Mobile (the only other "big" GSM carrier in the United States, besides AT&T).

CoolBeit says:

I don't really buy that argument. Why are you being so loyal to your carrier? That mindset is exactly why we have subsidized phones with custom firmwares all over the place. Buy unlocked and go with a carrier that works with your phones.

return_0 says:

Okay, so you're on Verizon and get an iPhone. What's to say that in 2 years, when you're ready to upgrade, the next iPhone is even available on Verizon? Do you see what I mean?

And you say "it's not even possible to upgrade from Nexus to Nexus". So suddenly it's a known fact that the next Nexus won't be available on AT&T?

You're taking this a little too far into hypothetical situations.

ruel24 says:

Every iPhone produced since Verizon signed up with Apple has been available on Verizon. However, only one single Nexus phone was ever available. Now, I'm a die hard Verizon user. So, basically, that puts the Nexus phone option dead in the water. I just read, though, that Motorola/Google will be producing the X Phone, which is to be aimed directly at the iPhone and to be an absoltely high-end phone. We'll see... The last time Motorola built something they claimed to be as good as Apple's product (the original Motorola Xoom), they were kidding themselves and when they priced it at the same price of the iPad, it died a loud and horrible death.

Jaycemiskel says:

Just give me an unlocked bootloader and you can drag your feet on updates all you want. Other than Samsung with the multiwindow stuff, custom ROMS such as AOKP and CM are better than what these manufacturers are doing anyway. At least Samsung is adding some value, but no one else has impressed me.

Synycalwon says:

I'm not an Android noob by any means as I have rooted devices, a Nexus 7 among them, but I'm tired of the constant nashing of teeth over Android updates. It's as if no one is allowed to just enjoy their device for what it is. Instead it's always about what it's missing and when is the next update coming. Also, keep in mind whether Android, IOS or even Windows, updates can have bugs and can cause numerous problems. So be careful what you wish for.

MERCDROID says:

+9000 I agree wholeheartedly. Too many times people feel entitled to what they don't have, instead of being happy for what they do have.

ruel24 says:

This occurs on iOS only on the major upgrades, like iOS 6. That's why you hold off until iOS 6.0.1 at the very minimum. It doesn't matter what OS or platform you use, this happens on all of them.

Pete Jago says:

They should compare iOS to the Nexus line of phones, really. You know, the line that Google actually controls? If people are so bothered about getting timely updates (like I am) they should get a Nexus (like I have; first the Galaxy Nexus and now the Nexus 4).

MERCDROID says:

+9000

MERCDROID says:

The simple fact that OEMs and carriers drag their feet on updates is what clarifies the existence of the Nexus device. If you want the latest updates, buy a Nexus; if you want extra features on your phone that only OEM skins can provide, buy a carrier-locked phone.

If you buy a flagship phone, expect one major update and a few minor updates. If you get more than that, then you lucked out.

If you buy a low-end or mid-range phone, don't expect any major updates. You may get bug fixes, but that's about it. If you get more than that, again, you lucked out.

Carriers know the value of updates: if you care enough to complain about them, you'll either buy a Nexus device out of retribution, or you'll cave in to your favorite carrier and buy the latest flagship.

I honestly believe that nothing about Android updates will change until the Nexus line rivals iOS in popularity. I actually like the features that come with OEM skins. However, until Pure Android gains traction, or carriers stop adding bloatware to Android phones, or a number of other factors that I can't even begin to fathom, we will be singing the same old swan song, and the carriers will still be dancing to it.

randyw says:

+1

Concession says:

Not a single device device has made it to the 2 year update mark.

return_0 says:

The Nexus S made it to 1 year 11 months. And we're yet to see how the GNex and the N4 do.

ruel24 says:

I'm sorry, but I totally disagree. I think all handsets should be upgraded in a timely manner for at least 2 years from the last date the handset was available for sale. Why wouldn't users want the latest features? Manufacturers want iPhone money for their devices, yet they don't want to keep them up to date? Preposterous! This is the my holdback from jumping to the Android platform. I'm an avid Linux user, and love Open Source and love the configurability of Android, but I'm just put off by this whole idea that you're probably stuck with the OS that came with the phone and you might get lucky to get one major OS upgrade in the life of the device - unless you root and install custom ROMs.

