Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

Summary: Waiting for Google's latest Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' update? Don't hold your breath.


Back in May at the Google I/O conference, a number of Android phone makers and wireless carriers came together and made a promise to Android handset owners - timely OS updates for handsets for at least 18 months following launch. The promise was even wrapped up in a cool name - Google Update Alliance.

Are you a Nexus S owner? Here's how to get Android 4.0.3 'Ice Cream Sandwich' on your handset NOW!

Turns out it was a hollow promise.

PCMag's Jamie Lendino approached a number of vendors and carriers to ask them about their plans to push Google's latest Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' update to handsets. Seems like the promise of updates, made only seven months ago, has long been forgotten.

The original promise wasn't about a vendor evaluating if it would issue an upgrade, or about letting us know sometime next year when it made a decision. It was that hardware permitting, all Android devices would get OS updates in a reasonable amount of time within the first 18 months.

In other words, don't hold your breath.

No one has an incentive to deliver that upgrade to you. Google is interested in new handset activation, the handset makers have sold you a phone and hope to never hear from you again, and the carriers have you hooked up to a multi-year ball-and-chain.Personally, I could never see how Google, handset makers and the carriers could come together to make this promise. There are simply too many fingers in the pie (or Ice Cream Sandwich) and too many variables at work. It begins with Google and the Android code, and the fact that Google doesn't seem to put pressure on handset makers to conform to a specific minimum hardware requirement. How can Google plan for future updates when handset makers can build whatever they want?

Then there are the handset makers themselves. Once they've sold you a phone, what real motivation exists for them to spent time and money updating that handset? Beyond the promise made at Google I/O conference, none whatsoever. You bought the handset with a particular OS on it and were happy with it, and no one promised you anything beyond what you already had.

Then there are the carriers. You've signed up to a multi-year contract with them, so what do they care about what OS you're running. Your carrier never promised you an update.

The handset makers and wireless carriers also shove all sorts of branding and customizations and bloat into the Android code, so for them the process is not just a matter of getting Android to work on the handset, but of them customizing to suit their needs. That takes time and money.

Which is why it doesn't happen.

And that's why you're unlikely to see an upgrade to Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich.' No one has an incentive to deliver that upgrade to you. Google is primarily interested in new handset activation and increased market share above all else, the handset makers have sold you a phone and hope to never hear from you again (until it's time to buy again), and the carriers have you hooked up to a multi-year ball-and-chain.

If Google really cared about you getting your hands on updates to Android it would do what Apple (or to a lesser extent, Microsoft) has done and take much tighter control over the process. It's tougher when you have multiple handset makers (like Microsoft does) but it's not impossible to reign them in. But it does take effort and determination, something which seems to be lacking over at Google HQ.

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Topics: Operating Systems, Android, Google, Hardware, Mobile OS, Mobility, Security, Smartphones, Software

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  • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

    The argument that Android won't get updated flies in the face of history. True, not every phone with an Android operating system will be upgraded, since many of them do not meet the technical requirements. The previous Android upgrade, Gingerbread, was upgraded to virtually all recent manufactured handsets--within the previous year or so. I had Motorola Droid X, which was upgraded twice during the time I owned it. My wife has it now. I purchased a Motorola Droid Razr, and Motorola has stated on many occasions this phone WILL be upgraded sometime in early 2013. Even if Verizon didn't give a s*** about retaining its customers (they do, in fact), Motorola DOES. That's why they have upgraded handsets in the past, and will continue to do so. That is their stated policy. This is most certainly true of other manufacturers of handsets such as Samsung and HTC.

    Ice Cream Sandwich is extremely demanding of handset resources, but the first handsets to roll out with ICS natively installed (both made by Samsung), have the same or less memory and processor specs as Motorola Droid Razr and Droid Bionic.
    • In early 2013. Sweet.


      Like Googaorla will be concerned about the Razr much in 2013.
      • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

        @Bruizer He meant 2012. (Moto said the RAZR was to be updated to ICS early next year.)
    • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

      @jfrykman@... Sorry, but my wife's Motorola Flipside, flies in the face of your claim. It got upgraded this summer from Android 2.1 to 2.2 and it looks like it has been forgotten. In just 13 months. FWIW, it's still a steaming pile of.... It would take a LOT to get me to buy again from Motorola. And if my new Samsung Galaxy S2 doesn't get Android 4 by around May, I might just be done with Android as well. Hmmm, maybe a Nokia with Windows Phone? Time will tell.
    • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich


      It flies in the face of history...if you are reading fiction. From what I've read, if it didn't ship with a version of the OS, the chances of upgrading were pretty low.

      Let's see what happens with the Razr. When a blog comes from the company stating why it will take I while, I would be worried. And HTC and Samsung? Are you kidding? Those two are awful. Samsung promised to update all those suckers who purchased the original Tab and it never happened. I met two friends a party last night: one with last years Nexus and one with a SG II. There is a zero chance that those phones will get upgraded to ICS.

