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Posted at 11:20 AM ET, 01/20/2011

Android updates lag, especially from some manufacturers and carriers

By Rob Pegoraro

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.

Last week, ComputerWorld's J.R. Raphael did a valuable public service by charting how quickly manufacturers and carriers updated Android phones.

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.

By Rob Pegoraro  | January 20, 2011; 11:20 AM ET
Categories:  Mobile  
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Next: Google Voice porting appears, then disappears in limited release


This is a terrific statement: 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.

That said, I own a Nexus One, which always gets updates because there's no OEM or carrier in the way... but why doesn't the Nexus One have 2.3 yet? This is odd.

Posted by: tn77 | January 20, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

As it happens, I am reading this from my Nexus S, but it isn't easy, since the WP can't be bothered to do an Android app (or a decent iPhone app, for that matter) .

Posted by: washpost86 | January 20, 2011 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I have owned an HTC Eris on Verizon since late 2009 which was pretty much pushed to the side once the Incredible was launched, so I am stuck with 2.1 on a phone with limited internal memory which controls the capacity for 3rd party apps. In addition, the phone is still plagued with performance issues even after some minor tweaks and updates.

I should be able to use my NE2 upgrade in a few months and have been looking at options. The Incredible still looks promising, but I like the Samsung Continuum except for the bloatware and unwanted apps (Bing? Seriously?). Launcher Pro addresses many of these shortcomings, but I resent having to purchase an add-on to deal with this. Is it worth waiting for the Android LTE phones? Android 2.3 would be great - even better if the phone has a path to 3.0, but at this point I simply want to be be able to use Angry Birds when I am stuck on an airplane.

Posted by: AlligatorArms | January 20, 2011 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Bravo Mr. Pegoraro. I am old school and have never owned a cell phone (chuckle). But when I saw the introduction of a non-iphone (great phone but too expensive) open platform, that got my attention. Plus, there are several reasonable plans available that do not require a 2 year contract. Cell phone are changing so fast, who wants to be tied to a contract ?

The patch-work of inconsistent updates are hurting the Android phones image. The major competitor, Apple's iphone, does this very well with its closed operating system. The phone makers should not ignore the latest operating systems improvements. They should PLAN for the updates.

Posted by: oboist1 | January 20, 2011 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Yet another reason to own an iPhone.

Posted by: CafeBeouf | January 20, 2011 4:29 PM | Report abuse

My last HTC update did install a Blockbuster application(the type that you can't uninstall). Just what I needed! Any other soon to be defunct business apps you'd like to force on me?

Posted by: rcvinson64 | January 21, 2011 1:35 AM | Report abuse

Comparing OS adoption rates of Android to iOS is just not fair. For one thing, there's only 4 different kinds of iPhone: the original version, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. So yeah testing newer iOS version across that stack is pretty easy. Android, on the other hand, has thousands of hardware versions. Do you think Apple supports the latest iOS versions on the original iPhone? As more and more versions of iOS comes out, their adoption rates across older model iPhones will current Android adoption rates.

Also, the real question here is should you expect people to run the latest Android versions on a phone hardware bought 2-3 years ago? That's like trying to run Windows 7 on a POS hardware that ran Windows XP.

Posted by: tundey | January 21, 2011 5:24 AM | Report abuse

Hey, Samsung made a Froyo announcement...or not...

Posted by: hotuan87 | January 21, 2011 6:08 AM | Report abuse

OS upgrades are a big deal sure but when is Google going to fix their SMS messaging problem? I have an HTC EVO running 2.2 and have had lots of problems with the SMS app pulling up wrong message threads, among other problems. Googles help thread has over 1400 replies to it about this issue; supposedly a fix has been made but now we have to wait for our carriers to push it out? Really? Is this the price of having an open ecosystem? Its already bad enough the carriers push their bloatware on us but at lest get us the updates in a speedy fashion come on!

Posted by: cremuzzi | January 21, 2011 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I bought my first smartphone and switched to At&T from verizon after 7 years early this year. 2 Samsung Captivates for the family..the phone in general is good and is very handy..maps, navigation, web etc. Also I got it for $9 and no activation from wirefly.

However the android update and At&Ts general lack of interest in customer service made me try another GMS carrier T-Moblie, virgin etc next time around. Probably not Samsung too.

Posted by: reddy531 | January 21, 2011 1:10 PM | Report abuse

A couple thoughts: I kind of like the HTC Sense system that HTC built on top of Android. I have rooted my phone, but haven't bothered with any other ROM's because I'm happy with Sense, and with my phone's performance.

AlligatorArms: you should look up some of the Android forums, and root your phone. I've never been dissatisfied with my Eris, but it's easy to run newer OS and custom ROM's once you spend a few hours reading about how it works and what to do.

Posted by: _BSH | January 21, 2011 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Updates are no problems with updates in Apple's 'walled garden'; guess it's not all bad....

Posted by: jlm656 | January 21, 2011 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone who purchased a tablet, Android 2.1 from Lightinthebox had a problem and has yet to make contact with them to resolve??

Posted by: chappy1 | January 21, 2011 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Pretty meaningless article.....what we expect from Apple loving Pegoraro......

Posted by: josephfranklyn | January 21, 2011 3:23 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the advice to look into rooting and installing a new ROM.

I got the original Droid on launch and was mostly happy with Motorola's update schedule, but I'm out of warranty now and it doesn't sound likely that 2.3 will be pushed out. That's why I rooted my phone the other day and installed an Android 2.3 ROM (CyanogenMod7). I've see a big increase in my phone's performance, no regrets!

Posted by: Corn_Laden | January 21, 2011 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Is there a 'Rooting for Dummies"? If not, I will probably pass even if there is some upside. I have spent some time on the various Android forums looking at this and don't see this as a trivial exercise - spending several hours getting educated is not something that really interests me. Plus, rooting is not going to help the memory deficiency which is the most annoying issue at this point.

Posted by: Ebola_22039 | January 21, 2011 7:42 PM | Report abuse

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