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Upgrade woes show Android's growing pains

Android

By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 7 Sep 2010 at 15:23

Android handsets and tablets are the talk of the tech world, but upgrade inconsistencies are causing trouble for Google's mobile operating system.

There have been reports all year of frustrated Android users waiting for the latest updates to the mobile operating system from either operators or manufacturers.

When the upgrades finally arrive, customers complain about glitches and errors. O2 had to pull an update to version 2.2 of Android after users reported it crashed their HTC Desire handsets, and a similar situation arose moving the Dell Streak to version 2.1.

It's a bit of a mess at the moment and there is a lot of noise in the developer community that it's too fragmented

The glitches are not Google or Android's fault, but are symptoms of an unruly system. At the heart of the problem, say experts, are the multiple iterations of the operating system that have to be applied to dozens of different handsets from multiple manufacturers.

“It's a bit of a mess at the moment and there is a lot of noise in the developer community that it's too fragmented,” said software development consultant Matthew Baxter-Reynolds. “There are so many manufacturers and developers and they are working in different versions – 1.6, 2.1 and 2.2 – and no-one really knows what devices are running on which one.”

According to official Android figures, while the newest handsets and tablets feature 2.2, dubbed Froyo, there are still plenty of legacy handsets in the market. At the beginning of August, 15.3% of users were still using version 1.5 and 20.3% were on 1.6, while 2.1 and 2.2 claimed 59.7% and 4.5% respectively.

That's four different versions on the go at once, and with Android 1.5 only 18 months old, developers and manufacturers are struggling to keep pace.

“One of the problems is that Google is releasing updates so quickly that developers and manufacturers don't really have a chance to catch up,” said Andreas Constantinou, research director at industry analyst Vision Mobile.

“It has released five pretty major upgrades," said Constantinou. "That's way faster than any other OS vendor has been able to manage and that creates software issues for vendors and developers. By the time they get up to speed with it there is a new version to work with.”

Learning from Microsoft

The situation is further muddled by the fact that both operators and hardware manufacturers are involved in the process.

“Manufacturers put their own look and feel on the hardware and that can have an effect too,” said Baxter-Reynolds. “At the moment I think it would be fair to say that consumers and the developer community are not very well served. Google hasn't got its head around this idea of working with multiple hardware platforms yet.”

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User comments

HTC ahead of the game...

As HTC made the Nexus One its no doubt that they got the source before other OEMs - they released the Desire before others and I've been on 2.2 since it was released to SIM free versions in July/August. FroYo has been out for a few months now but its the OEMs choice of UI that is dragging release dates back. Couple this to mobile operators obsession of adding their own (pointless) apps and further delays are inevitable. OEMs like HTC need to do away with these add-ons and leave it to the operators to create apps which are then put on the Market.

Android is an exciting platform but a bit more conformaty is required to rrally take off.

I can see why Samsung have 'run short' of AMOLED screens - gives them a chance to catch up with HTC...

By EddyOS_2K9 on 7 Sep 2010

Yes, is stuff like HTC Sense really worth it?

I agree with EddyOS.

For all reviews (including those in PC Pro and Computer Shopper) have lauded HTC's 'Sense' tweaks to Android...

...is it really worth it for HTC who have to do extra work, and to consumers, who have to wait?

Surely updated apps from OEMs via the Market are the way to go, if tweak they must.

By Cantabrian on 7 Sep 2010

Android or the broken business model..

...the problem here seems to me to be one of operators wanting their own custom firmware...

Now I grant you Apple have got this bit of controlfreakery spot on, its just version x.y.z of firmware, no messing about with different release dates in order to have a bunch of irrelevant shortcuts and a custom boot animation depending on which network shipped the handset.

Given the prevelance of 24-month contracts, and the bargain prices of some sim only contracts from MVNOs, I'd advise anyone who can possible stump up the cash for the handset up front to go sim-free for smartphones.

By rsw75 on 7 Sep 2010

Control

Google doesn't want to control the market, but it is hurting the market.