Until this changes, I'm sticking with the iPhone. I believe I'm getting much better bang for my buck when I can keep getting OS upgrades for some time to come. My phone is almost 2 years old, and it's gotten every OS update so far. I know there is a limit, but I'm not there yet. I'm up for a new phone and so wanted something to change for the better on Android, but it's just not there for me. Until it is, I'll be on the iPhone.

MERCDROID says:

Why not try a Nexus device?

bearballz72 says:

Nexus doesn't help if you're on Verizon or Sprint. Until Google/LG release an LTE capable nexus with some decent storage I'll stick with my SIII.

CoolBeit says:

So get off Verizon or Sprint until they can provide everything you want (a device, like the Nexus, that provides timely updates)

MERCDROID says:

I totally understand that. Hell, the S3 is hands-down the better device if you don't care about updates directly from Google. I'm sure a future Nexus device will be released on all carriers. And I'm with you on more storage: the cloud doesn't work for everybody.

return_0 says:

Two words: Galaxy Nexus. Unless you don't consider 32GB to be enough storage.

ruel24 says:

No, I just consider it to be an outdated phone at this point.

bearballz72 says:

Exactly, I love my N7 and apprciate the fact that Google expanded the memory to 32gb. At least for me, 16gb just doesn't cut it.

If LG/Google released an LTE enabled, 32gb N4 I'd be all over it.

ruel24 says:

Oh, FWIW, the Nexus is not a high-end phone. It's not meant to be. IMO, high-end is where they really need to keep the updates coming in a timely manner, just as you get better service at a Mercedes dealer than a Chevrolet dealer.

Then there is the problem that the new Nexus isn't available on my network. It's a crapshoot if you can get it on your network. This is just plain dumb. Nexus 4 wouldn't be such a bad phone, but I'm not leaving Verizon to get one.

MERCDROID says:

I get great service at my Chevy dealer lol

ruel24 says:

Yes, but they don't give you the concierge level of service available at the Mercedes dealer. You can call a Mercedes dealer, and they will take your credit check over the phone to make sure you're a valid customer, and a salesman will drive out to your house to give you a test drive. I'm sure Lexus, BMW...they're all the same. There's even one story of a Lexus breaking down in a remote location and Lexus sent in a helicopter with a crew to get them going again. See where I'm getting at? If I buy top of the line, I expect the top service to go with it. I'd expect a Galaxy SIII to get more regular updates than a Casio whatever that they give away with a contract.

Apple does give me that level of service. I cracked my glass and stopped in to the Apple Store near me. I was immediately greeted by a Genius, despite it was Christmas shopping season and there was so many people there, I swore I'd be waiting awhile, and they took care of everything for a small fee in a matter of minutes. The experience was unbelievable. Other companies should take note of how Apple takes care of their customers. Of course, I pay for this. My 32 GB iPhone was "on sale" for $269 under contract.That's more than most Android users pay for their phones.

MERCDROID says:

Wow, that's amazing; maybe I need to look into buying a Lexus or Mercedes. That level of service would be great, whether from a car manufacturer or phone OEM or carrier. My friend drives a Lexus and uses many of Apple's products, and he is very satisfied with what he has: now I know why. You pay for what you have: if you pay the premium for Apple's products, you should get the service that accompanies them. I'm glad that Apple works for you. You should keep your iPhone then, because Android doesn't have any stores (in the US) that provide service like that.

ruel24 says:

Well, to be honest, I can't complain too much about Verizon's service. They've been good, just not Apple good. And I would be willing to pay the price to get that level of service on an Android device - regular OS updates, high-end phone, and bend over backward customer service. It's just that the sun, moon, and the rest of the planets don't align up under Android to make it happen.

