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

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.

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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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