Android Gingerbread: The Windows XP of Mobility

Android Gingerbread: The Windows XP of Mobility

Summary: Google should consider using a bigger stick to force its partners to update Android on existing devices faster. Either that, or use a nice tasty carrot.


ZDNet's Adrian Kingsley-Hughes had an alarming blog today.

Quoting a third-party report from Chitika Insights and Google's own public stats, it appears that 60% of iPhones are running iOS 6 just 3 weeks after its release, while Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, after 3 months, resides on just 2% of Android devices.

The most 'popular' flavor remains Android 2.3, Gingerbread, which runs on 55.8% of Android devices, despite being three versions behind and not being updated for a year.

gingerbread dudes

After Gingerbread, the next most popular is Ice Cream Sandwich, which after a year has just 23.7% share.

Now, mobile devices have a short lifespan. 2 years is typical; 3-4 years is pushing it. So Google's inability to get more than half of Android users off a 22 month old flavor (Gingerbread was released in December 2010, though to be fair, no devices appeared until after that Christmas) is, in the post-PC era, equivalent to Windows 7 taking three long years to bypass Windows XP (which, coincidentally, was released 11 years ago).

Google can take steps like hand out the latest Android SDKs 2-3 months before its official release. That will help ensure that new devices have the latest updates. But it doesn't help with existing devices, which often never get updates.

This is bad for users, who miss out on cool new features or security fixes, but also bad for developers, who are forced to develop for a lowest common denominator lest they cause their app to break.

Kingsley is right when he ascribes the problem to "so many cooks with their hands in the Android broth."

(Speaking of Android, check out the trio of webcasts about managing Android devices and building Android apps for enterprises.)

The handset makers and the carriers each want to customize Android before they release it to users. Often, that means no updates will ever arrive, because neither of the above parties is incentivized to do them. As Kingsley says, "the handset makers have sold you a phone and hope to never hear from you again until it's time to buy again," while "the carriers already have you hooked up to a multi-year contract, and as such don't seem to care about what operating system your smartphone or tablet runs."

Kingsley offers some solutions: work closely with select OEMs and carriers, or bypass carriers in favor of handset makers.

Me? I favor a market-based solution. Sign contracts with carriers and handset makers that explicitly reward them a) the faster they deliver Android updates to users; b) the faster their users download those updates. And give them the chance to earn significant incremental revenue if they truly hit their numbers.

Why? Because reducing fragmentation and getting users onto the latest version of Android makes the latest, greatest apps available to them. That will boost app sales at Google Play. And it will also cut development time and cost for developers, freeing them write more and better-quality games and apps. And that builds the Android ecosystem, in turn attracting more customers.

If I were Google, instead of nagging or beating its partners into compliance, I would make it in their financial interest to update Android faster. Offer a carrot rather than the stick. I doubt Google has tried this approach. But it's the one that I think could make a big difference.

Topics: ÜberTech, Android, Google, Samsung, Telcos, Windows

Eric Lai

About Eric Lai

I have tracked technology for more than 15 years, as an award-winning journalist and now as in-house thought leader on the mobile enterprise for SAP. Follow me here at ÜberMobile as well as my even less-filtered musings on Twitter @ericylai

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  • Except that Android users *want* to update

    It's a very limited comparison. Windows users clung to XP because 1. Vista and 7 require a paid upgrade and 2. Vista was an unmitigated disaster. Android OS updates are free and few if any consumers choose to postpone or forgo them, it's the awful phone manufacturers and the dreadful carriers that stand between users and modern versions of Android.
    Aleks Shindig
    • Windows 7 is their fastest selling OS

      With that in mind, it sounds like they *wanted* to upgrade.
      Many couldn't because the hardware would have trouble handling it.

      The same goes for Android with regaurd to the hardware.
      NoMore MicrosoftEver
  • Agree - there are different forces at play

    And your point is spot-on - users really really really want these Android updates. Google needs to figure out how it can get its partners to do right by their shared customers.

    That's why I suggest aligning them using financial incentives. Or maybe even offering them straight-up cash to avoid adding any crapware and just pushing the update straight through to users. That's extreme - there are totally legit reasons why carriers/OEMs want to customize Android - but could work with some partners.
    • who told you that? users? every one of them?

      did you just ask every single user and they told you they "really really really want these Android updates"?

      because except for the geeky types who make up only a little percent, NO ONE CARES.
      • Its real hard for some folks to understand

        Consumers could care less, there phone does everything they want
        they care zero about upgrades.
    • What users?

