The Hills Are Greener: Apples, Oranges, and Software Updates

The Hills Are Greener: Apples, Oranges, and Software Updates

Aug 13, 2012

There’s a common complaint about Android that often comes from the mouths of iOS fans: Android phones are so out of date! Well, they are right. The fact that most Android phones are still running Gingerbread, rather than Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean, is like shooting fish in a barrel for Android critics.

What needs to be considered with Android OS updates is this: it would be a technical disaster for Google to ensure that devices won’t just explode when a new update comes along. If Google was purely responsible for all devices getting Android updates in a timely manner, they couldn’t win:they would likely have to make updates release less often, or each increment would be less advanced than it is currently. The laissez-faire attitude of “we’re pushing it out, the manufacturers and carriers will release it whenever” is almost superior.

The other thing is that Android is not structured like iOS is. It is meant to be run on millions of different hardware permutations. It’s impressive that with major updates that happen every 9–12 months that so many devices can get them. Google has to find ways to make the core functionality of Android compatible with many different pieces of hardware, not just a few Iike Apple does. And really, consider that Google is in fact pushing out software updates for their Nexus devices at rapid speed, as pretty much any Nexus device sans the Nexus One has gotten an official Jelly Bean release already.

As well, Apple is intentionally holding back iOS 6 from the iPod touch 3rd generation and the original iPad, which are each on par with the iPhone 3GS and 4th generation iPod touch respectively. The latter devices are still on sale, the former are not. Apple fans in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

Also, is this necessarily Google’s fault? Google offers the OS for free. They make the effort to release Android versions in a timely manner. Small teams of custom ROM creators can make updates for phones. Why aren’t we blaming those who actually should be taking the blame – the manufacturers and the carriers who hold up updates.

What Google should be criticized to with Android OS releases is the seeming lack of lead time. Google releases the source around when they release their OS on to various devices, so there’s always going to be a delay for vendors to get it ready, at least on a theoretical basis. Also consider the delays that the carriers bring in. Apple announces their new iOS a few months ahead of time to allow for developers to get apps ready. I’m not criticizing either stance. Google tries to get their OS ready when they want to release it, and Apple has theirs.

Trying to compare the ability of a vertically-integrated hardware and software vendor to get their updates out on time versus one that makes software first and hardware second is like comparing apples to oranges. They are two different companies with two different strucured operating systems, and the OS update criticism needs to be framed in different respects.

Carter Dotson
Carter Dotson, editor of Android Rundown, has been covering Android since late 2010, and the mobile industry as a whole since 2009. Originally from Texas, he has recently moved to Chicago. He loves both iOS and Android for what they are - we can all get along!
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