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Why Android Upgrades Take So Long 226

Posted by Soulskill
from the keep-getting-distracted-by-delicious-names dept.
adeelarshad82 writes "Last month Google released the Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' code base to the general public and manufacturers but it may be a while yet before it's actually rolled out to existing phones. In an attempt to explain why it takes so long, Motorola and Sony Ericsson shed some light on the process. Motorola described the long testing process involved in getting the new code out there, whereas Sony focused on explaining the time-consuming certification process."
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Why Android Upgrades Take So Long

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  • tl;dr (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Friday December 09, 2011 @02:53PM (#38317452) Homepage

    OEMS: I takes time to integrate our own buggy, irremovable software into the kernel.

  • Is it because— (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alvinrod (889928) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:00PM (#38317552)
    Is it because the handset manufacturers don't make any money from the software and are probably more interested in selling you a new phone? After a year or so of support, they've generally shown almost no interest in pushing out additional upgrades as they probably don't even sell that particular model of phone any longer. Unless it's a Nexus phone, or a particularly popular model, support is pretty sketchy. [theunderstatement.com] There are a lot of promises to update phones to ICS, but I won't be surprised when a lot of those plans get canceled or delayed indefinitely.

    Wading through the code and carrier requirements certainly tacks on some additional time, but considering that these companies don't have much incentive outside of brand loyalty, which may not even exist to any serious extent, to update their old hardware, I don't think that they try too terribly hard to get it done in a timely fashion.
  • Re:tl;dr (Score:5, Insightful)

    by realmolo (574068) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:04PM (#38317590)

    Exactly. If the manufacturers/carriers just gave us plain-old-Android, all they would have to do is get their drivers installed.

    Samsung is the worst. Their software sucks so bad, it makes their phones unusable. And of course, Verizon loads their crap, too.

    Google needs to drop the hammer on that bullshit. They should say "Look, quit loading up our OS with your crap, or we'll delist you from our search engine and block your networks from accessing our sites".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:11PM (#38317698)

    A kernel does not an operating system make.

  • Re:I see... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:17PM (#38317760) Journal
    I'm not actually planning on exempting Apple. Their recent "iOS5 battery drain" thing, and various other glitches here and there are better than some of the other vendors; but still rather tepid for somebody who controls the entire OS, chooses the parts that go into the hardware, and has enough market dominance to shake some serious engineering support out of their vendors and contractors....

    I'm not sure if most handset vendors just don't care, since they really want you to buy the new hardware, whether they just don't have a sufficient history of in-house software expertise, or whether the vendors of low-power mobile silicon are far nastier about driver blobs and things than their PC counterparts; but smartphones seem surprisingly glitchy for a fixed platform product with substantial vendor control over most of the software. They aren't quite on the same level as, say, ACPI issues in random homebuilds of questionable quality; but they seem pretty mediocre.
  • by tripleevenfall (1990004) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:17PM (#38317768)

    Some of the same reasons they don't want you upgrading the OS yourself. They don't want you to get the latest features without paying them a big pile of money or extending your contract.

    I'm sure they also have to make sure the latest version is festooned with crapware before they unleash it on the public.

  • Re:tl;dr (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:19PM (#38317786) Journal
    My understanding is that giving young children access to finger-paint is also intended to foster creativity. It's just too bad that the result with the OEMs is so similar...
  • by wstrucke (876891) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:21PM (#38317818)
    Android is free and newer versions tend to not only work better but provide more features. Windows upgrades tend to consume more resources and generally introduce new bugs. It's not really fair to compare the two. That being said, it would be a completely different story if your new PC came with the promise that newer versions of windows would be made available at no charge over your existing internet connection. Why shouldn't you be upset when a new version is released and months go by without your upgrade coming through?
  • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:31PM (#38317930)

    I wish I had mod points right now to mod you up.

    People were asking for Windows XP in large quantities still, which is why Dell continued to sell it with their computers. You don't see people bemoaning the fact that the carriers and manufacturers are making plans to start rolling out upgrades and phones that lack Android 2.x on them, whereas you did see that in the PC market when Vista came out. Android 4 is seen as a legitimate upgrade to the Android line. Vista was seen as a downgrade by many, so they preferred to do without it.

    Comparing the two makes little sense.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:34PM (#38317994)

    Great phone, the Fascinate, just can't stand the software they stunk it up with.

    It's weird that you think the software and the phone are two different things - the software on a smartphone is more the phone than the hardware. I wouldn't put up with a phone with bad software, hoping that it would get better with a software update. If someone sells a phone with bad software they're the last company I'd expect to provide good software for it in the future. They shipped a bad product, buy from a different company.

