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Life isn't fair; neither are OS updates -- why a recent study doesn't predict the future

There's been much hubbub made this week over a study by Computer World that tracks which phones have been upgraded to Froyo, and how long it took them to receive the update.

Here's a little secret though: That's all it does.

Don't get us wrong, it's nicely done, with easy-to-read charts, and raw data that even this math flunky can understand. But it doesn't predict the future.

Squint at it all you want -- you cannot look at the raw data or bar graphs and predict if your phone is more likely to be upgraded, or which carrier is more likely to upgrade a phone in the future.

Crazy talk, we know. But we'll explain after the break.

(Ed. note: This is borrowed and expanded on from a post I made in the Android Central Forums.)

The study we're referring to is ComputerWorld's "Android Upgrades: Which carriers can you trust." And "Which manufacturers can you trust?" Fun titles. Certainly pull at the heartstrings. Because we all want to trust our carrier and manufacturer, right? (If there's anyone out there who thinks they can trust their carrier to do anything but try to make money, I've got some waterfront property in Kansas to sell you.)

There are upgrades, and then there are upgrades, apparently ...

The methodology of this study, while appearing to be sound, is anything but. Consider this, from the manufacturers' report card:

There are a million ways you could analyze Android upgrades. Some phones, for example, were upgraded between June and December of 2010 -- but only to Android 2.1. Since those decisions were made despite the fact that Android 2.2 was readily available, I'm not factoring them into this analysis as full commitments to Android upgrading.

Ah, so manufacturers did upgrade phones, just not all to Froyo (and some multiple times). Those shouldn't count as upgrades, eh? AT&T was among the first to release a fix for the Galaxy S GPS bug. But that doesn't matter here? I shouldn't "trust" a manufacturer and carrier to fix and improve between major version releases? But for some reason, that was ignored. (Probably because those updates are tougher to keep track of.)

So the title of the entire project should be "Which manufacturer/carrier can you trust to upgrade to Froyo," not "... to upgrade your phone" or just "trust" in general. There's a pretty big difference there. (Also, not including the regional carriers ignores not just a large number of devices, but devices that have been upgraded to Froyo.)

Some countries are more trustworthy, apparently ...

Moreover, ComputerWorld is talking upgrades from manufacturers/carriers in the United States, not worldwide. There's a big difference there, too, and a pretty big discrepancy. Use our example from the latest Android Central Podcast: The Galaxy S has been updated to Froyo in Canada. In the UK. And likely in lots of other places I don't even know about. But that's not considered in the study.

Not all phones are worthy of a major upgrade ...

We've said this before, and we'll say it again. You get what you pay for. And it's disingenuous to pretend that all phones are alike, that all are worthy of being upgraded to Froyo. All phones were not created equal. Should the Motorola Cliq or Devour have the same weight attached to it in ComputerWorld's "study" as the Droid in determining Motorola's responsibility (fiscal, moral or otherwise) in ensuring it's upgraded to Froyo? Absolutely not.

The phones in the "study" should be scaled by how likely one believes they are to be upgraded. No, that's not very objective -- but it's realistic. And it's what the carriers and manufacturers have to do. Life isn't fair, and neither are smartphone upgrades. That's actually the conclusion Raphael reaches, and it's something we've been saying for months. But why let common sense stand in the way of a pretty chart?

Sharing the blame, and placing emphasis on release date ...

And upgrades do not exist in a vacuum. In the United States, anyway, it's a necessary evil that the carriers play a major part in the upgrade process, given all the crap they force onto the ROMs in the first place. Take the Galaxy S example, again (and this is something we discussed during the podcast). What's the common denominator in the United States phones? not yet having Froyo? They're all on U.S. carriers.

And this all goes for the carrier report card, too. Of course AT&T has the fewest upgrades to Froyo -- it also has the fewest phones worthy of it (not to mention the fewest number of Android phones overall).

Later release dates also are overly prejudicial in this "study." The Samsung Continuum will take longer to be upgraded because of when it was released -- in mid-November. Samsung and Verizon need a little time for the phone to settle in with the public, to gauge how it's selling, what bugs show up initially, and probably a slew of other factors. So, again, it should be weighted lower in its expectation of receiving Froyo as of mid-January 2011.