MERCDROID says:

Verizon customer service is great; in the 6 years that I had service with them, I never had any complaints: they offered early upgrades on the regular, suggested ways to save money on service, had great coverage, etc. My only complaints with Verizon are their plans and prices. But, after reading complaints about customer service for prepaid carriers, the premium for Verizon's network and services is justified when you compare calls to customer service between the two.

return_0 says:

"The Nexus is not a high-end phone".

Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU. 2GB RAM. Android 4.2. 8MP Photo Sphere camera. Say that again please?

bearballz72 says:

Well to be honest Apple has more sway with the carriers than Android handset makers. Maybe Samsung is heading that way but carriers would never interfere with an Apple OS update or delay it. Prime example is how Sprint threw billions of dollars at Apple just to carry the Iphone. I doubt they would ever do that to Samsung, HTC or even Microsoft.

I find it vexing that carriers have time to "test" IOS devices before the yearly OS update rollout, but can't seems to stick to a timetable when rolling Android updates.

mech1164 says:

It's funny to see about important updates and the OEM/Carriers. What a bunch of a cluster F are they. I had gotten the Evo4GLTE when it came out. I knew it was brand new and that there would be issues, fine. What I got though was an unmitigated mess of a phone that couldn't hold a signal and did more backflips than a russian gymnast trying to find one. All the while I have Sprint saying do this do that and nothing would work. Meanwhile you HTC saying "Everything is fine there is nothing to fix". Even though this was a wide spread problem that many were having. Be up front with your customer and we will work with you.

Needless to say i'm on Tmo now with a Gnex and quite happy. Sad part is I did like that Evo.

Qoheleth says:

Apple is Apple and Android is Windows (only way better at not hogging memory and crashing :) Think Linux with market share.) iOS is on a very specific set of hardware that Apple selects to run it's software. Android/Windows is on nearly everything else. If you want to talk about fragmentation, explain how Windows still works when everything from Windows NT to Windows 8 running on machines out there now.
(Not the best analogy, but showing far more thought that the "Oh Noes! Fragmentation! pieces.)

I think we need to classify updates into two categories:

Security patches

and

Feature updates / upgrades

I believe phone makers should be providing the first at no extra charge. How long? Maybe two years from when the phone is sold by the carrier?

I believe users should be able to PAY for a big upgrade if one is available, like Android 4 to 4.1, 4.1 to 4.2, that kind of thing. That way I can pay something non-trivial to get to the next OS version. Who gets that? The carrier would collect it since they're going to support my device, but the phone maker should get almost all of it, right?

MERCDROID says:

+9000 The majority of people believe that feature updates should be free. I'm sure that carrier's see no incentive to upgrade a year-old phone for free. If they did charge a reasonable price for feature updates, that might provide enough incentive for the carriers to offer more timely updates. Let's not forget, carriers make money off of bloatware from third-party companies; also, the carrier uses bloatware to compete with apps in Google Play. If we paid for major updates (like we do for PCs and MACs), we might get them considerably faster and more frequently.

The only problem with this proposal is that Android is open-sourced. You're not allowed to sell ANY portions of it, including updates and patches.

ruel24 says:

I would! I'd gladly give them $3.99 or whatever to upgrade to the latest OS. I know that some of that is packed into the initial price of the iPhone. It's not really free OS upgrades, just subsidized in the initial purchase price, just as the Mac costs more, but has $29 OS upgrades. Since Google doesn't make the phone, if I could get vanilla Android upgrades for the phone for something reasonable, I'd bite. But I wouldn't bite if it was limited, packed full of useless "features" and whatever else the carrier does to it. It would have to be pure Google.

n3rfh3rd3r says:

The availability of choice is both Android's strongest assest and its greatest weakness. You have a choice to buy an HTC device with Sense installed and a locked bootloader. You have the choice to stick with a custom GUI over stock Android that may or may not attribute to the pace at which updates to the OS come in.

