Android Central

Dear, Molly Wood. How's it going? Couldn't help but notice your latest rant about Android. (We've had a few ourselves.) And while we, being the biggest and best Android community, well, anywhere, think it's swell you've been giving Android a go (especially as other platforms have been wooing you), we need to clear a few things up here, particularly regarding this whole "fragmentation" thing that's got you down.

Let's everybody hold hands and hit that little "Read more" link below, shall we?

Hey, great. You're back. So here's the thing. We get the feeling you want to love Android. And you know what? You can. It's really not that hard. Problem is, you're looking for problems while at the same time being hit by some that really aren't the fault of Android as a platform..

First things first:

What kind of smartphone user are you?

There are three kinds of smartphone owners in this world: nerds, would-be nerds, and what I lovingly call "civilians."

Phone NerdLet's start with the first group: The nerds (and that's probably a good 40 percent of the people who read this site, at least) want to hack their phones. They need to hack their phones. Can't help it, even. That's awesome. We love that. (Especially in the forums.) But there's also a certain amount of responsibility that comes along with hacking your phone so that you can have the latest and greatest ROM, whether it's the pinnacle of the Android Open Source Project -- CyanogenMod -- or a derivative, or something else altogether. If you're not willing to accept that responsibility, move on.

The second group -- would-be nerds -- like to tinker a little. Maybe root their phones to use certain apps, but not apply custom ROMs. That's a slippery slope. And you know what? Not everybody should root their phone. Again. Don't want to step up? No worries. Next paragraph.

And the last group. "Civilians." That's most everybody out there, who just want to rock Android because it's the hot OS and has a crapload of apps. And they're right for doing so. Android has a crapload of apps, and freedom that the iPhone doesn't. Now that the iPhone's on three of the four major U.S. carriers, it's certainly a more attractive offer, no doubt. I've chatted in airports with Sprint loyalists who refused to switch carriers. Sprint's likely just saved itself some serious churn for Q4.

There's actually a fourth group here. And it doesn't apply to many people. There are those of us who have to straddle these lines. Journalists. Techies, if you will. Maybe we want to use Android because it's the hot OS. Or maybe because we love the openy ecosystem. Or maybe we have to try different operating systems so we can speak intelligently about them. We need to know about rooting and ROMs, but we need to keep up with official updates, too. It's a real pain, unless you own two of everything.

But here's something that's no great secret -- even yours truly doesn't need root access in his personal life. I'm more in the "civilian" group in actual use than not. One reason is because most of our readers just want to make the most of their phones without the hassle. Rooting is awesome. Custom ROMs are awesome. But if you don't have the time to keep up with it all for the sake of being on the bleeding edge, we'd suggest sticking to the latter group. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Now that we've go that established ...

What exactly do you want?

Name five features you want in Gingerbread that aren't in Froyo. Now make sure they're actually a part of the Gingerbread operating system, and not a carrier/manufacturer customization such as Sense or Philblur Motoblur.

Android CentralIf you're looking for some monumental leap in Gingerbread, you're likely going to be disappointed. Unless you're really going feature-by-feature and are looking for something other than a black notification bar, you're going to be disappointed. Gingerbread was mainly behind-the-scenes tweaks. That's not to say it's not a sexy red herring, or that it's not important in the long run, but it's a big albatross nonetheless in the short-term.

First and foremost in Gingerbread, we'd say, is the newer, darker UI. It's new. It's sexy. It's not a huge deal, though. And you know what? A lot of us prefer third-party launchers to even the stock AOSP Android launcher.

There's a new keyboard. Know what? It sucks compared to just about anything else out there. Swype and Swiftkey rule the land, and Motorola's own multitouch keyboard is better.

There's native front-facing camera support. Sweet. For the front-facing video chat that barely exists, never mind the Apple commercials that have since died out. If you're way into GTalk or Skype on a regular basis, then this is a big deal. But, even with Facetime on iOS, it's still niche.

Need copy/paste throughout the OS and not just in apps that have implemented it? OK. You've got that, too. A big improvement, yes. But not a deal-breaker.

And there's a ton of other back-end improvements that most of us likely didn't know of (unless you read the highlights, we suppose. Native graphics management and open API for native audio, anyone?). Point is, the bulk of improvements in Gingerbread are under the hood. Important fixes, but explaining them all to our mothers has taken some time.

Fun with infographics

Now, let's look at those charts from Android and Me. They sure are pretty. But, first off, they're nearly two months old now. And months in Android when you're citing stats are more like years, ya know? Secondly, reporting version stats by manufacturer alone is disingenuous in the first place and makes it appear that the manufacturer acts alone in updating the device. And as we all know, in the United States, that's simply not the case. Manufacturers and carriers work in tandem here. Sometimes it's the carrier that's the gatekeeper, other times it's the manufacturer. And carriers have long been known to delay updates for any number of reasons. Others have been known to release updates and then yank them within days (or even hours) because something was borked. And, moreover, it doesn't show which phones are intended to be updated.

