Android shown to be out of touch when it comes to OS updates

December 8, 2013
29

It’s the concern so many Android users have: when will my phone be upgraded to the newest version? As Android fans, we want to know that we will at least see the newest Android version soon after launch. While we don’t expect to see our HTC or Samsung device carry the latest flavor of Android the same day as a Nexus device, we don’t want to get left behind, either.


It seems that’s just what happens though, as OEMs and carriers choose not to support legacy models, instead "asking" us to upgrade. For some, that’s just not possible. For others, the change is unwelcome. For iOS, it doesn’t seem to matter. A new report shows that while the Android space remains fragmented, iOS devices — even those older ones — are widely supported with the same OS upgrade as newer devices, and at the same time.

This can be taken a number of ways. On one hand, Apple controls both the OS and hardware, so it’s easy for them to push out updates and support all devices. It’s a bit like Google with their Nexus brand. Though when Android 4.4 launched, the Galaxy Nexus was famously noted as being unsupported, with differing reasons as to why. Was it really some mysterious 18-month cycle, or the fact that Texas Instruments was no longer supporting the hardware in the device?

nexus-5-camera-closeup

It gets even more confusing when we examine other OEMs and their offerings. The chart, pictured above, tracks OEMs and their various handsets through the life cycle. It shows how the manufacturer and/or carrier stop supporting the device, and the trend we see is that after a year or so it is simply left behind the curve. Android continues on, and if we want the latest and greatest Android has to offer, we’re to upgrade or languish… and upgrading doesn’t solve the problem all the time, either.

Perhaps more troubling is that, upon launch, many devices are already behind. The flagship Galaxy S3, for example, was never on the current Android page. The HTC One was, for a few months, but hasn’t been since. Only Nexus devices have a better showing than the rest, but the Galaxy Nexus calls that track record into question moving forward.

iphone_5c_hands-on_sg_8

Conversely, we look to the iPhone, and see that all devices are supporting the current OS all the time. It is only recently that the iPhone 3GS — older than any Android device on the chart — began to slip off the map. Perhaps more troubling for us is the time it takes to get updates to Android devices, as the chart below demonstrates. While things like TouchWiz or Sense confuse the issue, that’s the responsibility of each manufacturer to readily support Android updates on their devices, and consumers shouldn’t pay the price for their choice. We like to blame carriers, but each carrier has the iPhone, and there seem to be no issues with updates there.

We hope Android 4.4 fixes fragmentation, but in reality, it will probably only change the appearance of it. On paper, we'll all be on one version, but Android 4.4 has a lot of moving parts that OEMs can choose to utilize or not. The most obvious example is the Google Now launcher on the Nexus 5, which hasn’t made its way to other Nexus hardware, a choice made by Google. All Nexus devices are — or will be soon — on Android 4.4, but the experience changes from device to device. Is that actually solving the problem, or just the perception of it?

fidlee-kitkat-adoption

VIA: 9to5 Google


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  • gr227

    We like to blame carriers, but each carrier has the iPhone, and there seem to be no issues with updates there.

    I do believe that carriers are playing a much larger roll in it than you are saying here. How is it that updates for some phones come to AT&T but the same phone on Verizon doesn’t get the update or is months behind in getting the same update?

    How long did Verizon go without a iphone because they wanted more control then apple would give them? <– this is conjecture on my part as I believe this had a lot to do with it.

    • boonesimpson

      i think vzw was the preferred launch partner back in 07, but att would play ball, vzw wouldn’t.

  • gmaninvan

    I find the graphics fairly flawed and this is why:

    Yes, the iPhone receives updates to the latest software, even if it is old. However, they strip significant features from them which begs the question. Can you consider that a full update?

    • Deeco

      The main flaw is that, iOS is managing 1 phone, while Android is with many manufacturers.

