Would you be willing to pay for your Android update?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| December 27, 2011

Android updates are an adventure, aren’t they? You buy a phone, and you walk out of the store all excited and happy about your purchase. You show it off to all of your friends. But, maybe, you show it to one friend who happens to have purchased a “newer” phone right after you, and suddenly you notice that their phone can do things yours can’t. A little digging and you discover that you’re running a different, older software version, and you try to find out why. But there’s only negative talk about how your phone won’t be getting upgraded, and suddenly your phone isn’t all that special anymore. It isn’t the end of the world, and it is very much the way things work in the technology industry, but unfortunately people expect their phones to appreciate over time, and that software update is just as essential as anything else.

Comparing the way that Apple updates the iPhone is a limited way of looking at things, in my opinion. Why? Because of the blatant truth: Apple releases one phone a year. I honestly don’t think HTC, Samsung, LG, or any other manufacturer on the planet could do that and be okay. Especially not HTC or Samsung, who have banked on the fact that they will release a plethora of devices to meet the needs of a wide variety of people out there. And comparing Android updates to Microsoft’s Windows Phone updates isn’t fair, either. All Windows Phones look the same, and only differ in the hardware. Of course it should be easy for Microsoft to upgrade all of these devices, no matter how many there are, because they’re all the same.

So, let’s stop comparing Android updates, shall we? How about we keep it in the family? If you really, really want to compare the way that Android gets updated and try to make a point, compare it to the way that HTC updates their devices versus the way that Samsung and LG update their devices. Or include Acer, or any one of the other manufacturers out there that use Android on their phones. That’s the only fair comparison you can make, and any other comparison is just pointless. Android isn’t Windows Phone, and it certainly isn’t iOS. They’re so different, it hurts.

Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about Android updates, and the fiasco that they are. And unfortunately Android gets the bad name, because that’s the operating system of choice, but it really isn’t Android’s fault. Or, more specifically, it really isn’t Google’s fault. Not anymore. Yes, I firmly believe that it was their fault back in the day, around the time of Android 2.2 or so. But things have changed. I’m sure a few of the details are the same behind the curtain, but I’m not going to bring those up because we don’t really have the knowledge on those details, so we wouldn’t have much to discuss, anyway. So let’s talk about the most obvious of the problem: the manufacturers.

Yes, they are the problem. HTC is the problem. Samsung is the problem. Honestly, I can’t really recall a point where LG has come out and said a renowned device wouldn’t be getting an update, and then changed their mind after the fact, so I don’t think they can be blamed all that much at the moment. At least, not for the sake of this article. But HTC and Samsung certainly can be. Both manufacturers have come out and said a device can’t be upgraded, and then the world erupts. Fans sound out. The media sounds out. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, HTC and Samsung came forward and said that maybe they can figure it out. The HTC Incredible eventually received Android 2.3, officially, and I will be surprised if Samsung doesn’t “figure it out” regarding the original Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab, regarding updates to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich for the smartphone and tablet.

The manufacturers are the problem because they release these phones knowing full-well that another version of Android is coming. It’s just as inexorable as the sun rising and setting. If you make a high-end, flagship device, then you make sure that device can be supported after the launch. The Galaxy S is a great phone, and it is still wildly popular. There is no reason Samsung should deny it an upgrade to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Even if they have to take off TouchWiz UI, do it. Do whatever it takes. Because the phone can run the update. So, stop making up excuses. Your fans and supporters aren’t a bunch of mindless folks, so don’t treat them as such. You keep customers, and that should be just as important as getting new ones.

So what about paid Android updates? Theoretically, it’s a great idea. In truth, it may be the best option for manufacturers to start pushing out updates for all the devices they create, without having any caveats. You buy a phone, an update gets released, and then you pay the manufacturer to update your phone, no matter what. But, let’s face it: there would eventually be an issue with that, too. I can see a problem with Phone A needing to have a paid upgrade, but Phone B not needing one, despite both devices having similar specifications. The uproar in that situation would be huge.

The manufacturers need to get a handle on Android updates. And I’m not talking about every phone they release, either. There are obviously devices out there that won’t get upgraded based on their specs. But, for high-end devices, the handsets that these manufacturers put up against the iPhone of that year, there should never be a question about upgrades. Never.