Motorola executive: Android hardware is to blame for slow software updates

February 9, 2012
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One of the most frustrating parts of the Android ecosystem is the often long delay between the time that Google releases and updated version of Android and the time it's delivered to ernd-users' phones and tablets. Motorola has been no stranger to these delays, often waiting months before sending out major revisions to Android. Christy Wyatt, Senior Vice President of Motorola's Enterprise Business unit, offered and explanation to PC World: it's the myriad of hardware differences between phone models that makes upgrades take so long.

"When Google does a release of the software... they do a version of the software for whatever phone they just shipped. The rest of the ecosystem doesn't see it until you see it. Hardware is by far the long pole in the tent, with multiple chipsets and multiple radio bands for multiple countries," said Wyatt.  That's certainly true: with the exception of development devices, manufacturers don't have access to Android's open-source code any faster than regular users and developers do. Wyatt also mentioned that Motorola's custom software takes a long time to modify for a new Android release.

But there's a problem with this justification. I don't wish to single Motorola out, since most major manufacturers are guilty of the same thing. But the explanation provided to PC World is baloney. Yes, Android's AOSP source code is released to everyone at the same time. So why is it that independent developers and modders, usually working alone, in their spare time and for no greater reward than the thanks of their peers, can get updates out months faster than an international corporation with vast resources and thousands of employees? Why must Android users void there warranties to get timely updates, or features that aren't included by default?

And perhaps most of all, if Motorola's additions to the core Android software are holding up the update process, why are they still there? I can understand that value-adds like extra encryption and MotoSync are important to Motorola's strategy, but I have never, ever seen a reader or any of my fellows proclaim, "man, those Moto icons and launcher make my phone so much better!" Why must Motorola continue to bog down a perfectly good user experience with unnecessary add-ons, especially if it makes their devices less valuable with the understanding that updates will come late, or not at all? Didn't you promise (quite erroneously) that retail devices would launch with ICS within six weeks of the code becoming available?

Motorola's about to be purchased outright by Google. If that doesn't inspire you to use a dog food strategy (i.e., sticking with your own products) I don't know what will. It's entirely possible, nay likely, that the next developer device will be coming from Motorola. The company should take the opportunity to extend a more developer and consumer-friendly policy to all their upcoming phones and tablets.

Oh, and unlock your freaking bootloaders.


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  • Anonymous

    Then how come small teams of people who do this stuff for free can pump out updates so quick?

    • http://twitter.com/attmeijer At&t Meijer

      @DrHotmann:disqus obviously just reading the headline and not the article. Moron don’t comment before you read it all.

      • Anonymous

        Ha oops…who reads these days anyways?

  • http://twitter.com/davekoob davekoob

    I don’t mean to be a jerk here, but do any of the articles on this site run through a spell checker before being published???

  • Arii_s

    Great article. I concur.

  • Anonymous

    Finally someone calling some attention to the fact that independent devs can do the jobs of these corporations way faster. Its all lies. And their customizations at the UI level should be done with apps and themes…not tweaking of the OS. Provide services or enhanced core apps to differentiate. OS updates would be almost independent of the OEM customizations and the OEMs could even sell their environments on the market. So if I had a Samsung phone but liked Blur I could simply buy, download and use Blur and its services.  Boy if I only had my own gadget company…. 

    • Anonymous

      i’m with you. it’s sad how these corporations have paid employees and it takes months to push out an update but it only takes a group of independent devs a week and even then they modify the os adding things like a dedicated search button for ICS, scrolling dock, or even a landscape home screen option (granted these aren’t as sophisticated as somethings moto is trying to put in) but still Google should have more control over android and these ‘custom experience interfaces’ should be the first to go.

      to quote you “if i had my own gadget company”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZLOTEIADMVYKDQXQBWAO6P7XRQ Jim

    For a while my Transformer tab was getting Honeycomb updates very quickly after official Android updates.  On top of that, I had working a SD card port well before Xoom’s port came to life.  To Motorola: if you say hardware is the problem, maybe you should be using whatever hardware Asus has been putting into their product.

