Re: Android Fragmentation
Hot on the heels of PC Magazine's article about the failure of the Android Update Alliance, Samsung has announced that neither the original Galaxy S series of phones nor last year's 7-inch Galaxy Tab will be updated to Android 4.0. Older phones not being updated to the latest version of Android generally comes as no surprise, but in the Galaxy S's case, there's two factors that make this seem ridiculous. First of all, until September, phones based on Galaxy S hardware were the newest phones available in America. Just four months ago, this was their latest and greatest phone. Second of all, the Nexus S - a pure-Google phone that shares identical hardware with the Galaxy S series - is being updated to Android 4.0 as I type this. My Nexus S 4G is literally running 4.0.3 right now.
So why is Samsung not updating the phone? They say the issue with updating these devices is that they can't fit both Ice Cream Sandwich and their proprietary TouchWiz UI in the phone's ROM, nor would their be enough RAM to run the OS anyway. This is the very same problem HTC ran into not too long ago with the Desire. HTC initially announced that the Desire would not be updated to Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) because they could not squeeze HTC Sense into the phone's limited ROM space, while the Nexus One sporting similar hardware was updated months before. After public outcry over the issue, HTC gave in and announced that the Desire would receive a Gingerbread update literally the next day, and decided to simply remove some elements of Sense so that they could make the update work.
It's too early to tell if Samsung will go the same route as HTC did and simply strip away parts of TouchWiz to appease the disgruntled Gingerbread-running masses. However, this is a problem far beyond these two examples, and one that has plagued Android nearly since the beginning. Android phones are not updated as soon as Google rolls out a new version. Updates must first go through the phone manufacturer, who usually modifies-slash-butchers the user interface with its own proprietary software, such as HTC's Sense, Motorola's Let's-Not-Call-It-Motoblur, and of course, Samsung's TouchWiz. Then, in America at least, they go out to the carriers, who often add their own bloatsoftware, such as Gameloft games, Verizon's VCast, Sprint's SprintTV, and so on. Then, after getting the carrier's seal of approval, the update is sent out over-the-air.
To see how absolutely ridiculous this process can be, observe Verizon's Samsung Fascinate. The Samsung Fascinate launched in September 2010 with Android 2.1 (Eclair), even though 2.2 (Froyo) had been released that May. The Fascinate did not receive an update to 2.2 until April 2011, by which point Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) had been out since December. Just this month - an entire year after Gingerbread launched, and shortly before the Nexus S with near-identical hardware received Android 4.0 - the Samsung Fascinate was updated to Android 2.3. This is not acceptable.
To many people, it seems the only way to reliably get your phone updated to new versions of Android is to buy a Nexus series phone - phones co-developed and supported by Google itself. Detractors (and trolls) are quick to note that the Nexus One is not being updated to Android 4.0 either, but the Nexus One hardware is legitimately just too old. Even Gingerbread support for the N1 was considered experimental and did not perform as well as Eclair and Froyo. While theoretically both the Nexus S and Nexus One have 1GHz single-core processors and 512MB of RAM, the Hummingbird chipset in the Nexus S outperforms the Nexus One considerably (in part thanks to the more powerful GPU, an important component now that ICS uses more GPU acceleration in the UI) and has absolutely no problems running Ice Cream Sandwich with minimal to no lag.
Others point to custom ROMs as the solution. Hackers have already gotten Ice Cream Sandwich running surprisingly well on the Motorola Droid from 2009, a phone which was never even updated to Gingerbread. The problem with custom ROMs is that not only are they unsupported by the manufacturers or carriers, the process of rooting one's phone and unlocking the bootloader is just too complicated for most people. The average user depends on official updates to keep their phone, well, up-to-date. When manufacturers drop the ball on keeping phones updated like this, they are doing a serious disservice to their customers.
But do consumers even know they're being left out? I imagine most people who buy an Android phone are not like myself and don't follow the update cycle so closely. People with phones running 2.2 probably don't care how outdated their phone may be as long as it still does what they want it to, and that's fine. But for enthusiasts, this sort of nonsense is absolutely disgusting.