Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

Summary: Lagging Android updates have been a major frustration for Android users. Google plans to fix it with a new Android consortium. Get the details and see which vendors are involved.

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If you've been waiting for months on an OS update to your Android device, you may soon get some relief thanks to a new Android consortium that Google announced on Tuesday at its Google I/O 2011 event in San Francisco.

One of the worst parts about being in the Android ecosystem is the lag in OS updates. As I wrote in my piece The dirty little secret about Google Android, the Android platform is largely controlled and dominated by the smartphone manufacturers and wireless carriers -- and not Google. And, those powers-that-be -- particularly the wireless carriers -- have shown little interest in pushing out Android software updates on a timely basis. Why should they? From their perspective, once they sell the phone, it's time to start collecting revenue from the customer and any additional resources they spend on a device cuts into their profit. That's why only 4% of Android devices have the latest version of Android, Gingerbread, which was released five months ago.

Google is finally doing something to fix the situation. As part of a flurry of Android announcements during the opening keynote of Google I/O, the company announced that it has established a new consortium of Android partners who will be collaborating on setting standards for deploying Android updates. The initial members of the consortium include all four of the big US wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Spint) as well as all of the leading Android device manufacturers -- HTC, Motorola, Samsung, LG, and Sony Ericsson. Google has also opened the door for other partners (and future Android partners) to participate as well.

Here's what Google said in its official post about the news:

"The Android ecosystem has been moving really fast over the last two and a half years and rapid iteration on new and highly-requested features has been a driving force behind Android's success. But of course that innovation only matters if it reaches consumers. So today we're announcing that a founding team of industry leaders, including many from the Open Handset Alliance, are working together to adopt guidelines for how quickly devices are updated after a new platform release, and also for how long they will continue to be updated. The founding partners are Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Motorola and AT&T, and we welcome others to join us. To start, we're jointly announcing that new devices from participating partners will receive the latest Android platform upgrades for 18 months after the device is first released, as long as the hardware allows... and that's just the beginning."

So, the only official news from the new Android consortium is that they've agree that all new devices from consortium members will receive Android updates for 18 months from the time the device is released (unless the hardware can no longer handle the latest Android software). That sounds great, except that some devices are on the market for as long as a year, so by the time a consumer buys a device it may only have six months of updates left.

When Andy Rubin, Google's Android chief, was asked when consumers would start to see a more unified Android update schedule, he said that he didn't "have the answers right now." He stressed that getting all of the Android partners gathered around the same table was simply the first step.

Latest Android statistics

During the Google I/O opening keynote, the company also gave a variety of updates on the state of the Android ecosystem:

  • Google has activated over 100 million Android devices across the globe
  • There are now 310 Android devices in 112 countries
  • Google is activating 400,000 Android devices per day
  • The Android Market now has over 200,000 apps
  • Over 4.5 billion app installs have been made on Android devices

Android news and updates

Google also made a variety of new announcements about Android:

  • Announced Google Music Beta, a cloud-based service that will let you upload all of your existing music and playlists and sync wirelessly to your devices; it's an invitation-only beta at first but will be expanded soon; the Android app is available today for those who get into the beta
  • Google is launching movie rentals in the Android Market starting at $1.99; it is a cloud service but it will let you "pin" (download) movies to your device for offline viewing such as on an airplane; movie rentals will arrive with the Android 3.1 update
  • Android Honeycomb 3.1 will begin launching today on Motorola Xoom devices in the US and includes lots of fixes and improvements
  • Android 3.1 turns an Android tablet into a USB host so that you can connect cameras and other accessories to it
  • Android 3.1 will be coming to Google TV this summer in a major update and will also bring the Android Market to Google TV as well
  • The next version of Android is codenamed "Ice Cream Sandwich" and Google said, "This will be our most ambitious Android release to date."
  • In Ice Cream Sandwich, the new holographic UI uses facial recognition to move elements on screen based on direction you turn your head
  • Announced Android "Open Accesories" API which enable different types of machines to interface with Android and share data with apps; the example used was an exercise bike
  • Announced "Android at Home" as a home automation hub using an Android box codenamed "Tungsten" that you plug into your existing appliances and lights

Also read

This was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Hardware, Mobile OS, Smartphones

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24 comments
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  • Apple guarantees updates for its devices for 2.5 years after release

    (iPhone 3G, middle of 2008 model, got it's last update in December)<br><br>Promise for 1.5 years of updates for Android is better than nothing, but Google did not explain how it would be possible for these named parties to actually live-up to the promise of timely and regular updates.<br><br>For one, HTC releases new phone model almost every week; they have hundreds of models released in the last years.<br><br>Sorry, but I am not believing in this PR until I see it coming to reality.
    DDERSSS
    • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

      @denisrs
      Yeah, and we see how well those iPhone 3's run with the new OS. *snicker*

      There's a reason they don't want modern OS's on out of date hardware.
      Droid101
      • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

        @Droid101
        But my newer hardware Atrix 4G, Samsung Galaxy Tab and EVO 4G may not get gingerbread, and icecream sandwich updates, definitely for sure.
        Ram U
      • iPhone 3G works fine with the latest update -- iOS 4.2

        @Droid101: version 4.0 was slow, 4.1 significantly improved, and 4.2 (December) works fine.
        DDERSSS
      • There are still phones shipping with Android 1.5: Snicker.

