If you have followed my site for the last few weeks you will have noticed a lot more Android updates. It’s partly because I have to use an Android device for my day job but also it is good to expand horizons. I’ve never been a big fan of Android. I don’t really like the UI although it is certainly better than the last time I really tried to use one, circa Ice Cream Sandwich. But it’s still not may favorite. That’s Windows Phone. I love the personal experience of Windows Phone that despite Google’s best efforts – and Apple’s with iOS for that matter – just can’t replicate well.
One factor about Windows Phone that I and many other sites and users have moaned about however is the upgrade process. While an update may be available, it could take months or never for that update to hit your phone depending on your country and if your phone is locked to a carrier. Everyone’s favorite example is Verizon and the Lumia Cyan update which never came out. Instead, owners of the Lumia ICON (Lumia 930 in the rest of the world) had to wait a full year before that got it and Lumia Denim at the same time. A year. It’s unacceptable and is something that Microsoft has said they are addressing with the release of Windows 10 Mobile.
If however you are thinking that the Android grass is greener, guess again. The upgrading of Android devices to the next version of the OS, Lollipop, if fraught with problems, delays and phones that, while can run it, will never get the update. Compounding this is the sheer number of devices that are out there and all the possible permutations of Android that have to be developed to support those devices. By Gartner’s estimate, there are over 18,000 versions of Android out in the wild today. 18,000! That makes a uniform, systematic upgrade virtually impossible.
If there is one thing that is a positive about Windows Phone and the upgrade process it is that eventually, for the most part, the vast majority of devices get the latest update. Take Windows 8.1 for example. With the exception of the ICON, almost every device got the 8.1 update, from the lowly 520 all the way up to the 1520. It may have taken months to get it but eventually it got to your phone. With Android, that may not necessarily be the case. Take my BLU VIVO IV Android phone. It will not be getting the upgrade to Lollipop 5.x from KitKat 4.4. Ever. BLU has decided not to provide the update to this phone which has plenty of horsepower to run it. You can read my review of the phone to get the full specs but with 2GB of RAM and an eight-core processor, there is no technical reason that it shouldn’t see Lollipop. Yet despite being release one year ago this month, will never see the update.
The reason of course comes down to economics. BLU didn’t sell a massive amount of the VIVO IV so they have to make a decision of if the time, effort, resources and money to build, test and release a Lollipop upgrade is worth it for the small number of devices out there. While the company has committed to a sizable number of their devices getting Lollipop, because of the way Android is built and customized by each OEM, they are effectively doing a custom ROM for every device. That is where Android becomes an scaling problem for OEMs.
And don’t interpret this as picking on BLU. Google themselves have been very inconsistent in the release of Lollipop on their own devices and their flagship tablet, the Nexus 9, has just now gotten the update some 7 months after it was released. If anyone has got it reasonably sorted out it is Motorola and Samsung. Both of these manufactures have a small line of phones so getting updates out to half-a-dozen devices is a bit easier. BLU has dozens.
Contrast that with Windows Phone and iOS. Because Microsoft clearly defines the hardware set on these phones, the amount of customizing of the build is far less thus less expensive to develop. It’s even better on iOS where it is completely controlled by Apple – but that has it’s downside as well. Namely that iOS is very locked down to the experience Apple wants you to have, not necessarily the experience you want to have on it.
And just to close it off, in looking at the Google hardware definitions document, the VIVO IV from everything I can see fits the bill to be upgradable to Lollipop. BLU has opted not to do it.
To be clear, Google does have a hardware definition document and it is incredibly detailed. This is a good thing. It provides a blueprint if you will for OEMs on what and how the devices should function and what is required for a device to support Lollipop. My point is, much like Microsoft and Apple, Google needs to control their own destiny here by getting more involved in the hardware development to assure upgrades can happen. They need to work with their OEMs and force them to upgrade devices that meet the criteria for upgrade eligibility. Will they do it? Probably not. Google tends to be a hands-off company (unless we are talking about your Google-centric habits). That brings me back full circle.
Android upgrades are broken. Possibly beyond repair.