Are Google's Ice Cream Sandwich update plans too lofty?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| Published: October 20, 2011

Talking about updates for Android is a well-beaten topic. Dating back to when updates really started rolling out, and coupled with the explosion of devices out there running Google’s mobile operating system, people found out that not every device can get upgraded. It’s a rough time, sure, but it’s just the way things go. Everything is part of the business, and if HTC, Samsung, LG or any one of the other Android supporters out there don’t think updating a device is for the best, then they just won’t do it. That may not sit well with all the buyers out there, but that’s the way things go.

And here we are, talking about another major update to Android. Just as we’ve seen in the past with a Nexus-branded device launch, we’ve got another version of Android to go along with it. This time around, it’s probably one of the most highly anticipated versions of the mobile OS, named Ice Cream Sandwich. With Android 4.0, Android gets its biggest aesthetic boost, and plenty of new enhancements. Accordingly, people want it. And, for those of you out there who don’t plan on getting the Galaxy Nexus that was just announced, then you’re probably wondering when your current device will get updated to the latest sweet software treat.

Interestingly enough, we’ve got Google talking about updates pretty openly this time around. What’s more, what they’re saying actually sounds like they mean it, and that it’s perfectly possible for it to pan out. Let’s break it down: we’ve got two Google execs saying that Ice Cream Sandwich, in theory, should work on any 2.3-equipped device. Adding to that, we’ve got Google’s Andy Rubin saying that ICS should begin rolling out to existing devices a couple of weeks after the Galaxy Nexus’ launch sometime in November. Now, to me, that sounds like these guys really, really think that existing devices, all of the ones equipped with the Gingerbread goodness anyway, will be seeing the latest software build sometime in the future.

But then we’ve got HTC, one of the most popular hardware manufacturers for Android devices, bringing us down to the real world. HTC has a goal, and that goal is to upgrade as many devices as they can with Ice Cream Sandwich. But, they can’t just go upgrading devices all willy-nilly. No, the experience is what matters to HTC, and if they believe the ICS update will hinder a device in anyway, then they won’t update it. Pretty simple, and it seems logical, right? Well, we’ve seen that plan utilized in the past, and we’ve seen perfectly powerful devices, like the HTC EVO and HTC DROID Incredible, get the short end of the stick when it comes to updates.

People want new devices, new hardware, and new software. So, it’s no surprise that HTC is keeping the updating goals more realistic. I wouldn’t expect much different, and I would be surprised if manufacturers like Samsung and LG, along with Motorola and other manufacturers say the same thing. Yes, they want to upgrade every device, but it’s just not possible. It’s just not going to happen. But, I foresee an issue: that little bit about 2.3-equipped devices. Now, while there are some devices out there that are running Android 2.3 after a previous update, which would probably be perfectly capable of running Android 4.0, I don’t think many of those devices are going to get updated. I think Google should have been a bit more specific, and went the same route that HTC did. You point out that it’s going to be recently released devices, devices that launched with Android 2.3 that may get the Android 4.0 update. Just saying 2.3 devices may get it will get people’s expectations put way too high, and you’ll undoubtedly upset plenty of customers.

Google has a very strong chance to change the way people perceive Android updates with Ice Cream Sandwich. In fact, we know that that’s exactly what Google wants to do. But, the best laid plans… right? Just talking about it or even just planning it is one thing; but actually making it happen is another thing entirely. We can cross our fingers and hope, and that’s what some people out there may end up doing.

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