What the Android update consortium must do to help consumers

What the Android update consortium must do to help consumers

Summary: One of the announcements made by Google addressed the lack of consistent OS updates at the consumer level. Here's what Google must do to make the update process as good as it can be.

TOPICS: Android, Google

The Google I/O event is underway and the Android folks released news in a continual stream to fire up the faithful. One of the most important announcements made yesterday by Google addressed a common complaint of Android phone owners, the lack of consistent OS updates at the consumer level. Jason Hiner detailed the announcement for ZDNet, and pointed out the consortium has good intentions to address the update problem. Unfortunately, Google hasn't nailed down the finer points of what the update process will bring to the table, and as is always the case in efforts like this the devil is in the details that will emerge later. Here's what Google must get the consortium to agree on to make the update process as good as it can be for the end-user.

Google has done a good job in gathering the proper members for the update consortium to have a chance to make a difference. These members consist of the major U.S. carriers along with the top Android handset makers, the two groups usually blamed for lack of timely updates. Unfortunately, Google admitted after the announcement that the consortium is in the talking stage, with no firm process in place to get updates onto consumer's devices.

Like many who cover the mobile space, I have been hard on Google about the abysmal Android update process to date. My experience covering this segment makes it clear that nothing short of a written procedure, signed by the consortium members, has a chance to get the job done. Here are my recommendations for the procedure to see it fulfill the stated objective.

Nail down the time window. Google has stated that all Android devices will get "timely" OS updates for 18 months after the device is released. It is critical to define "timely" as an exact period of time in which parties have to get each update to the end-user. No excuses for delays are acceptable, state it plainly and firmly.

Define exactly what updates are promised. Android updates are oft-discussed and loosely released, and for this to work Google must formalize the release process. The consortium (and end-user) must know in advance when a given update will be formally released by Google, to start the meter running for the timely updates. The agreement with the consortium must detail if all minor updates are to be distributed, or only major (Froyo, Gingerbread, etc.) updates. If the latter, the update agreement needs to outline when minor updates should be included, as some fix major bugs in Android. Consumers need to get these fixes, which are currently the ones seldom distributed by the parties involved. Google also needs to better reflect the nature of a given update with version numbering. Froyo was version 2.2, Gingerbread 2.3 and Honeycomb is 3.0. This loose version numbering won't work with a formal update process and needs to be changed by Google.

Dish out penalties for update release failures. It won't change things much for end-users if companies continue to hold up updates because they can. The only way this update process will get better if Google holds the parties responsible, and that means more than a slap on the wrist when updates don't get to the consumer. No matter what Google may think, good intentions on the part of consortium members is not enough. Consumers deserve to get what they are promised.

Detail the required update period for each device. Google stated that each device will get timely updates for 18 months after release, and consumers need to know at purchase time what that means. Consumers don't want to buy a shiny new phone, only to be told later that they only get updates for two months as their model has been on the market for over a year. Committing to updates for a defined period requires letting the buyer know at purchase time how long he/she can expect updates.

If Google and its partners are serious about getting a good update process in place, it must be done correctly from the beginning. Good intentions are rarely good enough in business, and this is very big business we are talking about. Define the process accurately, and communicate that to consumers so they know what to expect. It is only natural to want support for purchases, and this is the chance for Google to get it right.

See related coverage:

Topics: Android, Google

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: What the Android update consortium must do to help consumers

    I don't know if you noticed or not but they hold 40% of the World Smartphone Market without this Consortium! There are more than 100,000,000 Android Devices out there and the majority are phones!

    You know what this tells me? Most Consumers don't buy their phone for what it will be in the future, they buy it for what it is today! This is why Hardware Matters More than Software!!! People see 4G and they want it and they don't care if it has 2.2 or 2.3 on the phone!
    • I agree. Android's been thrown as the OS on many

      @Peter Perry
      low end phones ("feature phones" pretty much), and the end users don't care what it runs, they don't even understand what it is that's running it.

