I was in Bangkok recently, and met an Android user who just wanted to know the basics of getting stuff working on his Android. Simple things like tethering, making it into a WiFi hotspot, and more were questions he had.
I whipped my Nexus One out and told him it all just worked. It’s running Android 2.2. He was impressed. He thought he was also running Android 2.2, until I checked. It was some HTC make that he had purchased recently (circa mid-to-late-2009), and it was running Android 1.6 (if I remember correctly). The fact that I cannot remember is in itself a problem for Android device manufacturers – there are so many out there, and while its great to have choice, it sure as heck complicates things. But that’s a matter for another post.
I told him to get the software upgraded. He had gone back to his place, tried it out, and it didn’t work, since there was no update available. Lucky for him, HTC happened to be a sponsor for BarCamp Bangkok 4. So he went up to their booth to ask, and they told him flat out, there was no Android 2.2 available for his phone. He would have to buy one, and there seemed to be a THB1,000 discount.
This was a phone that is no older than a year. Its similar to my Nexus One in age. It is not operator locked, there is no contract, yet with these Android phones, you are at the mercy of your manufacturer to release a software update to your phone. What is their incentive, considering they are rolling out new hardware on such a regular basis?
I look at Apple, and see iOS4. Support for it goes back all the way to the iPhone 3G (released in 2008). So it does not work on the original iPhone released in 2007, and multitasking only works on the iPhone 3GS (2009) and the new iPhone 4 (2010). But it seems like Apple is giving it a good three year release cycle of support so far.
Android has about a six-month release cycle for the operating system. Device manufacturers are probably releasing new hardware around that time-frame. While people are raving about statistics that over 70% of Android devices out there are running some form of Android 2.x (either 2.1: 40.8% or 2.2: 36.2%), it still leaves about 30% not getting a lot of functionality. Heck, functionality that only 36% of Android users get, the others want! Again I ask: what is a manufacturer’s incentive to release software updates, considering they are rolling out new hardware on such a regular basis?
There is no consistent user-experience across the board. What works on my clean install Android device, is very different to what others who have software carriers mucking with the software, as well as the handset manufacturers. They’re not getting the “pure” Android experience, and they are unable to share experiences with others.
Gingerbread, aka Android 2.3 is just around the corner. It will (likely) work on my Google-issue HTC Nexus One. It will not work on all those other beautiful devices out there, until their manufacturers say they should.