You pay, and you roll the dice ...

Is a phone more or less likely to receive an update based on its carrier or manufacturer? Absolutely. The HTC phones that have been upgraded were predicted from the outset to be upgraded. (Though Sprint Hero missed out. Go figure.) And the HTC phones that have been upgraded are on Verizon, T-Mobile. Sprint (and the carrier-neutral Nexus One). The Asian version of the HTC Aria (available on AT&T in the U.S.) has been updated to Froyo. Here? Not so much.

But how'd you like to be the Xperia X10 on AT&T -- talk about a double whammy, eh? But to use the X10's lack of a Froyo update as an indication of whether the new Atrix is more or less likely to be upgraded to Gingerbread is ridiculous. Different hardware, different software, different operating system updates. Different paths entirely.

Carriers and manufacturers have to weigh a whole bunch of options in determining if a phone will be upgraded. And then they actually have to prepare, test and deploy the upgrade. There are a finite amount of people within a carrier or manufacturer to do so. Will your phone be upgraded? Maybe. Will it be upgraded as quickly as you want? Nope. The EVO and Droid camps sure were vocal while they were waiting. And once they were upgraded? The barking dog turned around three times and went back to sleep.

Our advice if a phone's taking longer than you want to be upgraded? Root and find a nice custom ROM.

