Android updates lag, especially from some manufacturers and carriers
If you're reading this on an Android phone, you're almost certainly not doing so in the current 2.3 version of Google's mobile operating system -- it runs on a mere 0.4 percent of Android devices. And there's only a slightly better than 50 percent chance that your phone instead runs the 2.2 "Froyo" edition Google introduced last May.
So say Google's latest statistics on which versions of Android it saw used to access its Android Market software catalog.
The negative spin on this is easy to write: MG Siegler's TechCrunch post runs under the telling headline "iPhone User? 90% Chance You're On The Latest OS. Android User? 0.4% Chance." Google Operating System blogger Alex Chitu preferred to see the update as half-installed, writing that 87.4 percent of Android phones ran the 2.1 or 2.2 releases, "up from about 55% in July."
It's true that 2.3 isn't a fair benchmark, since only one phone ships with that version: Samsung's "pure Google" Nexus S.
But it's also true, and much more important, that the pace of Android updates on individual phones -- as controlled by phone vendors and wireless carriers -- is woefully uneven. And when each new version brings significant advances in performance and battery life, and may be required by the latest Android apps, that's nothing to be proud of.
The short version: HTC lapped the competition, updating 50 percent of its Android phones to Froyo during 2010 and taking only an average of 56 days to do so. Motorola finished second, updating 15.4 percent of its phones, followed by Samsung at 11.1 percent. (Samsung users are particularly cranky about this after months of delays.) Dell and LG were far behind, and Raphael stuck a pitchfork into Sony Ericsson for not updating any of its phones to Froyo last year: "It gets a big fat zero all around."
Among carriers, Verizon led the way by updating a third of its Android phones to Froyo, trailed by Sprint (28.6 percent) and T-Mobile (12.5 percent), each of which took about twice as long as Verizon's 58-day average to ship those updates. He flunked AT&T, "the dunce of the group," for failing to ship a Froyo upgrade for any of its Android phones.
Please consider those stats when you're picking your next Android phone.
(So you know, my own year-old HTC Android phone is no longer supported for updates. That would leave it stuck at 2.1 -- except I can just put a third-party build of Android on the phone instead.)
The annoying subtext of all these delays is that Android vendors try to distinguish their phones from competing models by adding custom software that, in turn, requires extra work and testing to work with each new Android update from Google. But what software feature do Android users consistently demand? Not some proprietary interface, not a suite of non-removable bundleware, but the current version of Android.
It's not that hard, people. Stop making work for yourselves by developing extra layers of Android software that users don't particularly care about; focus on shipping great hardware and then keeping up with Google's advances in software.
| January 20, 2011; 11:20 AM ET
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