    • davidgeek

      Apple strips a few features from older phones because they cant handle them reasonably well. But they add hundreds of changes, not coat paintings. If you dont update to iOS 7 or allow older devices to update (even if they dont get new camera features), you dont get support for MFi controllers, games developed with SpriteKit, iBeacons, and a hundred other APIs that developers can use to focus on adding new features quickly instead of having to code the libraries that will allow them to add features quickly.

      Anyway, iOS is far from perfect (iCloud has been improved with iOS 7 APIs, but still is lagging behind Google’s network), but there are a lot of things going under the hood on every iOS update so every compatible device always gets 95% of the new features.

      So well, yes, ok, it is not a full update but a 95% update. Great deal for 4 year old phones.

    • tiger

      Android doesn’t do that also? Think again!

      • gmaninvan

        Ok, tell me what the Nexus 4 is missing that the Nexus 5 has that isn’t hardware dependent. Alternatively, all of the older iOS products do not have Siri and will never get it. There is no real reason for this as Siri is hardware agnostic.

      • tiger

        Hardware is required…iPhone 4S A5 chip has on-chip noise-reduction system sourced from specialists Audience.

        This extra part is missing on iPhone 4 A4 chip.

      • gmaninvan

        Are you actually going to try and tell me that a virtual assistant requires noise cancellation? They had voice activated commands prior to Siri and Google now works on any hardware with ICS and above

    • tiger

      Tell me, is Kitkat avail on Galaxy Nexus? Easy question.

      What does Google say on their website? Nexus phones are supported for 18 months. That’s it. End of story. Done.

      • gmaninvan

        At least the last update it received was complete. Also, that was the only device that wasn’t supported for two years which is a standard contract length

      • tiger

        18 months is less than 2 years. That sucks. The iPhone that came out at the same time as GN is currently running iOS7…and so did the iphone that came before it! :)

        Nexus S 4G was NOT supported for two years. I had that phone! No Jellybean. ONLY ICS at the end of its update cycle. And with ICS, there were tons of features that were missing from newer ICS phones. No panorama. No facial recognition. Etc. ICS also destroyed the phone…unstable and battery sucked even worst! And yes, i got the official ICS from Google/Sprint.

        So, NO, you’re WRONG. I know that you’re a fanboy and all, but you need to do more research in what you’re saying.

        And lets not get into OEM phones! Their support aftersale is even worst!

        Look, you can write about live wallpaper or widgets or even customization as advantages of Android…and i will mostly agree, even though iOS7 has made widgets pretty much obsolete.

        But, talking about update cycles as Android strongpoint is pure ignorance.

        BTW, how do you like that dying technology called NFC?! :)

      • gmaninvan

        “18 months is less than 2 years. That sucks. The iPhone that came out at the same time as GN is currently running iOS7…and so did the iphone that came before it! :)”

        Really? Did it get Siri? That was a feature omitted from a one year old iPhone. You missed the entire point. They provide half updates and then tout their distribution numbers. So, basically, because it is technically running a stripped down version of the new iOS, Apple can claim everyone has the new OS when they clearly don’t. You can also try to say that Siri is hardware limited but that can’t be true considering that google contextual voice search works on older iphones.

        “Nexus S 4G was NOT supported for two years. I had that phone! No Jellybean. ONLY ICS at the end of its update cycle. And with ICS, there were tons of features that were missing from newer ICS phones. No panorama. No facial recognition. Etc. ICS also destroyed the phone…unstable and battery sucked even worst! And yes, i got the official ICS from Google/Sprint.”

        I had a Nexus S, it was fully supported for two years. Don’t try and use a carrier model as a basis. The updates weren’t even coming from Google. Look at the Verizon Galaxy Nexus. This is why Google doesn’t do Nexus’s on carriers anymore.

        “So, NO, you’re WRONG. I know that you’re a fanboy and all, but you need to do more research in what you’re saying.”

        Really? That is the best you can come up with. Your points don’t even hold up. Attacking me and calling me a fanboy because I make valid points is very immature. At no point have I made statements like “Android FTW” or “Apple sucks”. Those are fanboy statements. Maybe you need to do some research.