Android Central Here's a point we've written about before, but needs to be reiterated here: Not every phone released with Froyo is going to get Gingerbread. They're not all worth the time and effort (and money) it takes to update. That's just the honest truth of how this little business works. Painful, yeah. But it's the way it is when you're dealing with this many devices on a single platform, and allow carriers to customize the crap out of them. (Anyone who thinks different must not have sat through years of Windows Mobile.) So when you lump everything together by manufacturer, you fail to take into account that not all Android smartphones are created equal, and not all carriers upgrade equally. That's something that needs to be understood.

No matter. We like looking ahead, not behind. And seeing as how you're threatening to buy an iPhone 4S, we can assume you're in the market. So let's look at how things stand today as far as your ability to buy a Gingerbread device. We took a look at the current carrier lineups -- as in, phones you can buy today. Let's see how "fragmented" things really are.

Sprint's current lineup, per its website, as of Oct. 15, 2011:

 
Launched with Upgraded to Gingerbread?
LG Optimus S
Froyo
Updated, but update pulled
HTC EVO 4G
Eclair
Updated
Nexus S 4G
Gingerbread
--
HTC EVO 3D
Gingerbread
--
Samsung Epic 4G Touch
Gingerbread
--
Samsung Replenish
Froyo
Doubtful
Motorola Photon 4G
Gingerbread
--
Samsung Epic 4G
Froyo
Expected
Samsung Conquer 4G
Gingerbread
--
Kyocera Milano
Gingerbread
--
Samsung Transform
Froyo
Doubtful
LG Marquee
Gingerbread
--
Motorola XPRT
Froyo
Expected
Motorola Titanium
Eclair
It's an iDEN phone. Don't expect it.

By our math, that's eight phones of the 14 on Sprint's website that are currently running Gingerbread, with the Optimus S and Epic 4G in the on-deck circle. (Albeit an extended on-deck circle.) Note that the Kyocera Echo, a Froyo device launched earlier in the year, is not listed anymore on Sprint's site.

AT&T's current lineup, per its website, as of Oct. 15, 2011

 
Launched with Upgraded to Gingerbread?
Pantech Crossover
Froyo
Expected
Sharp FX Plus
Froyo
Doubtful
Huawei Impulse 4G
Froyo
Expected
LG Phoenix
Froyo
Expected
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
Gingerbread
--
HTC Status
Gingerbread
--
Samsung Captivate
Froyo
Expected
HTC Inspire 4G
Froyo
Updated
Samsung Infuse 4G
Froyo
Expected
LG Thrill 4G
Froyo
Possible
Motorola Atrix 4G
Froyo
Updated
Samsung Galaxy S II
Gingerbread
--

Couple of outliers here: The Samsung Nexus S is finally available on AT&T -- with Gingerbread, of course -- but not on AT&T's website. Conversely, refurbished Sony Ericsson Xperia X10s are available on AT&T's website. We'll call that a wash. But do remember that AT&T went out on a limb and announced that every postpaid Android smartphone released in 2011 would get Gingerbread. (And note that the Motorola Atrix 2, Pantech Pocket, Captivate Glide and ZTE Avail were just announced with Gingerbread; the Samsung DoubleTime was announced with Froyo. None is yet available.)

T-Mobile's current lineup, per its website, as of Oct. 15, 2011:

 
Launched with Upgraded to Gingerbread?
Samsung Gravity Smart
Froyo
Doubtful
HTC Wildfire S
Gingerbread
--
LG Optimus T
Froyo
Expected
Samsung Dart
Froyo
Doubtful
T-Mobile Comet (Huawei)
Froyo
Doubtful
Samsung Exhibit 4G
Gingerbread
--
LG Optimus T
Froyo
Expected
myTouch 3G Slide (HTC)
Eclair
Doubtful - did get Froyo
Sidekick 4G (Sharp)
Froyo
Doubtful
T-Mobile G2X (LG)
Froyo
Updated
Samsung Galaxy S 4G
Froyo
Doubtful
Motorola Cliq 2
Froyo
Doubtful
HTC Sensation 4G
Gingerbread
--
Samsung Galaxy S II
Gingerbread
--
HTC Amaze 4G
Gingerbread
--
myTouch Q (LG)
Gingerbread
--
myTouch (LG)
Gingerbread
--

Holy crap, T-Mobile's got a lot of phones left on its site. Really, nothing you wouldn't expect here. Some of the older phones like the Galaxy S 4G should have gotten Gingerbread, but for whatever reason are languishing. And T-Mobile appears to have more lower-end phones than the other carriers, and it's not surprising they're not being updated.

