Here's why the HTC One's software update is super important

Chase Bonar
 from Winter Springs, FL
Published: May 11, 2013

Some would have argued that HTC's main hurdle to overcome with their new flagship, the One, was marketing the device on all carriers and ensuring supply kept up with demand. Both feats have plagued the Taiwanese company in the past, and in this industry, both are ingredients of a successful hero device. If you thought this was HTC's main issue to compete with Samsung and their Galaxy S 4, welcome to the club.

But in the world of smartphones running Google's Android OS, many quickly disregard the flashy press events and software features of an Android skin until they know what version of Android is hiding beneath that optimized UI. In the case of the HTC One, HTC Sense 5 was build atop Android Jelly Bean 4.1.2, which is not bad, I suppose.

For a little while, Android 4.1.2 was excusable. Sure, quick toggles would have been nice to see in the notification curtain, a standard feature of Android 4.2, but that desire can be fulfilled by many third-party apps in the Google Play Store. And then came along the Samsung Galaxy S 4 which launched with the latest version of Android, the equivalent of finding a Leprechaun's Pot of Gold at the end of a double rainbow. For obvious reasons, Samsung's Galaxy S 4 is a fierce contender for "Smartphone of the Year" and software updates could lead that argument.

Google had already issued three subsequent updates to the Jelly Bean source code when the HTC One launched. So, HTC now finds themselves in between software updates where it has options: roll out a software update to Android 4.2.2 (the current version of Android), or wait for Google to announce the next version of Android in a week's time at Google I/O in San Francisco.

Where the software version is a deal breaker for many, I find myself even more interested in what would happen if HTC updated to the wrong software just for the sake of updating. I believe an update to Android 4.2.2 makes very little sense when it's set to be outdated after Google I/O.

Software updates are not a new discussion for manufacturers, with HTC bearing the blunt of some of the worst criticism. In my opinion, software updates are overhyped. But since HTC has been in such a fragile state for so long, naturally, I'm interested to see what the Taiwanese company does because it could have long-standing implications for sales and their slew of investors. And if the rumors of a late May announcement of a Verizon HTC One are true, the Taiwanese company needs to have a firm grasp on what it would mean to have varying versions of Android on all carriers. It would be a mess. This is further reason for me to believe HTC should wait a bit and think this software update through very carefully.

It's very likely that HTC has already decided what Android version is next for the HTC One. Droid-Life recently discovered a leaked build of Android 4.2.2 for the International HTC Butterfly fluttering along with HTC Sense 5.1, and it makes sense that HTC released it first for their flagship device instead of last year's flagship.

But what would you do if you were HTC? Would you issue a software update to 4.2.2 and risk being outdated after Google I/O, or skip an update to version 4.2.2 in favor of Google's next flavor of Android?

It's a tough question to answer because both sides of the aisle have a reason for their preference of one over the other.

It's easy to say HTC has gotten off on the wrong foot by starting out a few software updates behind as compared to their primary opponent, the Galaxy S 4. But they've managed to launch a device successfully with an old version of Android which should not be ignored either. However, history tells us that HTC is the software update equivalent of a tortoise. To put HTC's history of software updates into perspective, the AT&T HTC One X received an update to Android 4.1 this past March having already been on the market for one year. The One X launched with Android 4.0.3. And then there's the HTC Thunderbolt on Verizon which, after two years running, finally received an update to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich just two months ago.

While software updates in the Android arena tend to spark as much controversy as ambiguity, much is riding on HTC and their new flagship. Every fine detail is being treated as "make or break" for the company, and it's expected. HTC found itself slumping to a catastrophic 27% drop in sales this past March over the preceding month, and down 44% as compared to 2012.

But HTC is also riding high with the HTC One following the release of their second quarter financial statements for 2013. The One ushered in sales figures which resulted in a second month of growth for the Taiwanese company. To top it off, the tech community has welcomed the HTC One with open arms with all of you leading the charge in getting it to the number 1 spot in PhoneDog's Official Smartphone Rankings.

But did software version play a role in your vote?

There is no doubt that software updates are more important to you and I than the average consumer, but the consumer could quickly be swayed to favor an Android smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S 4 if Google launches a new version of Android with new features, and Samsung updates the S 4 to the latest version of Android with those new features, first. The manufacturer who gets an update out to the next version of Android will definitely deserve some credit, but if HTC does it first, I feel they'd be defying the odds and re-inventing themselves in the process.

Your turn! Does the software version of your Android smartphone matter to you? Sound off in the comments below.