  • well said my good sir.
  • No but what it is useful for is seeing trends in a company or carrier's propensity to actually update their hardware and how many revisions it usually gives you before saying too bad so sad. When you look at HTC vs. Moto vs. Samsung. Ratio wise HTC is pretty much in the lead with Moto. With Samsung sucking butt, but no surprise there.
  • Samsuck is a FAIL with Android on so many levels. I bought the Craptavate thinking it was going to be great. All the tech writers fawned over how great the display were calling it the best Android phone. Boy was I fooled. Sure the display is great, but the GPS doesn't work right and still hasn't been fixed. Phone powers off all the time for no reason. Freezes and lags all the time. Oh and yeah, no 2.2 update yet. Anyone who buy anything from Samsuck is in for a surprise and it isn't a good one.
  • one might suggest the first fail was using the AT&T network. ;)
  • So how is the GPS and the reboot issues ATT's fault? I have very few problems with ATT's network. I think you are listening to the iPhone fanbois blaming ATT for the deficiencies of that device. I like the ability to talk on the phone while sending email and browsing. The only blame on ATT is the fact that they are also quiet on the fixes and upgrades but aren't all carriers?
  • Correct, but I think what Phil is trying to say is that this "study" is very misleading about what constitutes an update, and also requires lots of interpretation when comparing update stats of phones that are obviously designed and marketed in very different ways, like say the HTC Aria vs the HTC Evo 4G. For the average AC reader, we can sift through the data and make reasonable predictions based on what's available, but for the general consumer who doesn't know the difference between specs of high end vs low end phones or particular details about what made some phone updates quicker than others, I can see this information being very easily misinterpreted. Thanks for the great editorial, Phil.
  • Nope doesn't predict the future but I can see that HTC has rolled out the most updates and in a resonable time...
  • I feel like I just got in trouble :( "And clean your room!"
  • As a consumer, I expect at least 2 upgrades. Considering the contracts you have to sign and the unsubsidized price of the phones, getting no updates is unacceptable on every level. Take the carriers out of the equation please, they have no reason or incentive to offer upgrades when new devices are coming out every month.
  • *News Flash* You'll never buy a new phone if you have the latest software on your old one, and the carriers know that. That's why, in America at least, we are not going to see to many updates, if any at all. T-mobile is going to come out with a new "updated" Vibrant... In other words, if you didnt hack your Vibrant and install 2.2 yourself, your never going to get it.
  • Which is why Google needs to take the update process out of the Carriers hands and adopt the Apple model.
  • No because that's completely counter to the Android design. Also, it's not in the carriers hands.
    It's in the manufactures hands. A little research before we speak.
  • I disagree, it is very much in the Carriers' hands, as well as the manufacturers. Look at Samsung, they have pushed out Froyo to their generic Galaxy S phone, but the ones on US carriers are still stuck with 2.1. Its not just the manufacturers.
  • Here's how the process works: 1) Google releases the code for the next android version. 2) Whatever manufacturer [htc, samsung, motorola, etc] edits the android source for whatever phones in whatever way they want 3) Whatever carrier [sprint, att, etc] receives the update from the manufacturer for whatever phone applicable. That carrier then checks the update for issues and adds whatever apps they deem necessary and then releases the update OTA.
  • I'm not all that sure about your step 3. I strongly suspect the Manufacturer bundles the entire release for the carriers for them. Look at any Galaxy S phones. Every Carrier has one. Even tiny carriers who have exactly ZERO chance of having a competent crew of Android developers on staff.
  • Umm its in both. Guess who gets the calls and has to deal with support if an update goes bad on a handset. Its sure as heck isn't the handset manufacturer. Google/Carriers/Manufacturers all are tied in the deployment of a new OS on a handset.
  • How will "you never buy a new phone" if you get updates? It's not like you can buy a new phone 8 months into your 2 yr contract so why not make the customer happy by providing updates and fixes so that when it's time to upgrade that customer will stay with you and not go to another carrier?
  • Because if my 2 year old phone is running the same software, and has the same capabilities as the new one, why am i going to spend my money on it. Dont forget that our phones these days are so fast, that the only defining difference now is storage, software, and maybe some hardware differences. Think about it,if you have an Evo, or a Vibrant, and it was getting updated with 2.3 next week, and 3.0 in say... july... would you go out and get a new phone anyway? Unless its a major upgrade, like a dual core, or a 2ghz cpu, or something major, i dont see it happening.
  • And the Vibrant 4g is coming out less than a YEAR before the vibrant came out. This means everyone who bought the vibrant still has 12 months to go before Tmobile can make their money back with them on contract. It makes NO sense for Tmobile to deny upgrades to the original vibrant now because those customers are locked in anyway. The Only one who is potentially profiting here is Samsung.
  • In this I feel we can learn from Apple, modify their rules for new OS's on old hardware. I propose Android release updates but perhaps let folks know, you pick this feature on your hardware it'll run like crap. Android is about choice, I think this approach would reinforce that. Just an idea.
