Android updates need to be regulated and structured

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| December 22, 2010

The current million dollar question for Android users is when their devices will be upgraded to the latest and greatest from Google. Even though Gingerbread is among us now and heading to at least one device in the coming weeks, most users shouldn't expect their updates for a minimum of three or four more months (likely much longer).

Earlier this morning, Motorola updated a chart detailing their plans to update – or not to update – their Android touting devices. It reveals that some devices will never even get a taste of Froyo, or Eclair for that matter. The CLIQ XT through Wal-Mart's Straight Talk will unhappily sit on Android 1.5 until the end of its shelf life, while its twin on T-Mobile will eventually be updated to 2.1.

Absent from the list are their newer, high-end Android devices (ones that shipped with Android 2.2) and any mention of Gingerbread. The Droid X, Droid Pro, and Droid 2 are all very likely to receive the update, but Motorola fails to even mention it in the chart. Also missing from the table is three of Moto's mid-range devices, the Bravo, FLIPSIDE, and FLIPOUT, all of which are running Android 2.1. Again, no word of Froyo for these devices.

One of the biggest drawbacks to Google's updates coming so quickly is how long it takes for them to finally get filtered down to individual devices. Froyo was released back in May and seven months later, there is still a long waiting list of devices yet to receive the update. With Gingerbread updates coming in due time and the pending release of Honeycomb, expected to hit in February or March, the list of updates to come is only going to get more confusing, more complex, and make users even more angry.

I'm a huge Android fan, but it's terribly hard not to get mad at Google. Their updating schedules have absolutely no structure. It is left up to the manufacturer and carrier as to when these updates get rolled out; sometimes they never do, leaving fairly new devices several updates behind current ones. Motorola is only one example; Samsung and HTC are just as guilty. The Galaxy S devices are stuck on Eclair 2.1 while their close relative, Google's Nexus S, sits two updates ahead with the new Gingerbread update. Even one of Samsung's mid-range devices has received Froyo before their flagship line (in the US).

A hot item for Android since it first started churning out updates was about its fragmentation issue. It's becoming less of an issue for developers (where the original concern came from) but more of an anger trigger for customers. This fragmentation issue isn't entirely Google's fault, but they've played a huge roll in it with no regulation or enforced time frame for when updates need to hit handsets.

I wouldn't expect to have Gingerbread on my myTouch 4G as soon as it's released, but it should in no way take three or four months. All devices should be running the same version within a matter of weeks, but that will never be the case as long as carriers and manufacturers are running the update show. Custom user interfaces and carrier testing are probably the two biggest setbacks when it comes to Android updates and it doesn't look like either of those are changing anytime soon.

Something Microsoft has straight with Windows Phone 7 is the updating process, or at least in theory. The updates are to come directly from Microsoft and no device will be left behind. Their devices and operating system are built with future in mind and software versions across the platform, regardless of device, should be equal. Apple's iOS and Palm's webOS update schedules are very structured as well, and users stay fairly happy. If Google doesn't take action to reform this update mess, I have a feeling their luck will eventually run out and Android users will grow tired of waiting for over half a year for old updates.