      HTC still has security bugs from their own logging that I believe hasn't been updated.
      • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

        @dhmccoy Except the Nexus S is getting upgraded starting today and the Galaxy S II is getting upgraded in April. Does it hurt to be so obviously wrong?
    • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

      @jfrykman@... Finally another choice of Kindle accessories not from Amazon. http://www.solarmio.com/en/OnlineStore.aspx
  • Of course they dont care. Why did you ever think they did? 18 months?

    Why do you think they picked 18 months? Because almost everyone will have been buying a new phone by the time 18 months after release comes around that's why. In other words never. How long was it between when Microsoft made mango available and when every Windows Phone got it? About 1 month that's how long. Google couldn't care less about getting you an upgrade. THEY DONT WANT YOU UPGRADED! It that clear enough for you. For every phone that's upgraded that's one less new activation stat for them. Once less set of licensing fees paid them.
    Johnny Vegas
    • I agree. Google wants you to purchase another Motorola handset

      @Johnny Vegas
      in the future.
      They spent a great deal of money aquiring Motorola. Who here honestly believes that they are not interested in making this a profitable acquisition?

      If they just continued to upgrade existing handsets, no one would purchase new Motorola handests.
      Tim Cook
      • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

        @Mister Spock

        I don't believe that to be true. The operating system isn't the only reason to upgrade hardware, no matter how much Apple is trying to convince the world of

        this. Keep in mind that there are plenty of reasons for someone to upgrade hardware.

        1) There is normal wear and tear on hardware. Buttons can wear out. Slide out keyboard can wear down.
        2) Accidents happen. Phones can get nicks and scratches over time. Or worse, a catastrophic accident can occur.
        3) Phones with built-in batteries (the Razr, for instance) can get a weaker battery over time.
        4) Some new technologies require new hardware. For instance, a phone purchased a year ago might not have an NFC chip in it. As payment systems like Google

        Wallet pick up steam, more and more phones will need to be upgraded to acquire NFC chipsets.
        5) Each new OS and each new wave of apps demands faster processors and more memory. As with PCs and game consoles, people desire faster and more powerful

        hardware. The early adopters get the more powerful devices. More apps are written to take advantage of the more powerful hardware. The slower devices run

        these apps poorly, creating the need to upgrade hardware. This cycle continues to repeat, even if older hardware can continue to run the latest OS.

        So, there is no need to use the OS version to hijack the hardware trajectory. There has always been a healthy need for more powerful hardware regardless of

        the OS version.

        As for Motorola, there are several reasons why Google would want to own the company and to continue to let it be profitable without playing the silly hijack

        games that the other players play.

        1) The patents. Google's hardware partners are increasingly under attack by Microsoft and Apple. So far, Google has only been able to assist from the

        sidelines since Microsoft and Apple haven't been able to sue Google directly. By becoming one of their own hardware partners, Google can be sued directly

        and can finally fight back directly. If they win, they will win on behalf of themselves and their hardware partners in a fight they believe they can win.

        The patents themselves will be additional armor and weaponry in this battle.

        2) A safety net. At the moment, if every one of Google's hardware partners get lured away by another open source operating system (webOS?), Android could

        enter a downward spiral. Furthermore, Apple and/or Microsoft could team up or acquire their hardware partners to cause the same kind of disruption. By

        owning one of these hardware partners, Google can guarantee a steady flow of Android phones no matter what tactics the competition tries in the future.

        3) Pressure on their other hardware partners. Keep in mind that, up until now, the only thing the hardware partners have been competing on is the hardware

        specs and the extra tweaks to the base OS. Google can only do so much to convince their hardware partners to compete on other factors from the sidelines. By

        owning Motorola, they can ensure a steady flow of Android phones that, hopefully, will get regular updates to the Android OS in a timely fashion that will

        be the true unfiltered Android experience. If this is truly what the consumers are demanding (and are not just the rantings of a loud minority), people will

        eventually flock from the other hardware manufacturers' phones to Google/Motorola phones, just to keep up-to-date with the OS versions. When the other

        hardware partners see this, they will start competing more on timely OS updates. If there is some other hardware-based innovation (similar to NFC) that

        Google cooks up, they can put it into their Motorola phones and easily convince their hardware partners to do the same.

