Published in Mobiles
Why Android fans need to stop whining about updates
Opinion: Sorry, but you’re all out of excuses
2.7 percent. That’s how many Android devices are on Jelly Bean as of November 2. Yes, it is an embarrassingly low figure, considering Android 4.1 launched five months ago and don’t expect the numbers to pick up anytime soon. Ice Cream Sandwich made its way to just a quarter of Android devices and the ice-cool update launched more than a year ago. Worse, Android 4.2 is just days away.
So, anyone who picked up an Android based phone over the past couple of years really does have a legitimate case to whine about Google’s broken update system. After all, Apple and Microsoft got it right, haven’t they?
Well yes and no. A few years ago nobody could have known that the Android update process will turn into a screw-up of epic proportions. Of course, quite a few people at Google and developers were probably aware of the risks, but the vast majority of consumers were blissfully ignorant and believed their phones would be updated sooner or later. Most of them won’t.
Google made a simple tradeoff. It was playing catch-up with Apple and did everything it could to prop up Android adoption. Allowing vendors and carriers to play around with Android seemed like a safe bet, and it worked. The result was a torrent of Android phones, followed by Android tablets which added to the mix, with dozens of processors, screen resolutions and custom skins on board. Google got what the investors wanted - massive Android sales and hundreds of thousands of activations per day. It was also a good for innovation, as it allowed a bunch of vendors to try out new concepts and add novel features on otherwise dull devices. But it also resulted in a very fragmented ecosystem, and vendors who are unwilling to waste resources supporting old or unpopular devices.
With over half a billion Android phones and tablets in the wild, Google can now afford to start putting its house in order. The outfit is aggressively expanding its Nexus line and it’s keen to point out the difference between Android devices and Android-based devices. The Nexus 4 is an Android phone, while Samsung’s Galaxy S III or HTC’s One X are Android-based phones, a distinction lost on most consumers. So, Google is telling consumers that if they want a proper Android phone they should go for the Nexus 4, but if they are in love with Sense or TouchWiz, they can pick up an HTC or Samsung device. Also, if someone is really in love with custom skins, they should probably visit an ophthalmologist, too.
This year Google raised the bar with its Nexus devices. First came the Nexus 7, with a relatively impressive spec and best-in-class price point. The Nexus 4 ended up with the fastest SoC on the market, top notch screen and camera, all neatly tucked away in a well built package with an excellent price tag. It’s a far cry from the plasticky Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus, which also shipped with relatively unimpressive hardware. The Nexus 10, with a world-beating 2560x1600 screen, follows the same philosophy – add muscle, subtract margin.
The Nexus line now covers three distinct product categories and Nexus devices are more than competitive in every single one of them, albeit with some compromises, i.e. LTE, lack of expandable storage. But still, no-nonsense Google updates make a compelling case for each and every one of them.
This is why I believe it is time for Android fundamentalists to stop complaining. True, there are plenty of excellent non-Nexus devices on the market, but if you choose to buy one, you are also making a tradeoff, much like Google. The price of a microSD slot, LTE, or swanky design is obvious – slow updates, or no updates. It is a conscious compromise and anyone who makes it should not moan about running an older version of Android.