      It makes calls and sends texts, and runs a few games.
      getting better upgrades to the phones aren't an issue to them, thye'll just trade up to something else that they can text fast and make calls on.
      John Zern
    • RE: What the Android update consortium must do to help consumers

      @Peter Perry While I agree (OMG) for the most part that most don't care what version they are running it does not have anything to do with market share. Android grew to by an incredible rate over the past year or so but it has been since most of those phones were purchased that the update process or lack there of has come into focus. Sure, they grew to where they are without this consortium but can they hold onto their market share without getting the update process straightened out? Nobody knows for sure anybody claiming they do is just guessing. It most certainly won't hurt and I suspect it will hurt if they don't. Most users don't really care what version they are using but when their friend says they just got an update and they can't get it then there is an issue. Or the phone they just bought a couple of months ago can't utilized a software feature that came in a recent update that they will never see. They don't care about version numbers, they care about the features and if they are not getting them.
  • App-market update

    Can't you just offer an OS update in the android market to all users. O.K. the update won't have the skin from samsung, htc or what have you. But let users decide whether they want to update their OS. In this way, the vendors of the phone can be locked out, because they are causing all the trouble.
    • RE: What the Android update consortium must do to help consumers

      @kikl I think that would make a lot of people very happy but doesn't it have to be tweaked for the specific hardware of the phone?
  • RE: What the Android update consortium must do to help consumers

    How about we just get rid of all the skins and crapware? Everyone would then have a Nexus-like "vanilla" experience, and the issue goes away.
    • RE: What the Android update consortium must do to help consumers

      @tn77 But then all the OEMs don't really have a way to set themselves apart from everyone else.
  • Another failed "Tiger Team".

    It will fail because it will come down to $$$$$. Who pays for the update? The carrier? The handset maker? Google?

    The carrier has no incentive. They already have the 2 year contract.

    The handset maker has no incentive. They have already sold the device and are worried about the next big thing.

    Google is the only company that wants all the handsets updated. But they don't make money on the sale of the hardware, just the tracking and mobile ads. They don't see it as their responsibility.

    The reality is, the update onus falls squarely on Google. They failed in their design of Google to allow them the power to provide the updates outside of carrier and handset maker control. NOTE: Lok at how Chrome OS is updated for an example of how it could have been implemented.
    • RE: What the Android update consortium must do to help consumers

      @Bruizer <br>I've read this comment elsewhere that gadget makers have no incentive to keep their devices updated because they have already made the sale. <br><br>This overlooks the fact that the life expectancy of a phone or tablet is not very long because greater things keep coming out. If I have a device for which I can't get updated software, I'm going to remember that when it is time to buy a new device in a year or two. Of course, for this to be true, there has to be some companies which ARE issuing timely software updates. <br><br>In January, I bought an Archos 70-250 (with 250GB hard drive) 7" tablet. Despite this being a very inexpensive device ($338), I've gotten 3 or 4 firmware updates in the last 4 months.
  • RE: What the Android update consortium must do to help consumers

    Haha. In other words, you want Google to behave like Apple. Not going to happen.
  • RE: What the Android update consortium must do to help consumers

    Just to reiterate:

    "Timely" is a relative term and Google, their handset makers, and carriers will define it as it suits them. Google's Nexus One owners can attest to the fact that when Google tweets that an Android update will be available in "coming weeks," it could mean anything, months even. They took their sweet time getting Gingerbread onto N1s and the update itself is really nothing to write home about. Why did it take so long to update their own flagship phone and why should anyone take Google's word about pushing to provide "timely" updates on all "hardware compatible" handsets going forward? After all, they gave away a tablet at I/O that won't even get the Honeycomb update for several weeks. It's the same ol, same ol. Pathetic PR spin that's all.
  • RE: What the Android update consortium must do to help consumers

    They are so nice
    please plut: yessoso com
  • Reliability

    I rate stable operation much higher than frequency of updates. If it isn't broke, I'm very much disinclined to let somebody fix it, especially remotely.

    If it is broke, it shouldn't have been released in the first place.