Software updates – or a lack thereof, really – are the low point for the world's most popular mobile platform, Android. With upwards of 20 devices from each major manufacturer every year, and each with their own customized version of Android, you can imagine it's a bit of a logistical nightmare to keep every phone up-to-date in a timely manner. Add in a rigorous carrier approval process and you have yourself one of the most painful software update processes in software history.
For those who favor rapid updates and the stock Android experience over being behind one or more versions and overbearing, heavily customized interfaces, there has been a solution. Ever since Froyo, Google has teamed up with a hardware manufacturer to release a halo (or reference) device for each major update. For phones, these are known as Nexus devices. For Froyo, it was the Nexus One; Gingerbread was the Nexus S and Ice Cream Sandwich was the Galaxy Nexus. The side-step, tablet-only Android version, Honeycomb, was debuted on the Motorola XOOM – which was widely perceived as a Nexus-like tablet.
Originally, these were intended to be developer devices, but quickly caught on among enthusiasts and basic end users who like to tinker. The premise was that with a Nexus you would be receiving software updates directly from Google, instead of through the carrier, and would thereby receive updates much more quickly. And seeing as they are coming straight from the makers of Android themselves, one could expect to experience fewer glitches and snags than with manufacturers' carrier-bloated, customized software.
I think it's safe to say things have changed.
A good friend of mine, Dustin Earley of Android and Me, wrote an article on Wednesday explaining some of the most recent issues he has been experiencing on his Nexus S.
Normally, I like to hear people's complaints of literally everything. Seeing as I primarily write editorials, I like to know that I'm not the only one complaining about the superfluous ins and outs of every mobile platform. And the more I know how other people feel, the better understanding I feel I have. Generally, though, I just dismiss rants and complaints as just that. But this came from a close friend of mine, one who has always "been known to sing the praises of Google’s Nexus series devices," as he even says himself in his article.
The first of Dustin's problems came after the initial Ice Cream Sandwich update for the T-Mobile Nexus S. He explains:
"An update to Android 4.0 was being rolled out for the T-Mobile (i9020-T) Nexus S, until some battery life issues prompted Google to put the update on hold. That was in December of 2011. Anyone who received the update could be faced with any number of bugs. Anyone who didn’t receive the update is likely wondering what the hell is going on. Google has not issued any comments on the situation."
As we learned late last night, however, the Ice Cream Sandwich update will once again roll out "in the next few weeks." But the damage has already been done, so to speak. As Dustin also points out, it's mid-March and the Sprint and AT&T versions of the Nexus S owners haven't been told a single thing about Ice Cream Sandwich.
Lest we forget, we aren't talking about just any device here. We're talking about a Nexus device, one of the few devices that is promised to get rapid software updates. Yet there have been a handful of devices to beat the Nexus S to the punch, like the Eee Pad Transformer, its successor, the Transformer Prime, and even a Huawei device. And those updates are coming from manufacturers who don't get the software until after Google releases the source code. Google should have at least had the Nexus S update ready to go within weeks of the official Ice Cream Sandwich release. They should be leading by example, but they're only mirroring what we've been seeing of other manufacturers since the induction of Android. Here we are, four months after the fact, and the few Nexus S owners who were (un)lucky enough to get their update when the first bug-ridden OTA was released have either given up and moved on to a new device or had to install an entirely different ROM just to use their phone.
Dustin claims the ICS update that hit his Nexus S cut his battery life by more than 50 percent, several applications quit working, he was constantly met with storage error messages and his camera data became corrupted. Even after several different ROMs, his camera still will not work. And this is all due to an official update that was sent out by none other than Google. The worst part is that he isn't the only one this botched update affected, even though it was pulled shortly after it went live.
So the one person I knew that was probably more adamant about using stock Android and Nexus devices than I am has openly said that he will not be buying a Nexus device again. And if you know Dustin, that's huge.
I can't say that I've had any similar instances with any of my Nexus phones, and I've owned all of the Google devices: the Nexus One, Nexus S, Motorola XOOM and the Galaxy Nexus. But the difference is that I don't ever really keep a phone long enough to worry about software updates. If I were in Dustin's shoes, I would be equally upset, even if I was having none of the issues he's been dealing with for about three months now. Fast software updates are one of the main selling points of Nexus phones and Google has completely failed Nexus S owners. Not to mention, the Nexus One, which was just one generation before the Nexus S, will not officially be receiving Ice Cream Sandwich. So what's the point if you only ever get one major update in a timely manner?
Although a lot of people disagreed with me, I also feel that Google completely lost their initiative with the Nexus line when they launched the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon with carrier branding and bloatware. Like Dustin, I'm left wondering what the point of even buying a Nexus is anymore. As he says, there are "other ways to use a stock Android device," and "maybe third-party skins aren’t so bad" after all. My Galaxy Note will be here in the next hour or so, and I'm honestly not so sad about getting rid of my Nexus or being able to play around with TouchWiz again for a while. (I'm sure the excitement will wear off soon, though.)
None of this is to say that I will never buy a Nexus again. I probably will, simply because every Nexus I have ever owned has, sequentially, offered the best Android experience to date. But, seriously, Google? It's time to get your act together, keep your promises and lead by example. Mmmk?