A glaring and ongoing problem with the Android ecosystem is fragmentation, a nebulous term which rears its head in a variety of ways. One of the more irritating fragmentation issues, if you happen to be an Android owner, is that you’re probably not running the most up to date version of Android. As a matter of fact, even if you buy an Android handset today, odds are that your shiny new device is running an antiquated version of Android.
Now contrast this to Apple where any iPhone you buy today runs iOS 5, the most recent iteration of iOS. And yes, this applies even to the iPhone 3GS, a device released well over 2 years ago.
To remedy this problem, which is only getting worse as the number of Android handsets continues to rise, Google last May announced at its Google I/O conference an initiative dubbed the Google Update Alliance which pledged that any new Android device would be eligible for Android updates up to 18 months following its release.
It all sounds great in theory, but as tends to be the case with lofty promises, the Google Update Alliance has thus far failed to materialize. And to be honest, it’s not all that surprising given that it requires across the board cooperation and communication between Google, a host of Android handset manufacturers, and of course, carriers.
What’s more, the open nature of Android which enables companies like Motorola and Samsung to tweak the UI as they see fit often precludes subsequent OS upgrades from being able to run without reworking a whole lot of code. Compounding matters, Android updates are often bottlenecked by carriers who, truth be told, care little about the consumer once a handset has been purchased.
In short, the Google Update Alliance has proven to be nothing more than a bad joke that leaves Android users, yet again, behind the curve.
Jamie Lendino of PC Mag explains:
So the Google Update Alliance was a breath of fresh air. It sounded like everyone would finally come together, streamline their OS update timelines, and stop jerking around their customers. The thing is, while the Google Update Alliance ended up being one of the biggest stories to come out of Google I/O, we’ve heard almost nothing about it since then. You can bet we weren’t just going to forget about it and pretend it never happened—especially after the release of
Google Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), which is a huge leap in UI design and overall performance.
Checking in with some of the more popular Android manufacturers such as Motorola and Samsung, PC Mag found that fragmentation remains an ongoing issue. Android 4.0, otherwise known as Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), will be hitting just 3 Motorola smartphones (the Droid Razr, the Motorola Razr and the Droid Bionic). Atrix 2, Droid 3, Droid X2 users – just to name a few – will be left out in the cold. Further, ICS won’t be rolled out to Motorola devices for a good few months.
Unfoftunately, the story is the same across all Android manufacturers and carriers. ICS will be coming to some of the newer Android handsets, but not all. Indeed, only a minority of 2011 handsets seem to be ICS eligible.
To put it mildly, this doesn’t look encouraging. The original promise wasn’t about a vendor evaluating if it would issue an upgrade, or about letting us know sometime next year when it made a decision. It was that hardware permitting, all Android devices would get OS updates in a reasonable amount of time within the first 18 months.
Yet, as we close 2011 and head into 2012, we’re still running into the same confused messaging, empty promises, and delayed announcements that have plagued Android OS updates from the beginning. This means that for all intents and purposes, the Google Android Update Alliance is already dead.
So in typical Google fashion, they’ve overpromised and under-delivered.. again.
But hey, what do they care. With Android activations now coming in at over 700,000 a day, Google’s top priority is and remains the proliferation of Android handsets.
Cold hard numbers. What Google understands.
Customer satisfaction across the board? Not exactly Google’s strongsuit.
Working to ensure that Android owners can experience the latest and greatest Android features is, unfortunately, something they have no problem bragging about at a conference but something they haven’t really done much to implement.
The majority of iPhones in circulation today are running either iOS 4 or iOS 5.
As for the majority of Android devices? Well, you might as well pick a version out of a hat.