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Google promises Android updates will get better, new devices will get updates for 18 months (update: partners still figuring out how it'll work)

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Google I/O might have been full of showstopper announcements like Google Music Beta and Ice Cream Sandwich, but the most important announcement might be the most prosaic: Google's formed a committee of Android OEMs and carriers to improve how and when Android updates are distributed to customers. And it's a pretty impressive committee: the founding members are Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Motorola, and AT&T. The group's first move is to promise that that new Android devices from these partners will receive updates for 18 months after launch, pending hardware support, which is a great step towards addressing the problem of orphan devices. That's not bad for an opening act -- and we have high hopes that the group can smooth out the uneven Android update process.

Of course, we're aslo curious about a few things: do these partners get early access to Android source, which has been the source of some controversy in recent months? If so, where does that leave companies like Dell, which is notably absent from the list? And exactly how many updates are required in that 18-month period? Every update Google releases, or just major ones? We'll look for more answers and let you know what we find out.

Update: We just asked Andy Rubin how the 18-month update commitment will work in light of every manufacturer's customizations -- a source of considerable heartache in the Android upgrade picture so far. His answer? They're "actively thinking it out right now" with the partners that have been announced -- they've been "tasked with figuring out how to make it work." He says details should start to emerge in the next few weeks, but we imagine there'll be some heated conversations behind closed doors in the process of banging this out.

Talking about the size and constituency of the partnership so far, Rubin says that "it's an open invitation" to any manufacturer or carrier that wants to participate -- but that it made sense to start out small for the sake of manageability. Long term, "there's no reason not to have everyone in it."