        So, Google doesn't need to use the OS to hijack the hardware in order to keep Motorola profitable. There are a number of ways Google can keep Motorola profitable and also be able to gain a bunch of advantages to owning Motorola outside of just profits.
    • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

      @Johnny Vegas Every Windows Phone? All 10 or so models, dating ALL the way back to Q3 2010? And learn how to read, it's not 18 months after the version is released, they're saying each model will be supported with upgrades for 18 months. What that means, since you can't understand semantics, is that if you get a new Android phone, your handset will be upgraded to any new versions that come out within 18 months of its release.
  • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

    Does a software upgrade really matter? Like you said, Adrian, you bought the phone happy with the OS it had at the time. If you DO care, there is likely a tinkerer building a ROM of the latest update for your phone, which you can easily install on your phone. If, somehow, there isn't a ROM already for your phone, you can teach yourself how to build a stock ROM for your phone. (Let's be honest--who really wants an update so bad that they would build from the source? Someone who is skilled enough to actually learn how to build it from the source.)
    • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

      @rlorenz I used to make a similar argument until my wife's Motorola Flipside. We didn't realize in the first month when it was returnable that App upgrades over time were going to reduce this phone's available memory to about 12 KB such that she now cannot add any apps and the phone frequently hangs. This phone was really cool for about 50 days. Now it's been a year of disappointment thanks to Google, Motorola, and AT&T which crapped the phone up beyond belief with things like AT&T Navigation and AT&T Radio, none of which can be removed without rooting. If I had a bit more time, I'd take them to arbitration because this phone now is barely more a smartphone than her previous little Nokia....
      • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

        @bmgoodman LOL, YOU DO REALISE that Android is built to use all of it's available ram(with enough left over to fully run the app currently being used)... When you launch a new app that isn't hibernating in the ram, then it throws out the least used app from ram. The reason for this: if the app is hibernating in the ram, it opens much quicker, and it has no obverse effects.<br>I really hope you're not using one of those horrible "app killer" apps... if you are, then you should now know why your wife's phone hangs... because killing all the apps in memory makes them take much longer to open...<br>I'm AMAZED that people still use these app killers... People are stupid enough to believe that Google doesn't know how to manage apps, almost 4 or 5 years after the OS first came out... Stupid stupid people these days... geez.

        Also in support of this way of managing multiple apps is the new Windows 8. It doesn't kill ANY metro apps, they're simply hibernated now, exactly what Androids been doing since the first version of the OS came out.
    • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

      @rlorenz Quite right, I wasn't satisfied with my OS so I completely designed a new OS from the bottom up. True, to polish all the corners I had to employ a team of 20 programmers to get it just the way I wanted it. Luckily their job was made a lot easier by all the designers I had working in the background to support them. In the end I also became dissatisfied with the hardware and was forced to design a completely new phone. I invested about ??20,000,000 overall but that is what you have to do to get a decent phone these days. It seems so obvious I don't know why everyone doesn't do it.
    • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich


      Yes it does. My Droid X has been reduced to a POS that reboots when it feels like it since the latest round of Gingerbread updates. And I doubt I'll ever see any updates from Verizon, Google, or Motorola to address this issue.

      So iPhone 5 here I come once you come out. My Android Experiment for the past year and a half or so was OK. But I need something reliable and that works. That means I'm back to the iPhone.
  • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

    This article fails to acknowledge the exception to this logic: Sony.

    Not only have they already released alpha builds of ICS for three of their Xperia phones, they have also, months ago, posted instructions to owners on how to unlock the bootloaders on their devices and released various proprietary code to the developer community on XDA for custom ROM and application development.
    • Add Samsung to that

      I already have emails from Samsung committing to updating my SGS2 and SG Skyrocket to ICS.

      AT&T... that is another issue.....
      • RE: Why your Android handset probably won't get an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich

        @rhonin Care to share those emails? What carrier are you with? I have a SGS2 on AT&T and I've seen *nothing* from either on ICS.
  • Blame the wireless carriers

    The issue lies squarely on the carriers and the system of subsidized handsets and the vassalage of wireless contracts that customers allow themselves to be yoked with.

    Old-style wired phone networks didn't advance or change much back when Ma Bell owned everything and the phones they offered were not even ALLOWED to be owned -instead they were leased from AT&T. Phones never got updated and it took decades to make the shift to touchtone from rotary.

    It wasn't until AT$T was broken up and the crony-capitalist monopoly deregulated so that market competition could occur within the industry did things change and we get any progress.

    Subsidized handsets are the leased phones of the 1970's and earlier. The Wireless carriers think they OWN them -not you. The way they treat their customers and the phones the let them lease from them is slowing the process of modernization -and this includes getting out updates to software. Apple is a little better with updates" but most of those are just a method to slowly brick the older hardware so their fanbois need to buy new.

    Think what would be the state of PC's if the ISP's sold/subsidized or leased your computer to you and you were dependant on them for the hardware and couldn't go to a big-box computer store or online vender and buy them yourself? Widows and Mac would be in thrall to the ISP's and cheap clone PC's would not exist -just like the situation we have today with cell phones.

    The only way to change this is to break up the cell carriers (AT$T is back together and if this latest merger goes through it will even BIGGER than before) and to fight for cell phones to be sold en mass outside of the subsidized carrier-based system. When consumers can buy their own phones from electronic stores to use on the various networks (there really only are two standards these days) then the prices will go down and the control they have over the both the hardware and operating systems will be theirs and the companies that write the operating software. But as long as the carriers can twist the arms of the phone makers and blackball the ones that won't knuckle under they will be holding all the cards.