If Google came out with one Android phone they called the Nexus and only made slight changes to the internals while retaining either the same/similar form factor every year / every other year they would essentially be borrowing the Apple model. Android devices look unique from one another, not slabs or candybars that all appear the same. I'd be hard pressed to look at the iPhone 4/4S and say which is which because I don't pay attention. Show me an Atrix HD, Galaxy S III, Note 2, HTC One X and I can call them out by name. Hell, even Windows Phone devices are varied enough. The only thing they have is the same OS and layout.

Updates come out when they need to, provided that the OS update doesn't break what Samsung, Motorola and HTC put into their devices. Carriers have a vested interest but they want to monetize what they can.

etnpnys says:

You know, the part that will frustrate me most hasn't really impacted me yet. That part is the part where an exploit is found in Android that only Google can patch with altering Android OS source code. Seriously, it's not acceptable to walk around with an open wound while HTC and Sprint take 9 months to get the update to you.

There's going to be a little bit of visibility into this issue with the recent Exynos issue. We'll see how that turns out.

This is my biggest case FOR rooting my phone. With work on my phone and privacy concerns, I can't wait for holes to be plugged.

Stychill says:

this is why i would go with a nexus device,, if only they supported memory cards.

MERCDROID says:

+9000 Tell me about it lol. I bought a Galaxy Nexus (my first Nexus device) and am satisfied overall with it. The amount of space isn't what irks me: to be honest, it's the fact that without the SD card, the phone doesn't support the MTP protocol. I just bought a Chromebook, and because Chrome OS doesn't support native programs (or protocols), I can't transfer files to and from the two. My Windows Laptop (which my younger brother wants for Christmas) supports MTP, even if the phone doesn't. Nexus devices (hell smartphones in general) are double-edged swords.

return_0 says:

Why can't you just use online storage?
I don't want to sound like an advertiser, but T-Mobile has a plan with unlimited talk, unlimited text, and UNLIMITED DATA WITH NO THROTTLING for $70 a month. To compare, on Verizon you would pay $90 a month for unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 1 gigabyte of data. So when your contract is up, just pick up a Nexus phone with this plan. It's as simple as that.

thundersome says:

It is dire when the largest carrier in the US is incapable and incompetent when it comes to updates. The OEMS also have a major problem: They are also incompetent. How long does it take to update a phone? I don't know. But I do know HTC can't seem to figure out how to update some of their phones to an os that has been out FOR A YEAR. Forget about "the newest" os. Many people are stuck on gingerbread and HTC is stuck on stupid.

Magnum M says:

While i would love to have every single android being upgraded to the latest version, people does not really seem to think, windows and osx for example, every new major version, you have to pay, why you should be upgraded from android 2.3 to android 4.0 for free? why it should be quick? as the article said, we dont know. what we can do is think before buiyng a new smartphone to see if upgrades are really necessary.

Now what makes me crazy is in 2012 a smartphone being released with android 3.2, but that is a diferent story.

ruel24 says:

Because their competition is doing it? Seems like a logical reason to me... Apple gives you every OS update, for free, and even if you buy an iPhone 4S right before the iPhone 5 got released, you'll get updated for a good 2 years. And...you get it as soon as Apple releases it. Now, some newer phones have hardware that yours doesn't, and you may not get all the features, such as when Siri was released, but you get everything that your hardware will support.

Concession says:

What you also missed is with the PC OSs is that when the "Windows 8" is released that doesn't mean old versions are left for dead. XP is still updated after a decade. On android, if you don't get the latest version you don't even get basic security and bug fixes. Thanks Google!

return_0 says:

I don't mean to argue over trivial details, but… no smartphone is compatible with Android 3.2 :)

Joseph Kool says:

Ars technica is an Apple site what do you expect them to say. They're more pro Apple than some of the Apple blogs but the Apple blogs don't claim to be non biased.

SFWriter says:

Full Discloser: I use a Blackberry. That said, this has always been whey I never went to Android.

My daughter has Android (not sure which version) and so do a lot of her friends. Each one seems to be running a different version; some better than others and she is unable to get an upgrade. I like the phone, I like the OS, but it seems to me that there should be more standardization with the OS.

Google needs to get it together and push one version that once upgraded, everyone gets the upgrade. Just like Blackberry and Apple and Windows.