        “Look, you can write about live wallpaper or widgets or even customization as advantages of Android…and i will mostly agree, even though iOS7 has made widgets pretty much obsolete.”

        iOS7 has made widgets obsolete? Must have missed that memo. Last time I checked, the OS is still a grid of static icons that present no relevant information nor can you interact with them. Widgets are incredibly useful. Even live wallpapers, although mostly novel, can be used from a usability standpoint if you use them to display things such as system info, time, weather, etc. Essentially it can operate as a widget in the background.

        “But, talking about update cycles as Android strongpoint is pure ignorance.”

        What is pure ignorance is assuming this discussion was ever on android as a whole. Last time I checked, we were talking about Nexus devices and Nexus devices only. Oh look at that, I just saw my 2012 Nexus 7 on the table running Kit Kat and, look at that, all the features that came with it. Funny how that works.

        “BTW, how do you like that dying technology called NFC?! :)”

        I’ll admit, NFC didn’t take off for sharing but you need to do research if you think it is dead. What technology do you think is in the RFID chip in your credit card. Banks across the world are still rolling out mobile payments based on, guess what, NFC. You have to remember that we are talking about banks, the same organizations still running Windows XP. They take years to do things. Japan is a mature example of a market where mobile NFC payments are more widespread. In Canada, all the major banks are slowly rolling it out now.

        I could easily say the same to you. How do you like getting lost with Apple maps? or the inconsistencies of iMessage syncing across devices? or the fact that iCloud is frequently down? Or how did Apple’s Ping network work out? Or how about antennagate? Or maybe the fact that you can’t replace default applications? Or maybe even the terrible sharing api in iOS (Number one reason I won’t use the platform).

        Comments such as these do not advance the discussion though.

  • Ray

    I really dislike these kinds of articles. iOS runs on no more then a handful of devices, and depending on the age of the device, certain features are stripped away anyway. Only the very latest handest and maybe one or two released behind it will get the fully packed update.

    Android however runs on “thousands” of devices, all from various manufacturers using different hardware and so on.

    Combine that with the carriers dragging their asses to release updates, and yes, things are certainly going to look fragmented.

    The carriers shouldn’t be apart of the upgrade process at all and this is where I believe the major issue lies. The updates should come direct from the manufacturer.

    • http://twitter.com/jdrch jdrch

      Android however runs on “thousands” of devices, all from various manufacturers using different hardware and so on.

      So does Windows, and you can install Windows 8.1 on nearly any x86 device out there.

      • Benender

        LOL, you could not PAY me to install winBLOWS 8 on ANY of my devices! I would use XP before that garbage-made-for-touchscreen-PHONES-piss-poos-excuse-for-an-OS! And since you brought up winblows, you would be talking about DRIVERS for compatibility between those x86 devices, and should we just go ahead and start a whole new rant about WINBLOWS DRIVERS, THEIR updates (or lack thereof), compatibility issues, manufacturer issues….I hope by now you get the point….

      • http://twitter.com/jdrch jdrch

        LOL I have 2 Win 8.1 x64 machines with no driver issues. That said, I didn’t intend a flame session. My only point was that hardware ecosystem diversity is no excuse for slow OS updates or lack of device support.

      • Benender

        I apologize, my over-blown point was that there is EVERY such reason for the timing, reasoning, and lack or support. I had some VERY bad issues with MS about Windows 8 even their own in-house tech teams lie frequently to customers and it irritates me. Sorry to spout at ya! But with windows machines you have various manufacturers, and this causes compatibility issues with their drivers and microsoft’s OS sometimes. To fix this, many people fix the drivers themselves and release them online, and far faster than the manufacturers ever can (sometimes in fact, they merely “borrow” the posted fix). This exact thing happens often with android OS. Apple products don’t have this problem because they only have X number of models. So really, the comparison of Pc vs Apple and IOS vs Android really is relevant, and I think it helps some see it from our (android) point of view. It’s frustrating indeed…

      • http://twitter.com/jdrch jdrch

        All good. FWIW I’m a VZW GNex owner myself, so I got burned by (lack of) Android updates too.