  • Trojanman190

    I think the author is lacking a bit of understanding with the way software development in a big corporation vs a small team works.    If I was personally releasing my own update for the phone I probably wouldn’t spend a crap load of time documenting my code, documenting the software itself and I certainly wouldn’t spend months testing. None of that stuff is terribly fun. And if I find a bug in my own software I’ll just go home and fix it, possibly posting the result again the same night.  Even better, I can just plop the ROM on a website with a great big BETA – USE AT OWN RISK disclaimer. Sweet I just crapped out an ICS ROM for my phone weeks before Motorola could! The 4G receiver doesn’t work properly, I can’t receive text messages or take pictures and the phone reboots every now and then, but hey at least I have ICS now and not later.

    Motorola is probably developing their ICS update for multiple phones at the same. This adds to development time and complexity. They probably have stringent documentation and code review standards as well. These add to development time and complexity. Then they need to thoroughly test the update on all of the handsets before they release the update.  They can’t just put a preview version of the software update out with a USE AT OWN RISK disclaimer because the majority of the people will use the buggy software, say “this doesnt work” and go get an iphone.  Bill Lumberg  is likely also the project manager. This is why it takes so long to get the updates out. Just like everyone else I wish I could have my update right away but it just doesn’t work like that, especially when you have large dev teams involved.

    To illustrate my point, just spend some time searching for an ICS ROM for the Droid Bionic (my phone).  On each and every result you find, instead of listing features that don’t work they list the features that they did manage to get working. There are far to many features that aren’t working to list them.

    If someone releases a 100% functional ICS ROM before Motorola manages to put one out I’d be extremely impressed. Though I should probably refine that to “Works better than the one that morotola manages to put out”  The bionic, as it was first released, was full of crappy bugs and I wont be shocked if their ICS release has a hefty pile roaches infesting it as well.

    Also, blur sucks. If they want to add “value” they can do it by not being douche bags by making the software preinstalled as APPS and not mods to the os.  You only add value when you, well, ADD VALUE and most of that crap is just annoying and makes me wish I had waited for the Nexus.  Car makers don’t add value to cars by taking a dump in the front seat right after it rolls off the assembly line, Motorola and the rest shouldn’t either.

    • Anonymous

      Agree with that. 

      People must also remember that companies need to include time to train the support staff to be able to know the new software (multiple phones), create documentation, test much more thoroughly etc. this all adds to the time it takes to push out an update. 

      A ROM developer doesn’t have to do the first two at all and testing varies between each ROM dev. Cyanogen for instance seem to test pretty extensively, others not so much.  

    • Jeremy Bardrof

      Hey now, there is no room for logic and reason when we’re bashing Motorola!

      Really though, you are correct. Moto/HTC/Samsung/etc… have to worry about quality control a lot more than your average ROM developer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Foosa-Noble/100001939436588 Foosa Noble

    In other words MOTO get your thumb out of your Ar$e and serve us some Ice Cream Sandwich before it melts already.   If a couple of guys in their basement can come so far as to produce a 90+% working version in such little time why don’t you just hire them!  Six weeks you told us. but in Moto math six weeks =60weeks.
    Kudos for ICS on the Xoom but I cant put it in my pocket and make calls from it can I? your priorities are all wrong.  I have a droid Razr and it will be my last Moto product…cant wait for an ASUS  ICS phone

  • TurboDroid

    What do we care about the latest versions all the time?  Usually, newer versions on older hardware forces it to run slower.  The Xoom is an exception.  I’m happy to have this lag so the XDA Devs can really crank out something awesome like EOS 1.0 ICS.  Moto’s own software for its devices SUCK.  My Atrix has a UI that looks like it was assembled by a bunch of monkeys. I ended up using ADW to solve all the UI issues.

  • Michael Rothwell

    “Wyatt also mentioned that Motorola’s custom software takes a long time to modify for a new Android release.”

    ^ because that

  • http://twitter.com/rachann rachann

    You mean that Xoom in the USA is so very different from the Xoom in the UK.  They managed to release the ICS OTA on the 26 Jan, in the UK we can’t get an expected release date?

  • Disgruntled Moto User

    Bullshit. There is no reason that it should take so long for the motorola morons to release the android updates. Almost EVERYONE else has released it, but not motorola. Why don’t you idiots just hurry up and release the damn update. You people make me sorry that I chose a motorola phone over the iphone.