The version of Android on your device doesn't matter anymore

Published: March 29, 2013

Fragmentation!

Okay, just had to get that out of the way. This isn’t an article about how terrible fragmentation is. In fact, I’m going to embrace it from here on out. Why? Because there’s just no getting away from it. And, simply put, it shouldn’t matter. You don’t buy your phone for what it will do, but what it does now. For all those cool features that the manufacturer was so happy to show off during its unveiling. You buy the phone you heard about in the news. Software updates that are focused primarily on features rather than security are bonuses.

Last year I wrote about why it probably shouldn’t matter if you’re running an Android version that’s one behind the “latest.” And, let’s face it, if you’re someone who’s excited about picking up the HTC One, then you’re also excited about being one version behind the latest. But there’s nothing wrong with that at all. It would be a major issue if the One was launching with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and specifically without Google Now, but it isn’t, so you’re fine. Does it matter that Samsung is launching their Galaxy S 4 with Android 4.2 Jelly Bean? Nope.

More recently, Taylor Martin wrote a piece asking you if you care if you have the newest piece of software on your phone. I know a lot of people that this is, in fact, a big deal. It is such a big deal, in fact, that they are now actively avoiding some devices on some carriers, and going with a phone that they don’t particularly like all that much, just so they don’t have to worry about software updates. On the other hand, I know plenty of people that just don’t care. Their phone works, so why should they? If a notification comes to their device that they should upgrade their software, that new and exciting features await them, that’s great. Update, and move along.

Right now, right this very moment, there are a lot of people talking about Facebook and what the company plans on unveiling in just a few days. April 4, to be exact. That’s the day that the social network giant has pegged to unveil their “new home on Android.” So, obviously we’re talking about software and not hardware, right? There’s a chance. But, there are plenty of rumors of that Facebook phone, too. It’s most recent phone is codenamed the “Myst,” and it has some phenomenally mediocre features. But hey, it’s new and it’s all Facebook-y. So people will probably want it.

I’m not going to talk about whether or not we really need a Facebook phone. I’m going to leave that up to our own Anna Scantlin.

Instead, I want to talk about Android. I want to talk about why your version doesn’t matter. I want to talk about why, more than ever, Google’s Android team is working harder than ever to just get shoved into the shadows and forgotten about, until that “next big version.”

Let’s face it, we all want features. We want Android to pack in so much that we can show it off to friends, family and complete strangers. But, companies like Samsung, HTC, and Amazon want you to buy their things for their proprietary software. Not because of Android. Look at Samsung and Amazon. Sure, Android is in there somewhere, but TouchWiz and Amazon’s custom software are so prevalent and in-your-face that you’d be remiss if you had no idea.

And, here’s the rub: it doesn’t matter if you do or don’t. Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets are ridiculously popular. And, let’s be frank, Samsung’s smartphones are even more popular. The fact that the Galaxy S 4 is launching with Android 4.2 and not Android 4.1 will not make or break sales. It won’t have an impact on sales at all. And, even for all those people out there who know Google will probably unveil a brand new version of Android very soon, and even closer to the launch of the Galaxy S 4, none of that matters, either. They want the Galaxy S 4 because it has features, even if some folks out there are scratching their head at the price tag recently revealed by AT&T.

Android is a means to an end for these manufacturers. It isn’t a labor of love like iOS is for Apple, or like BlackBerry 10 is for BlackBerry.. Or any of the other companies out there bringing new software platforms to the fore. I'm not saying that HTC or Samsung don't put a ridiculous amount of work into Android, just that they've got efforts in other platforms, too. Especially Samsung, and their upcoming Tizen OS.

None of this is a bad thing, though. It’s a good thing that Samsung can find such popularity and success from Android, and the same goes for Amazon. (And hopefully it works out for HTC this year, too.) The point I’m trying to make is that maybe we shouldn’t even pay any attention to which version of Android a phone is running anymore, as long as it isn’t already ancient. So, nothing Android 4.0 or lower, obviously. Maybe we should just be calling it like it is: The HTC One is running Sense; the Galaxy S 4 is running TouchWiz, and so on and so forth.

Those are, after all, the differentiating factors, are they not? That’s how Samsung and HTC break away from the pack. It’s how you know a Samsung device from an HTC handset. Not the version of Android, but which proprietary software is right there staring you in the face. So, just call it like you see it. Unless you refuse to use anything other than a Nexus-branded device, that is. Then obviously you should be upset if your phone isn’t getting updates in a timely manner. (Verizon’s Galaxy Nexus LTE, am I right?)

After all, it’s not going to matter which version of Android a new “Facebook phone” might be running. It’s just going to matter how customized it is. Are we looking at an Amazon-level of custom kit? Or more like a new HTC One? Guess we’ll find out.

So what do you think? Do you care at all which version of Android your device is running, as long as it isn’t ancient and unable to run your favorite apps? Do you think smartphone manufacturers with their own software should just make a point to announce which version of their own software they’re running, instead of making a big deal about Android version? Let me know.

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