      • Harry

        I think there is a new stable kitkat rom for the gnex. Might be only for the gsm model though

  • rekem

    I’m sick of people moaning about fragmentation. Do you know why Apple can update their old devices? Because the OS has barely changed in 6 years. Every year it throws in a lame gimmick and the OS’s supposed recent overhaul was just a fresh coat of paint. Leaving old hardware behind helps Android advance quickly. If you’re really that geeky that you need the latest version, you should be geeky enough to root and install a custom ROM that has it.

  • RH

    If google controlled the updates, they might push faster, but, for the most part, at least in the USA, it is the CARRIER that pushes the updates, due to the locked down nature of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and the rest. It is against the established business model of the USA market, to update anything. Why update something to make it better, when they can talk you into a new device every year or so….with the included HIGH price contract.
    Til the day comes that the phone manufacturers sell to the public direct, bypassing the carrier, don’t look for timely updates.

  • http://picasaweb.google.com/JTHolroyd/TileStoneWork JessSayin

    Solution: CyanogenMod

    • Harry Herring

      Exactly. I’m not waiting till april for knox and kitkat. i’m running it now

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jean-Luc-Aufranc/100000690503162 Jean-Luc Aufranc

    The other thing is that you pay a premium for iPhones, which helps with providing updates for a longer time.

    • http://twitter.com/jdrch jdrch

      Not in the US. iPhones don’t cost any more than other phones here.

      • Barnassey

        Not true a 32gb iphone if you actually look @ the price is more than a comparable android device of the same size and quality. Also you are looking at the subsidized cost not real cost.

  • Branden Love

    Yawn…always blaming Google. THEY don’t control the updates. Guess what, Samsung HAS 4.4.1 right now. Google did the update. Now its on Samsung. And every other phone maker.

  • Been There Done That

    In many ways, google is to fault here (in a good way and bad way) by basically freely giving control of the OS to the hardware companies and saying. “Here, let’s conquer the world, have fun, make a phone”. In the short term this allowed pretty much anyone to create an Android based phone. Google accomplished the short term goal of making Android on 80% of the smartphones… but the long term (like we’re seeing now) is utter chaos with people still running Android 2.3… because there were no controls then over how or when these devices would be updated because Google no longer had control over they key components needed to upgrade the OS as a whole.

    There is no ONE single party at fault here. Samgung, HTC, whoever, all made mods to “their” version of android. For each phone they made. Nice on the surface, but a nightmare then when a new “google” version of the OS comes out. To make matters worse then, each Hardware company then has to (a) make it compatible with their hardware THEN make it compatible with each carrier.

    Google didn’t want this burden but now in many ways it’s coming back to bit them in the a$$ and bit all android users in the a$$.

    Google’s Nexus line was in effect them saying, “oops.. oh s…t!, what have we done?… we’ve created a monster that we cannot control.”

    But Nexus is such puny piece of the Android pie.

    Google somehow needs to put a little effort into building out android into a more packable, one size, fits all, install package. They can upgrade gmail, maps, Google Now, heck, the gallery, camera… but they cannot create an install package so WE ALL can download the core new functions of the OS without waiting on Samsung or HTC or ATT or T-Mobile? One that is device independent, carrier independent.

    I think Google is smart enough to figure this puzzle out. IF they want to. They created this mess by tossing Android out as a giveaway to anyone who wanted to play with it….

    Now they really need to figure out how to take back some sense of control so that when Android 4.x or 5.x comes out, EVERYONE can download the core “stuff”… whether your device supports it or not is up to you. If not, it’s turned off or that driver isn’t loaded.

    What would really kickstart the movement is google putting down a red line and saying… “Android 5.x is out… but it must be installed with no hardware manufacturer overlays in order to run.

    HTC, samsung, etc would balk at first and try to develop their own new versions of android, but guess what… people would rebel and start migrating to “pure” android phones, from companies that didn’t screw around with the OS.