      I have yet to see any consumers complaining about this. It's the same 2% of the market that thinks OEM's and carriers care. They don't. You bought your device, enjoy it or buy a newer device. That's how it works.

      This is really an entitlement thing. There is nothing written anywhere that states your device is going to get an OS upgrade unless there is some issue preventing it being used. OEM's would need to dedicate resources and time to build and test OS upgrades. What I'd like to see is for this small group of users who want the latest build - charge for it. Say $29-50 if your device hardware can support it. It allows the techy crowd to extend their device life.
  • pc vs mobile

    What post-PC era? no smart phone or tablet can touch what a pc can do! And when they can what will the pc and future desktop processors able to do then?
    • What post-PC era?

      I agree...ZDNet needs to stop the non-sense.
    • Post-PC is a fact, open to debate

      "Post-PC" means that the PC is no longer the dominant computing device. This is not subject to debate - it's a fact. There will be 400,000 PCs sold this year but there will also be 650,000 smartphones and 100,000 tablets. Android already passed Windows and iOS is expected to do so before the end of the year. Only 40% of the world's new computing devices run a desktop OS and the percentage is rapidly declining.

      The term "Post-PC" isn't about power, its about ubiquity. There are more and more non-PC computing devices in use and less and less PC devices in use. Case closed.
      • More smartphone sell

        because smartphones obsolete themselves faster than a normal PC.
        Michael Alan Goff
  • How about...

    ...Google selling Android upgrades directly to customers? Device-specific drivers couldn't be included, of course, but how often do those need to change?
    John L. Ries
    • I like this market-based way of thinking...

      ...this would be especially appealing to enterprises, who care a lot about bug fixes, filling security holes, and version consistency.

      I just don't know how technically feasible this would be, assuming that OEMs like Samsung and carriers like Verizon have fiddled extensively with the Android code running on their devices.

      Anyone want to weigh in?
    • Great idea. I think WP8 is going to have something like this..

      I thought I had read that WP was going to have something similar to this. The only caveat being that I think it voids the warranty. It's called something like WP enthusiast subscription. It would allow you to install the latest update at your own peril.

      Great idea, though.
      • Then they should definitely have an enterprise edition of this, too...

        For the CIO, that would be a meaningful technical advantage for WP8 over Android and iOS. Maybe make it an add-on to a Microsoft volume license?
  • Motorola Won't allow the upgrade

    My wife's Droid X was purchased in March 2011 three months after Gingerbread was released. Motorola has decided that the phone is not eligible for any future upgrades of the operating system. So she is stuck with Gingerbread.

    I regret letting the Verizon salesman talk her out of the iPhone 4 purchase. She would have been eligible for the iOS 5 and iOS 6 upgrades.

    It's true you pay a larger upfront cost for an iPhone, but the support lasts much longer. You're still able to upgrade the 3GS. If your phone is older than that you should consider an upgrade.
    • Since Google OWNS MotoMob .... it is Google who decided not to ....

      ... provide the update. They can, but they just don't care.

      Google purchased MotoMob to get a few patents ..... and honestly haven't done ANYTHING to make MotoMob shine. They have so much confidence in the company they purchased, that they still won't let them design and manufacture a Nexus brand device.

      In other words, Google doesn't give a darn about Motorola device owners. They got what they wanted ... the rest is just noise to them.
      • Another boring wachoae comment

        fan boy just hating.... ;)
        • What?? Facts are too hard to understand??

          You just demonstrated why dumbdroids have the word dumb in front of it.
        • Reality check

          Only that wackoae is absolutely correct. Google will at best (ab)use Motorola to extract as much technology and patents as they could and then just close it, for "tax reduction reasons".

          Google does not consider the consumers their customers. The customers of Google are the advertisers and the likes of CIA and KGB. The poor chaps that purchased an Android devices are more on the "patient" or "subject" side.
          Not even the OEMs, or the carriers are Google's customers.

          It is amazing how many people chose to delude themselves.
  • This is why I don't like Android

    Updates are important. I want more security. I want new features. Otherwise, what's the point of having a "smart"phone?

    I don't buy android phones for this reason - I don't like the possibility of not being able to update my device. I have a Galaxy S1 which work gave me - it's stuck on 2.2 and there are so many apps in the Marketplace that don't work on it =[]