Updates won’t matter until Android skins die
Following the (albeit smaller than expected) avalanche of Android phone announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) the first weeks of January, we heard countless numbers of representatives from every manufacturer say the words “…it’s currently running Gingerbread, but we’re updating it to Ice Cream Sandwich…” in regards to phones, and similar sentiments regarding tablets and Honeycomb (although I’ll be focusing on phones).
Now there’s a couple problems with this, the first of which being the absolute absurdity that large multinational corporations - we’re talking LG, Samsung, etc. - can’t even put together a Beta build of ICS to show off at a show months after ICS was released (and arguably they had it even earlier than that). It’s like they’re not even trying at this point.
Secondly, they seem to tout the upgrade from 2.3 to 4 as a selling point, as if we’re supposed to like the phone more because it’s being upgraded, and be willing to buy it over another phone that hasn’t been given the guaranteed go-ahead upgrade path. This shouldn’t be a selling point, it should be an absolute knock against the phone for not just launching with the OS it should have. These CES phones aren’t going to be hitting the market for weeks and months after they’re announced. If 2.3 is perceivably archaic now, how will it look at the end of Q1 and beyond when these are an store shelves?
Those statements aside, let’s get to the real meat of the story, which I suppose is related to the “promised upgrade as a selling feature” argument. Along with the fact that upgrades shouldn’t be considered an extra feature that a manufacturer offers, these upgrades will literally change nothing about the user experience of the device. Recently evidenced by the leaked SGSII ICS builds with TouchWiz 5, and various HTC Sense-laden ICS leaks, these phones will never look like the ICS that users and reviewers alike are raving about on the Galaxy Nexus. In an attempt to preserve their perceived “brand loyalty” and image, every single manufacturer will simply be putting their same skin from Android 2.2 and 2.3 straight onto Android 4 with mild improvements. Not only is this a travesty simply because it is delaying updates and keeping phones locked down, but mainly the fact that Android 4 is really, really good. By all accounts, Google outdid themselves here, and the idea that these manufacturers aren’t even going to attempt to bring that forward to the user is a shame.
This brings me back to referencing the title of this article: updates won’t matter until Android skins die. Every single person who puts emphasis on updates is just spinning their wheels. Whether its running Android 2.3 or 4 really does not matter if the user isn’t going to be getting any benefit from it because the skin is trying to maintain a consistent experience from 2.3 devices. No effort should be made complaining about pushing an update that will not change anything. I think that people seem to have some glimmer of hope that manufacturers will push an OTA and all of a sudden their device will have stock ICS on it. Well, that’s just not going to happen, so spend your energy elsewhere.
The problem with updates and fragmentation is a two parter. The first part is completely removing manufacturer skins - straight up, no ifs ands or buts about it. Only once that is accomplished can we then care about the second part - updating devices in a timely and efficient way.