Microsoft learnt this lesson, with Windows Mobile - you want an updated version of the OS? Buy a new device. Now they are following Apple's model and controlling the release of the OS themselves and not letting the OEMs and operators add their own skins and "functionality" to the handsets.

This is something Google has avoided, with its OSS model, and it isn't working.

With new devices in August and September coming to market with versions 1.5 and 1.6, when 2.2 is the actual version and 3.0 only a couple of months away, it is unforgiveable.

It is like buying a PC, which still has Windows 98 or ME installed!

OSS is all fine and dandy, but Android is starting to suffer from the same fragmentation problems as its parent, Linux. Theoretically, it is an easier and more flexible solution, but, because Google have no control over the market, the manufacturers can drag their feet and hope that people will buy a new, more modern unit, rather than waiting for the upgrades.

Of course, technically aware users can roll out their own updates. A friend has an original T-Mobile G1, which is currently running 2.2, it runs faster than it ever did before, but it isn't a suported upgrade and if it breaks, he is stuffed, with no support.

By big_D on 8 Sep 2010

Did Apple get ir right?

I'm not one to readily laud Apple, but their insistence on keeping control over their platform means that every user gets the same experience and carriers can't mess up their product.
The features of a phone should be determined by the manufacturer -not the carrier. At least with PC bloat-ware you can ignore or de-install it.

By milliganp on 8 Sep 2010

@rsw75

You don't have to SIM only in order to get an unadulterated handset. I bought my last two handsets from mobiles.co.uk, one on Orange and one on Vodafone, and both have been the plain vanilla versions without all the Orange/Vodafone pointless apps. And I decided to do away with HTC's Sense UI and install a third party app instead, making the underlying OS far less relevant.

By jgwilliams on 8 Sep 2010

@rsw75

I got mine from CPW, they stock unbranded Desires so you get the SIM-free version.

I've no issues with Sense as such, it's the apps they think they need to install that bother me (and everyone on operator version of the FW). HTC got 2.2 out quickly after Google released it for the N1 - it's Vodafone/T-Mobile/Orange/3/o2 that are dragging their heels

By EddyOS_2K9 on 8 Sep 2010

sorry, last comment was a reply to jgwiliams...

By EddyOS_2K9 on 8 Sep 2010

No more backup!

HTC Desire download took place to upgrade the phone. Once it was accepted the phone needed a factory reset to get everything working properly. Then we found the Google had dropped the backup/restore function, without any warning. So we couldn't restore our data. We were not amused!

By DJ2003 on 9 Sep 2010

No more backup!

HTC Desire download took place to upgrade the phone. Once it was accepted the phone needed a factory reset to get everything working properly. Then we found the Google had dropped the backup/restore function, without any warning. So we couldn't restore our data. We were not amused!

By DJ2003 on 9 Sep 2010

Growing pains or peer pressure?

I think reviewers need to look long and hard at why they make such a big deal of which Android version devices are running. There's nothing actually wrong with Android 1.6, for example, and yet recent reviews here and elsewhere have made a big deal about this despite the fact that the added functionality is pretty insignificant in many cases. The jump from Android 1.6 to 3.0 will be much more significant for users than 1.6 to 2.1 or even 2.2 in real terms.

By stefani on 9 Sep 2010

Apple OS immune from upgrade woes

Oh, weren't there stories of bricked iPhone 3s after the recent iOS4 update?? I don't think this is a problem just for Android if you look at the Apple fora...

By stefani on 9 Sep 2010

Google Android - another example

My experience with uninstalling Chrome makes me unsurprised at Android woes. I now assume Google are merely incompetent but the difficulties with uninstalling Chrome tended at the time to a more sinister explanation.
In case anyone doesn't know: if you make Chrome your default browser it cannot be removed without editing the registry. After uninstalling Chrome, shortcuts no longer work because they still point at the non-existent browser. I received no apology or explanation from Google and I don't know to this day if they have fixed the problem. My decision was "never again" quite frankly.
But hey ho - 'forever' is a long time!

By dgreen53 on 10 Sep 2010

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