  • Carriers sell phones to sell CONTRACTS. They do NOT make a profit on the phone itself (in fact, they lose hundreds of dollars when they sell them on contract, which is why they require the contract to make the moeny back) This means that once they have you in a contract, refusing upgrades to you 6 months down the line will only create headaches for them. They DON'T make any real money selling phones full retail, they only make money with contracts (and their profit margin is a lot lower than a lot of companies). Your argument would make sense if this weren't the case, or if carriers only withheld updates near the 2 year mark. But if they block them earlier all they're doing is risking customers paying ETF, or AT BEST millions of dollars wastes in customer service calls. Compare that to Samsung (or moto/HTC) When you buy a phone on contract, or if you buy it retail they make the SAME amount of money (and they have higher profit margins. So if they release a phone and than 6 months later release a new phone with updated software and sucker you into buying it, they get paid TWICE, and the carriers only get paid once (your contract). Now, between them, who has it in their best interest to withhold software upgrades?
  • Hey Phil, speaking of upgrades, do you know when the Epic will be getting Froyo? Ha, ha. I'm studying and looking to find time to jump over to the rooted, custom rom side. Phone works fine, but just knowing it could be better kinda nags at me. Developer support and AC are incredible.
  • Yeah, I can tell you....NEVER!
  • rooting and customizing ("stickin it to the Man"!) is waaaay more fun than a world where your phone is automagically updated as soon as new OS versions are created and completely free of carrier chokewarez. um....uh....isn't it?
  • You can speak for yourself on "upgrades don't make the phone". It depends on what you want to use the phone for, so that statement only pertains to you if the phone meets your needs. I bought the fascinate over the Droid x because of a Verizon reps word that this phone would have froyo very soon. Now, should I have taken "his" word for it, probably not, but when a Rep tells you the phone will have an update soon (this was Sept 15th) you trust that he knows what he is talking about. Its Jan update. I feel like I can say I was misled in order for the Rep to make. a sale.
  • Does not having Froyo keep you from using your phone? Exactly. Also, for future reference, Reps cannot predict the future.
    Nor can they predict issues that may come along with updates.
  • No, it doesn't keep me from using my phone. BUT!!! It does keep **me** from using my phone the way I want to use **my** phone. Just because you settle, doesn't mean i have to. And for future reference, when a "service provide" makes a statement, you trust that he isn't trying to shaft you. i trusted, i was wrong, for future reference.
  • And if you have a locked bootloader? Also not every Android user is a tech geek like you and I presumably are. Not a valid defense, sorry.
  • Updates don't make the phone. No one buys a phone for what it MAY do for them in the FUTURE, they buy it for what it does for them NOW. Also, we are spoiled with free updates, that's FREE updates, on the mobile platform. On our computers we have to pay for them.
    And when you get updates to them what is contained in the updates?
    Security updates and Drivers.
    Not new features.
  • MS Windows free service packs often included new features. Flawed logic.
  • Service packs don't come more than once every couple of years and generally don't add new features. Android updates come quarterly and major updates come twice a year.
  • No one buys a phone for what it MAY do for them in the FUTURE, they buy it for what it does for them NOW. I assure you that is NOT true. The very reason people buy Android is because it is expected to improve with each release.
  • How is an update "free"? If the carriers are going to require I stay with a particular phone on their network for 2 years then they better have a plan to keep my phone working and working well for those 2 years. And maybe Apple charges for updates but MS does not. And MS pushes out patches every month and if you use Windows update you will see "features" added as well as "fixes". And a PC is not a phone so you have options to update it on your own.
    If you buy a PC with Vista and then you want Windows 7 you can upgrade. What's the difference? The difference is HP or Dell is not going to void your warranty for upgrading your PC. Heck, you can even update the RAM, HDD, Monitor etc without voiding your warranty. But my Captivate has to work for 2 years and the only thing I can do to it is add a MicroSD card and install apps (only from the Market). I can't update the OS unless ATT gives it to me or I root it and void the warranty. ATT should allow Captivate owners to go "buy" Froy for $20 or whatever it would cost. I buy apps so why would I not buy Froyo?
  • Bottom line: If you aren't rich enough to spend $200 for a phone every few months then you shouldn't be crying about updates. Only alpha consumers and rich people have the right to have an updated OS that fixes bugs.
  • $200? Last time I checked, unsubsidized phones usually go anywhere from $400-$700. If it were only $200 I wouldn't care.
  • I've said this before. If we all had stock android this wouldn't be an issue. The manufacturers can compete with great hardware. Motorola Atrix is a great example of creating something different to stand out among everyone else. We don't need skins. Use themes or what ever if you want to beautify your phone. This is why many of us prefer our nexus one phones. Though I'm still waiting for Gingerbread lol :) But that's what cyanogen mods are for right?! Lucky most of us can flash our phones because not all of us can upgrade every year.
  • I understand what you're saying but again, this is counter to what Android is about. All Google does is release the source code for Android and then anyone, any company, anywhere, can edit that code as they see fit. Even AOSP is edited.
  • Sorry but I don't agree with Google's approach because this fragmentation is causing too much grief to many people. All I read every day are people asking where are updates? It's ridiculous. You don't need to agree with me and keep pushing Google's approach as the reason but it's not the right way. Eventually consumers will just move on.