Concession says:

Funny thing is the "failed" playbook will be updated for longer and more often than any of the most successful android phones.

zkyevolved says:

Wow. I've been reading these comments for the past 20 minutes and all I can say is that a lot of good points and some bad ones.

I studied computer engineering and I don't root my phone. I like stock android on my Note 2.

I am upset though that many times people want to update their phones but major companies don't want to invest the time or effort into upgrading current devices. A PC is different than a phone, but hardware wise it shouldn't be in different categories. But we're dependent on OEMs for their software updates while for a computer we need specific drivers and it doesn't work we can change it, upgrade it, change the hardware or whatever. But with a phone no, because it's 100% OEM and we can't change the RAM, upgrade the display or anything like that. And OEMs know this! That's why the update 1 or 2 times and then next big device.

Apple updates at once because they've been working on it all at the same time! Even though they announce it on day X and then release it on day X+8, it doesn't mean that they only worked on it for 8 days! No way! They've been polishing it for 7 months! Android is different. The OEMs get the code Google releases it. Then they need to polish and work on it and go through carriers, FCC, security. Do most people install kernels thinking that it's 100% safe? NO WAY! A lot of Android users install alphas and betas on their phones and that's fine but that's not acceptable for a big company to release a build that's beta! Who are we? Blackberry users!? No way! Take that 9500 storm back to the drawing board!

I like the way things are right now. Samsung is doing a decent job. HTC is not my favorite, but you'll get 1 update I imagine. No one will top Google (who develops the OS, and they decide when to release it) and Apple (who works a lot on their OS to have it buttery smooth and release it a few days later).

:) Happy end of the world day everyone!

John Crane says:

I am a user, but I am also an engineer and a coder. I know what it takes to install a Windows update, which incidentally runs on and supports a number of different platforms for many years. This isn't rocket surgery. Google or the carrier or the manufacturer need to start getting it right.

rvirga says:

My phone (GSM Galaxy Nexus) is on 4.2.1, and I'm seriously considering downgrading it to 4.1.2, since I can't live anymore with the random reboots, the lag and the battery drain. I prefer waiting 6 month and have an update that's rock solid, than the beta-quality software Google is pushing out lately. My next phone won't be a Nexus, but rather an (unlocked) HTC or Samsung. Right now I have my heart set on the M7, but the S4 is definitely in the running.
Having the latest release from Google immediately isn't a blessing, it's a curse.

Concession says:

XP is still being updated after 10 years. Various linux distributions are supported for several years after they come out. What do these OS's have in common? The company that makes the OS takes responsibility for making it easy to update the OS.

The fundamental problem with the android update cycle is Google. They make android in the cheapest way they possibly could: make it for one phone and then code drop. There's no compatibility nothing. They do nothing to make it easier for OEMs to update. They do nothing. OEMs have to start from scratch each time they want to make a new OS version for a phone. It's ridiculous.

Then what is even more ridiculous is the fact Google, the company that's supposed to be a shining example of android support (just look at the comments up above, people praising the nexus line) and yet not a single nexus phone (or any android) has made it up to the 2 year mark for updates. Not one. It's pathetic.

mikejs78 says:

I remember seeing a Googler comment once that the reason they release to the Nexus phones ahead of general availability on phones is that Nexus phones are supposed to be 1) reference devices for the OEMs 2) Developer phones for app developers. This way, by the time general availability occurs for a particular version of Android, there are plenty of apps that take advantage of the new features of a release. We have to stop thinking like this is Windows or iOS. It's not. This stuff takes time.

Good god, these people will find anything to argue about. I love how many times I see the SAME PEOPLE commenting on almost EVERY ARTICLE with nothing but a blunt criticism--not even trying to be constructive, either, just pretending to be better than the editors. I gotta wonder why they even bother reading the articles, or the website, or using Android devices, if all they EVER DO is bitch and moan and nitpick and throw hissyfits when people don't automatically agree with them.

I think of it like this:

Nexus devices are Android devices.

Everything else is Based on Android.

