A lot of virtual ink has been spilled over the 2015 Moto E — the latest version of Motorola's $149 entry-level 4G LTE smartphone — being abandoned on Android 5.1 just months after the phone was first released, and just months before Google unleashed Android 6.0 Marshmallow. But let us be unequivocal in our stance on that decision:
Motorola either needs to commit to updating the 2015 Moto E, inform potential customers that it's been abandoned — or it needs to stop selling it.
The 2015 Moto E, which will not receive an update beyond Android 5.1 Lollipop.
If there's one pain point that pervades Android as a whole, it's software updates. Android (the operating system) is a shotgun, meant to hit a wide target, accuracy be damned. Other operating systems are more like a laser — focused and concise, allowing for tighter (and "easier") updates.
That's a rough metaphor for Android software updates. Phones running AOSP builds — that is software compiled directly from the Android Open Source Project — are as close to the shotgun barrel as you can get. When updated code is checked in to AOSP, anyone can then download it and compile it into something that works. Getting it onto a device is another matter involving drivers and/or licenses and lawyers and maybe more than a little bit of luck. But in the abstract sense, that's how it works. Huzzah, open-source software. Google's Nexus phones are a step removed and include a whole bunch of proprietary code and services from Google, but they're still very close to the source. Realistically, they're as close as as a consumer can get.
Motorola led the way for non-Nexus software updates. But our confidence in that trend to continue has been badly shaken.
After that we've had Motorola. A cornerstone of the company's rebirth in 2013 — following its purchase by Google — was a commitment to minimal software (and any additions were useful at that) atop Google's vision of Android. And that paved the way for quick updates. Occasionally maybe a little too quick — buggy source code means buggy downstream releases — but there was no denying that Motorola was burning some serious midnight oil in getting major new releases out the door — the 2013 Verizon Moto X got KitKat before even some Nexus phones. While it's definitely slowed its roll when it comes to Android 6.0 Marshmallow (we've yet to see an OTA), Motorola is still expected to be among the first to get updates to end-users.
But not for the 2015 Moto E. Low-end or not, it's already reached end of life — less than a year after its release — insofar as the software is concerned. That's unacceptable for pretty much any manufacturer, but especially so for one that had regained as much goodwill — and to say nothing of putting out good products — as Motorola has in the past several years.
Making matters even more painful has been the lack of communication. The company that prided itself in update transparency while under Google's flag quickly changed course under Lenovo's. JR Raphael nailed it in his Android Power blog for Computer World:
But instead, all we got was an insult by omission — a promise broken without the decency of an explanation, an apology, or a response to the inevitable backlash. The way this whole situation has been handled is as much a slap in the face to customers as was the actual decision itself.
So sudden and unexplained was that change in tune — and remember that a couple carrier models of the 2014 Moto X won't be updated either — that we have real reservations in recommending any Motorola product at this point. And that's tough for us as fans of a company that has done a lot for the Android ecosystem for several generations.
Not only is Android 5.1 no longer the latest release, it's the last the Moto E is scheduled to receive.
But worse is that the 2015 Moto E remains available on sale on Motorola's website, with nary a mention that the software is not scheduled to receive the major new update to Android that's making headlines. In fact, the Moto E's own specs page on Motorola's site still has it listed at Android 5.0 Lollipop, and not the Android 5.1 update it received after release, and that's listed atop the product page. (To be fair, we don't always update our specs pages with new software either, but then again we're not the ones trying to sell the phones.)
At the very least Motorola needs to add a clear disclaimer on its product pages that the 2015 Moto E will not receive an update to Android 6.0 Marshmallow. (A disclaimer that we've added to our own Moto E pages.) That is the bare minimum of what we'd expect from such a storied company. Better would be for Motorola (and let's be clear —Lenovo) to take the hit and pull the 2015 Moto E altogether.
"We're also providing great customer service in software upgrades that continue long after you buy the phone." That's one of the closing lines from Motorola President and COO Rick Osterloh in his company's "Bringing Moto E to everyone" video. It's one of the tentpoles of Motorola business. But it's also one on which we feel we can no longer rely.
Tough business decisions happen all the time. At the very least Motorola owes current owners of the 2015 Moto E a proper explanation, not just the silent promise of abandonment. But perhaps more important is that Motorola needs to own up to that tough decision and rediscover that sense of transparency it tied its flag to for so long and let prospective Moto E customers know their phone will not go beyond Android 5.1.
Or it needs to no longer sell the Moto E.
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