        @Droid101

        The Android community is simply lazy.

        BTW: What is an iPhone 3?
        Bruizer
      • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

        @Droid101 iOS 4.2.1 ran like a top on my old iPhone 3G (stock)... Which puts it at 2.5 years for an update.

        Besides why are YOU snickering? Only [b]4%[/b] of Android devices are even running the latest Android OS... FAIL!
        athynz
      • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

        @Rama.net there are custom ROMs for the EVO right now that run 2.3 and they run it great! Both that and the Matrix will get the updates... The Galaxy Tab probably will not but that is Samsung all the way!
        slickjim
      • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

        @Athynz the problem with that stat is that 2.3 and 2.2 wasn't hugely different and many of the updates were features that were already in 3rd party skins.

        Basically, there has been no real need to go there and limited desire from customers.
        slickjim
      • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

        @Droid101
        Only form the standpoint of wanting to sell more hardware instead, or extrapolating from Windows experience.

        Every rev of Ubuntu since 2006 has improved performance on the hardware I bought in 2006 (AMD dual core, Nvidia graphics 2GB RAM). These are one trick pony "appliance" computers, but the software improvements in 2008 and 2010 on the same hardware have meant I haven't had to spend more on hardware to get improved performance!

        There is even more room for improvement in Android with VM optimizatons.
        wkulecz
    • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

      @denisrs
      I totally agree with you.
      Ram U
    • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

      @denisrs Think about that, the 3G didn't even support all the new features and the 3Gs is fairly slow running 4.x!

      Android Phones like the OG Droid are an example of hardware that should not be updated and just because Apple is dumb enough to do it doesn't mean anyone else is.
      slickjim
    • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

      @denisrs Oh and your dates are wrong, the 3Gs debuted June 19th<br><br>, 2009 and likely will not get an update to iOS 5 so that is 1.5 years for the update cycle.<br><br> Oh and HTC has 30 phones in the last year, not all of which are Android based.
      slickjim
    • @Petter Perry: iPhone 3G S runs iOS great.

      Have no idea how you make up your information.

      4.0 did have some issues on the iPhone 3G hardware that has since been rectified.
      Bruizer
  • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

    Stop thinking like you're buying a computer; think like you're buying a phone. What you see... is what you get. Then there's no problem.

    "But my newer hardware Atrix 4G, Samsung Galaxy Tab and EVO 4G may not get gingerbread...."

    Of COURSE it won't. It didn't COME with it. If you wanted Gingerbread, you should have waited for Gingerbread before rushing out to buy three(!) expensive devices in the hope that someday they'll upgrade to another software version that you were never promised.

    If you buy a motherboard today, do you assume that the next unreleased generation of chips will run on it? Unless the CPU maker has promised it, no. You don't expect AMD to backport Eyefinity to your graphics card or keep releasing AGP boards either. Just think of your next cell phone purchase (and if you're racking up about $1K in Android hardware, you're probably the kind who upgrades frequently as well) as a good 'ol Nokia flip phone or Creative Zen MP3 player and you won't be disappointed... maybe even pleasantly surprised if Google indeed can deliver on what it's proposing.
    jgm@...
    • Ever heard of FIRMWARE updates?

      @jgm@... Apparently you are totally unaware that motherboards have firmware updates that upgrade them to the latest CPU codes. For example, many motherboard that only supported single core AMD Athlon (AM2) CPUs when it came out, can now support quad core AMD Phenoms (AM2+/3) CPUs today and have had lots of firmware fixes for other hardware related errata.

      So your analogy is completely ridiculous and a stupid excuse for the Android fragmentation and lack of updates.
      wackoae
      • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

        @wackoae Yes but will they Run Bulldozer CPUs? There is clearly a limit to what is offered.
        slickjim
      • Of course

        @wackoae

        ...but jgm's point was that it's foolish to purchase a motherboard on the basis that the firmware will be upgraded, nor is it prudent to be dissatisfied with a product that works as advertised at time of purchase based upon the fact that the functionality isn't expanded after the purchase has been made.

        Dell didn't give me a free Windows 7 upgrade with my laptop, but that didn't prevent me from getting a copy from Newegg and installing it. Likewise, nothing's stopping you from getting updates from xda-developers or similar places where modded ROMs are available, or from compiling your own from source if you're so inclined.

        Either way, if the phone works as advertised with the software it ships with, then there's no real reason to complain.

        Joey
        voyager529
    • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

      @jgm@... Linux distrubutions such as Debian and Red Hat, use a "repository" system. Updates to the OS are published to the repository, and any user can download the updates. This is the model that Google should be using, since Android is a Linux system at heart. So why aren't they doing this?
      barence773
      • RE: Will the new Android consortium fix the update fiasco?

        @barence773 It would make sense to just have a base install of Android and then have the handset manufacturers create packages that install on top of the OS.

        Maybe this is where they'll go with it and then let the handset providers make a kernel that is optimized for their hardware.
        slickjim
      • For the same reason that can easily be a Linux nightmare

        Drivers.

        In the case of HTC specifically, much of what they offer is similar enough that the driver stack doesn't need to be rewritten, but that's not always the case. Their SenseUI (And Motorola's Motoblur, Acer's LiquidUI, and Samsung's UI layer whose name escapes me) can also add extra code to backport.

        Joey
        voyager529