Ok, so, here's the thing. OEMs have a team of developers working on a device. When that device ships, the team is put on the next device. Except maybe the more junior developers who are left to fix bugs, etc. that come in.
When a new version of Android is released, do you think the OEM is going to bring back the team of devs to update the OS for every device? Hardly. They are going to let those junior devs (and maybe a slacker senior dev who can't keep up with his peers) do the work, but they'll only do this for a few select devices. Ones that the engineering team deems simplest to upgrade, most likely, because, well, it's junior devs doing the work. Cutting their teeth so to speak.

As for Apple. Because they do basically one phone and one OS, their process would be a little different. They can continuously integrate the code changes into their build and have QA test it on older devices as a matter of course much easier than OEMs with many different models and several different skins. In short, their job is easier.

Like has been said over and over and over again, if you are the type who expects constant and continued updates, go with a Nexus.
Otherwise, be happy with what you have until your next phone.

Sorry, but many comments are ridiculous. One of you said that Apple announces updates and then releases it 3 months later for all devices and that the Nexus line was faster. Well, the Nexus line is not all devices is it? Then Phil says the article was a pointless exercise. I don't know how he can not understand this, but the article was basically a scientific analysis to see the overall updates capability of carriers and manufacturers.

And really, updates ARE important, mainly because they help developers. The new API's can never be used unless you code different code paths for each major android version. Even though most of you people blasted the iphone 3gs for having a crippled version of the newest os, the iphone 3gs can run the latest apps (excluding games of course). Try running Chrome on a galaxy S. Wait you can't because it requires ICS. You can't expect people to know how to hack things (root/jailbreak) in order to run the latest (as in 1.5 years later) software. Just look what happened to the ipad 1. It stopped updating its os so now it can't run many of the latest apps by even apple and that things like 2 years old. I guess if you believe a 2 year lifecycle is the best we can expect from a device, the current situation is fine. Tell that to the canadians though.

sonellion says:

But why some new phones like galaxy mini2, ace2, Ace Duos, Galaxy Beam, Sony Xperia S do still have gingerbread preloaded instead of ICS or JB?

achmafooma says:

"Even the notion itself of software updates after hardware release is still a relatively new concept, let alone the idea that hardware owners are entitled to feature-based updates."

That sounds all well and good, except these aren't devices (in the sense of a microwave or camera). They are mobile computers. It is perfectly reasonable for a user to expect that tablet and phone OS updates will work more like they do on PC's than they do on microwaves.

Whether we talk about Windows, Mac OS, or a Linux distro, when an update comes out the user can install it whenever they feel like installing it. They don't have to wait some indefinite amount of time after the OS release for the manufacturer of their PC to hack it up (usually making it worse), and then for their Internet provider to spend another indefinite amount of time 'certifying' the hacked-up version from the manufacturer.

There's no reason our tablets and smartphones can't be made this flexible. At minimum, the small point updates should come out immediately across the platform. Major updates should also be broadly available immediately on any phones and tablets that are able to run them (perhaps for an upgrade fee). There's also no reason I shouldn't be able to switch OS's if I want to.

Why do we expect this level of flexibility with PC's, but think it's a crazy pipe-dream with phones and tablets? They really aren't all that different from one another.

Jay-dogg says:

This rebuttal (and the original article) definitely misses the primary point, which is hardware SALES.

OEMs are under no obligation to produce dozens of devices under one or multiple banners (e.g. Galaxy, Optimus, Xperia, etc.). Rather, they are fully capable of taking a page from Apple's play book and focusing on several handsets, instead of dozens. Having a few handsets would make it far easier to update and keep up with security issues, BUT, it also means that the absurd (and artificial) rate of handset upgrades would slow. As it stands, if you want the latest and greatest Android version, you need to buy a new device every 12 - 18 months. This is a methodology used to great success by the likes of Intel and Microsoft.

So, rather than it being a dark, shadowy world of "We are users. We're not engineers. We're not coders. We don't have a clue as to what it takes to update a device," the answer lies in their chosen financial model.