Verizon's current lineup, per its website, as of Oct. 15, 2011:

 
Launched with Upgraded to Gingerbread?
Samsung Stratosphere
Gingerbread
--
HTC Rhyme
Gingerbread
--
Motorola Droid Bionic
Gingerbread
--
Pantech Breakout
Gingerbread
--
LG Enlighten
Gingerbread
--
Motorola Droid 3
Gingerbread
--
Samsung Droid Charge
Froyo
Expected
LG Revolution
Froyo
Expected
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play
Gingerbread
--
Motorola Droid X2
Froyo
Updated
HTC Droid Incredible 2
Froyo
Updated
HTC ThunderBolt
Froyo
Updated, but update pulled
Casio G'zOne Commando
Froyo
Updated
Motorola Droid Pro
Froyo
Updated
Samsung Continuum
Froyo
Doubtful
LG Vortex
Froyo
Expected

Verizon's probably the most impressive carrier of the group here. We were a little surprised to see the Samsung Continuum still available, while the Fascinate (its original Galaxy S) is available online as a refurb only, and thus didn't make our list. But it has gotten its Gingerbread update.

The Android Update Alliance

This one's actually pretty easy. So back at Google IO in May 2011, the Android team announced the Android Update Alliance. Announced. They didn't say "We've totally got things rolling and look for changes ASAP." No, they announced a group of partners, and that was about it at the time.

Calling the Alliance out on the carpet in August -- just three months later -- and assuming, as the author of the flawed infographics did, that the newly formed Alliance had anything to do with upgrades that were rolling out at the time shows a pretty severe lack of understanding of the lifecycle and updating of a smartphone. Things just don't work that quickly.

In other words, the Android Update Alliance, announced in May, had nothing to do with updates between May and August. They were coming anyway. If it truly affects updates in 2012, we'd be pleasantly surprised. It's a long-term project, for future-generation devices. We're still only five months out of that announcement.

Worldwide, 84 percent of all Android devices are either Gingerbread or Froyo. And the scales are always tipping in favor of the newer versions. We certainly agree that the upgrade process takes carriers and manufacturers too long. Actually, let's flip that. Android is evolving faster than the manufacturers and carriers can keep up with.

Here's your real issue, Molly ...

Those are a whole lot of numbers. But they're not even the point. It really comes down to what kind of user you are. Do you have to have the latest and greatest Android operating system because you simply must have it? Hell, I write about Android for a living and travel quite a bit, living through these phones (and a laptop, of course), and the Froyo devices serve me just fine. But that's also the point. Froyo can still serve me just fine. Your needs might be different. Or maybe you just want the update because you think you have to have the latest update. That's fine. But it's also asking for heartburn.

Droid X Here's what really happened: You got a bum deal with the Droid X. You had to wait for Gingerbread -- never mind that that the phone was released months before Gingerbread was announced, and phones didn't really start seeing Gingerbread updates until the early spring anyway. (These things do take time.) And when you did get the update, it didn't behave well. Welcome to the wonderful world of Motoblur, folks. In fact, most of the issues you cite have to do with Motorola, not Android. And there's a big difference there. We believe a hard-reset is in order. Should cure what ails ya.

And if you really do want to stick with Android without the hassles, get a Nexus phone. Pure and simple.

Is Android fragmented? Yep. That tends to happen to embedded operating systems like this. But those numbers you see above aren't the true fragmentation. That crown goes to the likes of Barnes & Noble and Amazon, with their highly customized, outside-the-Google-ecosystem devices. And to the Motorolas and HTCs and Samsungs and other manufacturers who customize Android. That's not to say these customizations can't be great and useful. On the contrary. But they lock us into their upgrade cycle, with their headaches. That's not Android's fault. It's a side-effect, and it's avoidable. (See the previous paragraph, and the one after the video below.)

What you're referring to is what's referred to as "legacy," not fragmentation. There's a difference.


Youtube link for mobile viewing

If you need a phone that you know will have the latest and greatest updates, get a Nexus phone. It's a developer phone that will get the updates first. If you've got to go with a more mainstream phone but still want to be on the bleeding edge -- and are willing to accept the responsibility that goes with that -- then by all means, root and install a custom ROM. Want Android 2.3.7? (That's the latest version of Gingerbread.) There's only one way to get it at the time of this writing -- an AOSP build like CyanogenMod. Not the carriers. Not the manufacturers. But you know this. You've written this.

Google is constantly updating the Android code. Anyone can go get it. Problem is the smartphone ship, to use our favorite metaphor, is a big one to steer. Or, rather, it's dozens and dozens of little ships that have to be steered together. An Android flotilla, if you will. Google's got an interesting relationship with the carriers and manufacturers, that's for sure. We can't tell if it's an admiral, leading the fleet, or more of a coxswain, with the rowers too often working against each other, each trying to row fastest.

We love ya, Molly. But Android itself is not the problem here. It can, however, be the solution.