The state of Android updates

The state of Android updates

The issue of software updates has always been a topic that has raised much discussion among fanboys users and is a stick that iOS lovers have often used to beat their Android counterparts with.

I personally believe that for all of Apple’s faults, one area where they’ve indisputably raised the smartphone game is in their outstanding support for devices long after release. Apple have set the standard for others to follow and so far I can’t think of one Android manufacturer who’s been able to match them.

When I previously wrote of HTC’s poor update support for the Desire I received an interesting response with the main counterargument being that I had been happy to buy the phone as it was and had no right to future updates. While I can totally see the logic to this argument I would argue that there is nowadays a general expectation to receive updates and that this is to the benefit of all consumers.

Regardless of your point of view its always good to have some cold, hard facts to frame the discussion. To this end, there is a great post by Michael Degusta on the history of update support for a sample of 18 Android devices and it doesn’t make pretty reading.

Particular highlights from the post are:

7 of the 18 Android phones never ran a current version of the OS.
12 of 18 only ran a current version of the OS for a matter of weeks or less.
10 of 18 were at least two major versions behind well within their two year contract period.
11 of 18 stopped getting any support updates less than a year after release.
13 of 18 stopped getting any support updates before they even stopped selling the device or very shortly thereafter.
15 of 18 don’t run Gingerbread, which shipped in December 2010.
In a few weeks, when Ice Cream Sandwich comes out, every device on here will be another major version behind.
At least 16 of 18 will almost certainly never get Ice Cream Sandwich.

Michael has also constructed the lovely diagram above which may make more sense once you’ve read the article. I’d definitely recommend reading the whole post as it’s very informative and thought provoking.

As ever, we look forward to your comments on the issue.

Thanks to Mark Peters for bringing the original post to my attention.

Android Orphans: Visualizing a Sad History of Support

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  • Craig

    Very interesting read.  The only possible argument against it (playing Devil’s Advocate for a second) is that the investment you make is in the “current” device.  Not into the development of a future device.  You buy a new car, you don’t expect to get the upgrades a newer model the following year does do you?
    Granted the dev cycle is faster in this market, but the principle is the same (and the cost wildly more!)

    I do however believe that more effort needs to be made to explain the roadmap of development cycles and also have this information available to carriers so they can inform consumers at the shop front.

    • Lexusluciousz

      you made a excellent arugument..that why i alway tell my friend about car comparison to phone so they can understand better!!!

    • Anonymous

      But I think that people buy smartphones with the expectation of receiving updates. Apple have kind of set expectations about this.

      I’m also not sure if the car analogy is a great example as any update would be mechanical and hence logistically difficult to perform as opposed or over the air and available instantly.

      I think Michael’s comment in the article is interesting: Apple keep your custom by making you as happy as possible with your device whereas Android manufacturers make you upgrade by making you unhappy with your device. Obviously it’s a bit simplistic but still makes a point.

  • You could also take the view that once you put the latest version of iOS on the original iPhone/3G its so slow its practically useless (as well as black-screening and resetting itself) and that ICS wont be forcibly slapped on the HTC hero for precisely that reason.  In that respect, one could argue that fragmentation is good in that you wont get updates that cripple your phone.

    That and I’m not sure you can argue that the old devices are on the latest version of iOS when functionality is only available on newer devices (i.e. Siri). Surely that is fragmentation?

  • Colin Peach

    The Problem android has is it is relliant on others, if you were to remove motorola from the devices the and replace it maby with samsung the rusults would be better but still not quite the same as apple , i guess windows phone 7 would also match the apple devices as they are all built to spec

  • If Google kept strict control over the OS and made it virtually uncustomisable (if that’s a word!), then it would be easy to keep up to date. That’s what Apple have done. One of the attractions of Android is its flexibility, remove that and you remove one of the great attractions of the OS.  There’s a payoff there, and if you can’t live with it then buy an iPhone and forsake your individuality.

  • Neil Deadman

    Unless you take a complete list of Android devices, I don’t think this is really a fair comparison. Also looking at 3 years after release is favouring the iPhone.

    Did you buy your laptop making sure it was suitable for Windows 8? Or your Mac to make sure it had suitable hardware to run Lion?

    Probably not… so if you really want to ensure your phone runs the ‘next’ version of the OS either buy the top of the range model or accept that it may be left behind!

  • When it comes to updates it depends on how you look at it. You may get regular updates but is that for bug fixing or add new features? The other thing with updates especially with android is some features may not be that big a deal depending on who made the phone. For example I’ve gone over the feature list for ice cream sandwich and can’t see what the big deal is when you have a HTC sense phone especially sensation. Granted if you have a galaxy s2 then that’s a different story.Froyo for me has been the most significant software update for Android that I can recall. I had a HTC desire and loved it but to be honest it was updated regularly cause I rooted it and used custom roms. gingerbread took me 2 days to update. the problem with the desire is that it wasn’t future proofed for anything past froyo with the poor internal storage. If people really need a future proofed phone for regular updates then you have to go with the nexus phones as that’s what they were made for.