  • Atrix has Motoblur, which is a skin like Sense and Touch Wiz.
  • I was stating the hardware not software. That's another discussion! lol
  • Haha it's pretty amusing yet over rated in hearing customers not having froyo on there Galaxy S device. :)
  • With my rooted G2, I get updates every couple of weeks; sometimes every day thanks to Cyanogenmod. I'm currently using Gingerbread and it works great.
  • Unless you own a Nexus, or plan to install your own ROMs, your phone will probably NOT be updated in a timely manner. Say that 10 times to yourself. Then decide what phone to buy, or if you are going to root or not, and be at peace.
  • OT, but I am going to stop commenting on this boards when any comments I've tried to post with real depth automatically get flagged as SPAM.
  • Has anyone noticed moto is everywhere but sprint.... just that flimsy moto i1 android nextel
  • "Our advice if a phone's taking longer than you want to be upgraded? Root and find a nice custom ROM."
    - And what if your phone has a locked bootloader? Riddle me that sir! I am talking about the Motorola Milestone, which still hasn't seen the froyo update 4 months after droid was updated..
  • I do not believe that Google should take over updates. They should force carriers to quit fragmenting the OS. Google can if they wished block access to Google Market to an entire companies phones or even to a carrier. All they have to say is "You will update every phone that will support Android 2.2 or none of your phones will have access tp the Market till you do so. At each release you set minimum hardware requirements and anything beyond those have to be updated. If samsung comes along and does not want to play nice then ALL samsung phones would get a nice little message when trying to access the market "Due to carrier Lack of movement on updates all samsung phones have been been revoked from using the google market till further notice" That would cause an uproar for the user community.
  • Outside of cheap phones not getting an upgrade most other points are complete garbage. The study is a good way to tell the future so far as carrier and manufacturer track record in upgrades. Verizon and HTC seem to be the combo. So if you're going to go out and get the Thunderbolt, you can have a reasonable expectation it will be upgrade and in a timely manner.
    As for not including lesser upgrades. Whats the problem? If you go into a carrier's store and you ask the sales rep "Will my phone be kept up to date", you're not asking to be kept up to date by the carrier's standards but by the software's. What grand feeling do you get when you've just gotten to 2.1 while everyone else is at 2.2?
  • I partially agree with Phil here. While the chart doesn't tell the whole story, it does show where some fails were. I have been saying for well over a year now that future Android phone purchases will be dictated by how well that phone manufacturer keeps their phones up to date. As we all know, SE is a HUGE fail. I don't care how nice their custom interface is for the Xperia, its a newer device (certainly more powerful than my original Droid) and no plans to upgrade to Froyo. SE should be black listed from blogs for their new devices until they start playing the game and become noteworthy in the Android community! I think the D1 has set the bar. It is one of the oldest popular Android devices (certainly not a powerhouse compared to some of these on the list) and it is *still* getting upgraded. That's why I put more weight on this chart than Phil. Consumers need to know which companies are committed to the Android experience, and who still doesn't get it that *today* there's more to a smart phone than pushing something out the door and then forgetting about it.
  • The reason I bought an android phone was specifically because they receive OTA updates. If I wanted a phone that only updated occasionally, I would've bought a stupid iPhone. And if I wanted a phone that was incapable of updates, I would've bought some no-name quasi-smartphone like the LG EnV touch. But I bought an Epic 4g, top-rated phone by PC magazine of 2010. So here I am, waiting for Samsung to pull their thumbs out of their korean butts and give me what I was promised. Maybe the chart doesn't tell the future, but here's a prediction you can put your money on: I will never, ever buy a samsung phone again. HTC from now on.
  • Same here. That's one of the reasons I got the Epic was because of it being highly rated and Samsung said 2.2 by the end of the year. And now I'm stuck with 2.1 for three months now. freakin' ridiculous.
  • Question. I'm a current Blackberry user who will go Android when contract is up in a few months. When the last few OS's where released (except for OS 6) all I had to do was take any carrier release, remove the vendor file, and install it on my phone. Very simple. Is that possible on Android or is that what rooting is for? Thanks!
  • welcome to the wonderful world of android. which sucks cause i have a htc hero...i guess its not all bad for the fact that sense makes up for me being stuck at 2.1
  • "We've said this before, and we'll say it again. You get what you pay for. And it's disingenuous to pretend that all phones are alike, that all are worthy of being upgraded to Froyo." I don't necessarily agree with the above statement. Lower-end phones typically have fewer customizations (the exception being Motorola), and a phone closer to stock Android is a phone that is much easier to upgrade as it should take considerably less time to test. Only an entry-level phone performing without major annoyances or critical bugs could better be left un-upgraded so as to not fix what ain't broke. In fact, cases like that of the Samsung Intercept prove that upgrading a lower-end phone's OS could be a good excuse to strip it from nice customizations so the manufacturer can reserve these for higher end phones.
  • Sprint finally admitted on Friday, February 3, that they have no plans to upgrade the Samsung Galaxy S to Android V2.2. That means that they have defrauded a great many people who expected honesty from Sprint. Many owners of Sprint's Samsung Galaxy S are more than irate. See their comments at: