Why we don't need another version of Android this year

Android followers, more than most smartphone communities, are constantly focused on the future, be it the next major OS update, or the next big smartphone from HTC, Samsung or Motorola. So with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean due to be open-sourced in a matter of weeks, some are already pontificating on what might be coming in the next version of Android, rumored to be nicknamed “Key Lime Pie.”

Conventional wisdom suggests that, just like Gingerbread in 2010 and ICS in 2011, the next version of Android could make an appearance sometime in the fourth quarter of 2012. But the current state of the Android ecosystem indicates that this might not be the best course of action for Google, its OEMs or their customers. In this article, we’ll take a brief look at why Google should stick with Android 4.1 until 2013, and push Android forward with hardware, not software later in the year.

Android is in a great place in 4.1

Jelly Bean is the best version of Android yet. Sure, every version of Android is the best yet at launch. But in Jelly Bean, Google has directed a laser-like focus on a key weakness of its platform compared to the Apple and Microsoft-based competition. Android 4.1 saw Google “declare war on lag,” and employ a number of high-tech tricks to vastly improve the speed and responsiveness of the OS. On the Galaxy Nexus, the result is striking -- update to Jelly Bean, and it’s like a different phone. If Android can deliver this kind of performance on the Galaxy Nexus’s year-old internals, just imagine the kind of speed we can look forward to once this year’s HTC and Samsung flagships get their updates.

In addition, a wealth of new APIs have been introduced in Jelly Bean, and not all of them have fully fleshed-out UIs (one example being the new app stack navigation stuff). So it's possible that new user-facing "features" like this could be switched on through a minor OTA, or a new Google app in the Play Store. Speaking of which, it's also worth considering that almost all of the major Google apps -- the latest being the default browser, Chrome -- can now be updated separately via Google Play without a major firmware update.

In other words, Android is in a great place right now, and as such there’s no need to rush towards the next major release before the end of 2012.

Jelly Bean is very new, and updates take time

As we’re all aware, manufacturers and carriers will need time to get Jelly Bean out onto their armada of existing Gingerbread and ICS devices. That process starts when Jelly Bean is open-sourced, something which is expected to take place in mid-July. Were Google to deliver the usual one-two punch of a new Nexus and a new platform revision in Q4, it’d mean putting out the next version of Android a mere four months after Jelly Bean, just as the 4.1 updates are starting to roll out. (And spare a thought for owners of the three CDMA Nexus phones, which have lagged far behind their more developer-friendly GSM cousins.)

The mobile world moves quickly, but Google would do itself no favors by delivering this kind of lightning-fast turnaround on a major new OS version. Ultimately, it’d only frustrate manufacturers and end-users alike by perpetually keeping them one or two platform versions behind the bleeding edge. Google has to be aware that slow update times for existing handsets are a serious issue, and it seems it’s trying to address them with initiatives like the PDK (Platform Development Kit). Announced at Google I/O, this gives manufacturers early access to portions of code to assist in porting it to their own hardware. In spite of this, updates still take time, and it’d make no sense for Google to exacerbate things by prematurely obsoleting Jelly Bean.

But that doesn’t mean we won't see a new Nexus smartphone built from the ground up around Android 4.1...

Android Central

The next Nexus can compete on hardware

Android needs a new Google-branded hero device to go up against the iPhone 5 this fall and into the holiday season, not to mention the impending onslaught of Windows Phone 8 devices. If last year (and the year before it) is any indication, that’ll be a new Nexus phone. Maybe we'll even see multiple Nexii, as has been rumored, although we’re still not 100 percent convinced of that. Regardless of whether a new version of Android appears, we can be pretty sure that a fourth-generation Nexus will arrive later this year, designed by Google and one of the leading smartphone manufacturers.

This year’s Google I/O conference left us in no doubt that “Nexus” is now a mainstream consumer brand. Sure, Nexus phones and tablets will always be unlockable, and we’ll be able to hack away at them as we always have. But as Google’s focus has moved to its Google Play content ecosystem, Nexus has changed from a range of niche developer devices to a brand which, in the company’s own words, means “the best of Google.”

This makes hardware more important than ever, and given the Nexus brand’s renewed importance to Google, we can’t imagine them leaving the year-old Gnex to fly the Nexus flag against the iPhone 5. So there’ll be a new Nexus, and we think it’ll be differentiated by hardware more than software. Naturally, we’d expect improved internals, build quality, display and camera tech, and Jelly Bean should come into its own on such a flagship Google phone. Incidentally, the next iPhone looks set to follow a similar pattern, with hardware features like a new chassis design and widescreen display likely to turn more heads than any software improvements in iOS 6.

But affordability will also be key, especially if Google intends to continue selling directly to consumers through its Play devices store. And so if earlier rumors of multiple Nexus phones come to pass, it’s possible we may see both entry-level and high-end Nexii at varying price points before the year’s out. Another possibility is that Google may reposition the Galaxy Nexus as a budget offering.

Jelly Bean is a big enough deal

More updates are almost always a good thing, and with Jelly Bean's status as a "point release," it's understandable to see some looking past it to the next major version. But the 4.1 update is of incredible importance to those who care about having a fluid, responsive UI that's on par with the latest devices from Apple, and that alone makes it a big deal. Remember that more than half of active devices remain on Android 2.3 Gingerbread or older versions, then consider how momentous an upgrade to 4.1 would be for them. We'd rather Google gave everyone a chance to catch up and enjoy the buttery goodness of Jelly Bean, even if it means waiting a little longer for a slice of Key Lime Pie.

Alex Dobie
Executive Editor

Alex was with Android Central for over a decade, producing written and video content for the site, and served as global Executive Editor from 2016 to 2022.

138 Comments
  • Exactly my thoughts!
  • Should think outside the box more. A few things that Android still needs to improve: 1) The Built-in auto-brightness doesn't work for a lot of people, too bright, too dim for some, no way to calibrate. 2) More advanced camera settings like long exposure shutter speeds, even aperture for some hardwares. 3) Improve battery management more, rumors of nexus 7 draining battery too fast even on JB. 4) Improve readability/contrast than default ICS color scheme. While prettier than GB, it offers less usability. The blue on black text is hard to read, some of the grey text on black background is just as bad. 5) Faster real-time voice handling so VOIP apps don't have to struggle with echo cancelling.
  • This literally has nothing to do with "thinking outside the box" and everything to do with not irritating your partners and customers even more than they already are. There are a ton of places where Android can be improved, but that isn't the point.
  • First, there is no aperture on cell phone cameras. There is no Iris, the lens is always wide open. There is no shutter either. Its all done digitally and there are a dozen camera apks in the market that will give you features that are not present in the default camera. There's also no problem with void. I use it all the time. CsipSimple nightlies. And color schemes can be changed without a whole new release.
    The default of ANYTHING is never going to please everyone, so it makes no point to demand a perfect default color scheme, or camera, or brightness. Get the aps that supply the "defaults" that you want. Maybe be more accepting of skins too. In android, you can have your cake and eat it too.
  • Agreed. There would never a thing that pleases everyone.
  • 1. who cares feature. Dont like, theres free apps that can adjust it and manage it better. its not a priority feature.
    2. dont like stock? get an app that does.
    3. I agree
    4. ICS scheme is completely fine, in fact I love this scheme better than any skin i've ever used. I have no problem on my nexus.
    5. never had a problem with voice handling.
  • Is this what you want for a camera phone? It seems to me this what people are getting at. I may be the minority but I feel if you want a good camera get a good camera. http://i49.tinypic.com/2v0hl55.jpg
  • This is how it should work. One major update and hardware update a year.
    This way Google can keep the Nexus brand a premier item. If you decide to buy anything except a Nexus you should have the understanding that you will never be truly up to date. If Google can follow this model the Nexus brand will sell better than iPhones. Sorry OEM phone lovers. Its really time to ROOT. From your friend DWR_31, a.k.a. (RootUserKernels)
  • Im on JB 4.1 rooted GNex and it will keep me happy for the rest of the year no doubt! It's lightning fast!
  • Ditto here! Moving from ICS to JB on my GNex was like getting a new phone!
  • I hear ICS is very slow and uses up lots of battery on basically all the phones which got updated.
  • Who did you hear that from? ICS is a lot faster than Gingerbread, at least for HTC and Motorola. (I haven't tried a Samsung phone that has been upgraded) And from what Razr owners are saying, ICS has increased their battery life.
  • With an unofficial upgrade to my Samsung Galaxy S (mid-2010!!! phone), ICS made battery life much more useful than GB or Froyo ever did. A lot smoother too, and that's just on 512 mb of RAM! Sure, nothing compared to the SIII in my hands now, but each step of the OS has been vastly forward, even on older phones that "can't" handle it.
  • On my SGS2 ICS has basically crushed any usability. The battery is terrible. It doesn't make 12 hours with minimal use!! It freezes upon awake. I do not understand an "update" that makes the phone worse. All the nerds here ask about all these features. Just make the friggin' thing last!!
  • In all fairness the problems you are stating are NOT Google's fault or the fault of the OS itself, there Samsung's! Echoed in the latest SGS3 update that was bricking devices left right and centre, this is the price you pay for purchasing a device that has been messed with and skinned within an inch of its battery life. Try rooting and flashing a custom ROM and I bet your problems are either solved or stunted. There are pro's and cons to both rooting and not doing so, so I urge you to make an INFORMED decision before taking the plunge (DO YOUR RESEARCH). I rooted my old HTC Desire after an update slowed it to a snail's pace and it improved beyond even the stock Sence ROM it was shipped with. I will now ONLY purchase GED's (Google Experience Devices) this ensures me that my software updates are fast reliable and have not been messed with by the manufacturer or your network provider, as they come directly from Google as they are released. I now no longer need to mess with my devices unless I do so wish.
  • Then you were *very* mis-informed. My 3vo was already pretty fast, but there was a little bit of improvement going up to ICS. And battery life is *way* better on ICS. I don't even have to use SetCPU and JuiceDefender on ICS, and I'm getting better battery life than I was when I was using those on GB. You shouldn't let something *one* person tells you affect your opinion. Do research on the net and see what *most* people are saying. There will always be people out there who either: 1) have bad results because they're doing something wrong (or they may even have a "bad" phone and just not know it).
    2) want to find *something* to complain about, so *nothing* is *ever* good enough (we all know these people).
    3) lie, because they have an ulterior motive (or because they, themselves, have been fed mis-information but recite it as fact).
  • don't expect a similar jump in battery life updating to jelly bean, like you had going from gingerbread to ICS. iphone-'ish smoothness may be nice and all but it will not improve your productivity by any means. ramping up the cpu on every use of the UI can prove very detrimental. just do stuff with your phone that will usually leave your phone in lower speed steps like 500 Mhz and below. those tasks include: - reading & writing a message
    - browsing pictures in the gallery
    - listening to music while browsing the internet these are tasks many people will perform very often and now think how jelly bean will ramp up the cpu clock speed to more than double of that and you can easily see how this HAS to impact battery life. if i would have to choose between smoothness and battery life i would definitely choose battery life. we are not talking about small margins, but essentially doubling the clockspeed just to please your eyes. i can imagine that the nexus 7 will have a mediocre to poor battery life because Jelly Bean does put tegra 3s one-companion core trick to save battery ad absurdum. Nvidia says the core will be the only active core, when low level tasks are done and by this save energy. since every touch of the screen will ramp up speed this core will only be used when the screen is off and so the effect of this "technology" will be even less effective (you have to consider that tegra3 is already worse in regards to battery life compared to the exynos even with ICS). it's even funny how google again implemented things that are standard on samsungs touchwiz into the new jelly bean version.
  • Thank You!! Somebody needs to speak up,, lol, workout all the bugs then give us something new
  • Agreed! Everytime my GNex reboots itself while just sitting on my desk doing nothing, I keep wishing Google would focus more on stability and less on rushing out a new version every few months. Here's hoping JB is what ICS should have been in terms of stability.
  • ICS on my phone is plenty stable. I would check your LotCat and make sure it's not some 3rd-party app you've installed that's actually causing the problem. You have to remember: with as much customization is possible with these phones, not every problem you have is going to be the fault of "Android". Also, if you're running a custom ROM, all bets are off. ROM hackers "tweak" the kernels and settings on those ROMs in ways that, which might boost speed, weren't set that way to begin with because they caused instability. This is the fault of "Android", ether. I've run ROMs in the past that randomly crashed from time-to-time and stuck with them just because they offered enough features to make me deal with it. It's all a matter of priorities.
  • Very well said!
  • Agreed.
  • I'm seeing a lot of my apps updating to support Jelly Bean.
    In my layman's view it seems like the step up from ICS to JB wouldn't be too difficult for manufacturers?
    As Alex stated the internals for the GNEX show that a lot of newer phones can easily utilize it if they have ICS. I'm on the ATT GNote and we still haven't 'officially' received ICS. This makes some speculate that perhaps Samsung will just skip it and modify the ICS build into JB.
  • Not going to happen. Please name me any phone on any network or my any manufacturer that has completely skipped an update just to get an older phone back on the current OS? No one with the original Galaxy S went straight to Gingerbread from Eclair, did they? Samsung(U.S.) has continued to be one of the worst manufacturers in terms of getting their phones updated. In my opinion, they spread themselves too thin by releasing phones too quickly which causes otherwise great phones (like the Note) behind.
  • Same in Hong Kong for Samsung.
  • Many phones skipped Donut to go from Cupcake to Eclair. I can think of two off the top of my head, the Motorola Cliq (which was my first Android phone) and the Backflip.
  • Dell released the Streak with 1.6 (not sure which one is it : Donut or Cupcake) & they skipped Eclair (both 2.0 & 2.1) straight to FroYo . That phone had a lot of potentials, it's a shame it didn't work out
  • Agree, the Dell Streak 5 had a lot of potential. I have a Note now, but before Note was released, the Streak was one of my favorites. Shame it did not catch on, it was a fine device even with 1.6. With 2.2, it was my workhorse before the Note replaced it.
  • As a developer, I'd love to stop coding using the 2.2 or 2.3.3 API and start using some of the new features in ICS and JB. But realistically, it will be 2 years before I can code using a higher API level. Android OS needs time to let the phone makers catch up to the current OS.
  • The real problem is that manufacturers & carriers don't WANT to update to the current OS. They already got your money & signed you to a contract. Updating your phone's software only makes your phone relevant longer & means it will be longer before you need to get a new one. Manufacturers & carries could already have every single phone on ICS right now & push out JB within days of the source code being released if they wanted to, but that would require then not forcing their useless skins & bloatware on every device which only makes it take longer because they have to make sure everything plays nice. This is exactly why I hope there are multiple Nexii released across all carriers but I doubt they will, sadly.
  • Sad. That's business.
  • This is what I dont understand, LET GOOGLE FRIGGEN UPDATE YOUR PHONES. Why cant manufacturers turn this process over to google/android. they can/cant because they'd lose their bloat.
  • I think this is the real issue. Sure with blinding update speeds it is a hassle but ultimately what is the incentive? EVERYONE is WAY behind from their manufacturer so there is no need for the Manuf to break from the pack, spend resources, and get old phones up to speed just for the hell of it. Its a very real issue. Maybe Google just needs to imbed small code teams in each of the main manuf. that do nothing but update devices and support them. It would cost google some dollars but not that much. Hell they can spare 4 million a year I'm sure to keep some codies on task and protect their asses against fragmentation.
  • That's a great idea... i'm sure google could afford to help the carriers keep the phones updated. It would definately help both google and the carriers keep the users happy. The biggest issues we are having with android is the fragmentation. Google really needs to get that under raps or it's going to be too far of a gap to catch up.
  • Well the bigger deal would be if there were multiple Nexii snd all had pentaband HSPA+ support. I think Google and the manufacturers will do that first and then the partners will option off the hardware to the carriers. Carriers themselves getting the devices or even exclusives ruins the ecosystem.
  • You can do that right now. Wrap your newer feature calls in an API check block. The updates to ADT tell you when you're making a call that's isn't supported all the way back to your min SDK. Need to have something available at a higher scope? Make it an Object and cast it within an API check block. At worst if you can't remove a button or some other measure then throw up a message stating your phone doesn't support this feature. You have Actionbar Sherlock and HoloEverwhere to help with compatibility. There's no reason you can't develop for ICS and JB today.
  • I think that with the way hardware has been increasing up to this point, yearly software upgrades were necessary. But my guess is that for the most part, mobile phone tech won't increase quite as fast as before. It'd be a great time to use a short lag in hardware improvements to really optimize the software. When some super quad cores start to dominate the market and more RAM gets crammed into phones Key Lime Pie would make more sense. Btw, I'm not saying that there won't be any improvements to hardware. I just think that the focus will turn more towards the screen, camera, size, battery. I mean, our top end phones are at 1.5 GHz. I think that 2GB RAM will be standard next year, but we might have to wait a little bit for 2.0 quads and 4GB phones. I think the emphasis will be on keeping current specs but putting them into smaller packages.
  • Totally agree.
    Processing power and memory are equivalent to laptops. Only the wrappings need improvement, and battery life is number one, memory number two.
    All of that can be done with no new OS upgrade.
  • I totally agree with this article. I rather Google improve on the hardware side of things this fall. The next Nexus needs a better camera for starters. All in all I'm really excited for the 4th coming.
  • Butter Son! Just Butter!
  • Interesting thoughts. For the most part I agree, but I'd like to see a new feature or two added when the new Nexus is announced, just as Apple is likely to add a few more things into iOS 6 with the new iPhone. I feel like Google needs to bring something new or exclusive (for a limited period at least) for the next Nexus in terms of software, because Samsung is unlikely to out-do the S3 with the raw hardware.
  • IDK. I don't think the S3 is the "ultimate" phone. I *hate* that little button down in the bottom center. I just can't deal with it. So I do hope the next Nexus can compete with the S3 on hardware. There's no reason they couldn't. The GNex was the first phone to have NFC. Usually, each new version of Nexus phone has some new little piece of hardware that no other phone has yet. Here's hoping.
  • At the same time though nexus devices have always been mid range in comparison to the flagship devices of the major manufacturers. So i don't think it will be that amazing. Google phones seem to be made to take full advantage of the hardware inside. Much like apple.. if google thinks their OS will run just fine on a 800mhz processor then thats all they will put in it.
  • Ummm, the Nexus S has NFC too!
  • I've only been using Jelly Bean for a little over a week.... it already lost the "cool" factor for me... Can't wait until the next version of Android OS is release soon.... Key Lime Pie? Candy Cane? Hot Fudge Sundae?
  • Crack flashers can always find something "cool" to flash and play with because of the great developer community around Android. You've barely seen the beginnings of what JB can be because the source hasn't even dropped yet. The mainstream moves at a much slower pace and I completely agree that its best for the Android ecosystem as a whole if Google takes it slow on this next release cycle.
  • Especially considering all the folks still on FROYO!
  • Android OS goes in alphabetical order.
  • I just got ICS on my phones, the SGS2 is running AOSP, my Rezound is running a ICS customized rom based on the latest leak (they haven't even released ICS for a phone that's only 9 months old) I think JB is enough for the year, but realistically Google has already made their decision on this. I've learned a few things running Android phones on both Verizon and AT&T.
    CDMA phones will usaully be slower to get official updates over GSM.
    GSM phones get third party updates like cyanogenmod first if ever, with the current CDMA/LTE phones on verizon, I'm not seeing any being added to cyanogenmod, which is a pity because I love Verizon LTE. I've had enough of manufacturers bs updates and constant delay's. My next phone will be a nexus, looking forward to the fall/winter nexus hopefully.
  • I'd rather they push to get current phones current on 4.1 (by telling makers that they aren't releasing a new version for at least a year.) Then spend the time making real changes to the OS. How about offering true multitasking? Develop APIs and UI options that allow for split screen capabilities? SOCs and screens are getting big enough to handle it now. Who wouldn't want the ability to have Google Maps on the top 60% of the screen while having Google Music on the bottom 40% while roadtripping? -Suntan
  • True multitasking? Isn't that the point we always use against iFan trolls?
    And do you mean something like Windows 8?
  • Android doesn't have "true" multitasking either. It's WAY better than what iOS has, but it isn't really proper "multitasking" in the PC sense. The only mobile OS to have TRUE Multitasking is/was webOS. Unfortunately it is a dying/dead OS due to several massive blunders by Palm and HP. So now that Google has snapped up most of the mindshare that was at Palm, they can start working on having REAL Multitasking, perhaps even with some kind of "card" or "window" metaphor so that you can have multiple apps all running at once and swap between them without having them crash or freeze as happens with some ICS apps currently. A further improvement (likely for a future version of Android) would be to move completely away from the clunky old buttons by removing even the capacitive ones and going full-gesture based. Just use on-screen swipes, pinches, spreads and multi-finger taps and holds to run EVERYTHING. No need for a "home" "back" "recent apps" or even the vertical ellipsis button. Gestures for everything. Interaction would be smoother, more natural, and easier to use than trying to poke at a tiny spot on the screen, especially when the phone is on a mount in a moving car. There is PLENTY more that can be improved in Android. Although I am still onboard with slowing down/incrementalizing the software release cycle, if only to allow people to catch up by buying new devices. Hopefully more Nexus devices and less customized crap.
  • What makes you say that android does not have real multitasking? Are you confusing the webos cards to multitasking? Android does have real threads in the background if the app wants to use it and if not, the app getting suspended is perfectly fine. And I'd absolutely detest having to use a gesture for everything. In fact I want to go the reverse. I want to see the search button back and I want to see the home, back, tasks and search button all be physical. I also want to see the cool optical stroller that HTC used to have on their older phones. For driving,really we need voice controlled control of the phones and I expect that it may be a reality in a couple of years. Unlike most of the posts here I think we definitely should have another version of the OS if there's something that can be delivered and not wait artificially just so hardware vendors can catch up. I'd certainly like to see a high end Nexus device. The first Nexus phone was the best phone at the time. All the succeeding ones were not the best in terms of the hardware. We need a Nexus device from Asus or HTC. Clearly Samsung has demonstrated that they are going to reserve their best hardware for the non Nexus line.
  • The bulk of phones are consistently 1 or 2 versions of Android behind, right? So maybe Google's master plan to force updates is to release new version of Android as fast as possible! That way, even if you're 2 versions behind, you're never running software that's more than a few months old! Think about it...!
  • LMFAO!!
  • I don't think google will do that. When Apple IOS 6 comes out this fall, google has to respond with features that will compete with them. I don't think the change will be as big as compared to ICS or JB, but a change nevertheless. The whole discussion of why 'we don't need another version of google os' is not because of the release of JB, but rather the lack of support of ICS. Google has to work with the chipset manufacturers and phone makers to properly get the drivers out otherwise we won't see much support of JB or ICS for that matter.
  • Please Google, keep Samsung far,far away from your next Nexus device. I'd love to see what Sony or Motorola could do given the opportunity.
  • +1! I've been hoping for a Motorola Nexus to come one day. I'd be ok with HTC getting another crack at it too.
  • The thing is : If Motorola made the next Nexus everyone will scream "Conspiracy" due to the fact Google bought em
  • +2!
    I'm a Samsung hater now. Nothing's good except hardware. (Especially considering they're getting sued most.)
  • The hardware is even subpar in many instances. I am on my fifth Galaxy Nexus because Samsung's QA is a joke.
  • Really? That seems... High. I've noticed that there always seems to be "that guy/gal" who goes through PILES of phones, having one after another break or be faulty in one way or another. More often than not, It turns out that while the person may have had a legitimate issue with the FIRST phone, most, if not all subsequent issues are either "perception" issues, IE: oversensitivity to potential problems leads to escalating returned phone rates, or "use" issues. IE: user is abusing the phone but refuses to see that they are being far too rough with it, insisting wrongly that "other brand" of phone was able to take the impossible level of abuse they are dishing out. You are on your fifth phone. You ARE "That Guy". Time to either adjust your perception or adjust your use patterns bub. The GNex has no higher failure rates than any other phone out there.
  • Sammy already has the next one.
  • Proof?
  • I prefer Samsung just because I prefer light phones, HTC and Moto phones are heavy bricks, made well, yes but heavier, also the Nexus is built extremely well, its that good plastic unlike that cheaper stuff on the Galaxy phones.
  • Just heard from the birdie that keeping in tradition with current naming conventions, Next release of Android OS will be called 'ApplePie'...lol
    Agree that it is bit ridiculous that we get next release while Ice Cream is still not on majority of devices. I am all for leading/bleeding edge but...I like ApplePie...wouldn't that be fun....
  • That doesn't fit in with current naming conventions.
  • I thought the naming convention should be common sense to Android fans.
  • <