  • Re:tl;dr (Score:4, Insightful)

    by iluvcapra (782887) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:38PM (#38318038)

    Google needs to drop the hammer on that bullshit.

    A senior OSS licensor using its market position and services to retaliate against junior redistributors, essentially in order to protect the integrity of the brand, would be an interesting precedent. Particularly if the senior licensor owned a company that directly competed with its junior licensees. Which in this case, it does.

  • Re:tl;dr (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:39PM (#38318054)

    "Dude" I don't think that's what he's talking about. I think he's talking about the bullshit bloatware apps that every vendor and/or carrier sticks on their phone: For example my Droid 3 has shit that I never use like the Blockbuster app, City ID app, GoToMeeting, Citrix client app, etc... all shit that I would love to get completely of my phone and off my Apps screen but I can't. Fuck you, Motorola and fuck you Verizon for not letting me do this.

  • by rtkluttz (244325) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:42PM (#38318098) Homepage

    It actually ISN'T that complicated on the carrier side where the real delays come from, they just make it that way. When all the DRM and bloatware and crapware and bandwidth throttlers and tethering blockers and Carrier IQ loggers that are all designed to BREAK your phone or compromise its security go in, its damn difficult to make it run at all.

    Look at cyanogenmod and how little time it takes them to get new versions out once they have all the roadblocks in the device figured out.

  • Re:I see... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by syousef (465911) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:44PM (#38318120) Journal

    I'm not sure if most handset vendors just don't care, since they really want you to buy the new hardware, whether they just don't have a sufficient history of in-house software expertise, or whether the vendors of low-power mobile silicon are far nastier about driver blobs and things than their PC counterparts; but smartphones seem surprisingly glitchy for a fixed platform product with substantial vendor control over most of the software.

    They are too busy pushing the marketing for the next big thing to let something petty like actually testing the product get in the way. See they know then can fool customers into buying poor quality crap, then they just pull the model before glitches are sorted for next big thing. So the customer never has a trusty older model to go to. We still buy the shit, so why should they spend more to make it better?

    I'm all for progress but life was better when a new model lasted say 3 years instead of 1, and early adopters took the risks and could replace with same towards the end of the cycle if they liked it but it broke or they lost it. Meanwhile buying slightly older tech had it's benefits too - products were ironed out and bugs were actually fixed. Now you replace one immature piece of junk with another, and if you actually find something that works well for you and it comes to an untimely demise, you're stuck gambling on another piece of unreliable untested shit.

  • Say what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cereal Box (4286) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:46PM (#38318154)

    In the first Ice Cream Sandwich source code that was released, the Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) – the software layer giving applications direct access to the hardware components – was to some extent adapted for a Texas Instruments hardware platform. However, for all 2011 Xperia phones, we used a Qualcomm hardware platform. This means we have to replace the default HAL coming with first source code released for Ice Cream Sandwich, with our own HAL.

    The HAL changes have impact on several features on a phone, including the camera, different sensors (such as proximity, light, accelerometer and compass), audio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, as well as multimedia and graphics components. Thus, we do not only have to modify and configure the HAL according to the Qualcomm hardware platform, but also all the other hardware components used in a phone.

    Wow, I sure hope they're just mixing up terminology here. The entire point of a HAL is that you just plug in your drivers. If you have to modify the HAL because you're using different hardware than the reference device, you're doing it wrong.

  • by rtkluttz (244325) on Friday December 09, 2011 @03:50PM (#38318210) Homepage

    You actually aren't giving a good comparison. XDA takes a long time because of the all the PURPOSEFUL breakages and blocks that are put in by the manufacturers and the carriers.

    The manufacturers and carriers take a long time because they have some many artificial limiters and blocks and DRM that they all have to work together.

    Google and XDA timeframes are understandable. Google is doing the REAL development work to make an Operating System. XDA is doing the best they can with what they have to work with with DRM and spyware riddled garbage.

    The carriers and manufacturers spend their time screwing everything up on purpose.

  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Friday December 09, 2011 @04:03PM (#38318326) Homepage Journal

    I wish I had mod points right now to mod you up.

    People were asking for Windows XP in large quantities still, which is why Dell continued to sell it with their computers. You don't see people bemoaning the fact that the carriers and manufacturers are making plans to start rolling out upgrades and phones that lack Android 2.x on them, whereas you did see that in the PC market when Vista came out. Android 4 is seen as a legitimate upgrade to the Android line. Vista was seen as a downgrade by many, so they preferred to do without it.

    Comparing the two makes little sense.

    Whenever I talk to an Android user who hasn't been exposed to internet forums, there is probably a 95% chance they don't even know what version of the OS they are currently using, much less what version is somewhere in the ether waiting to get released for their phone. Articles are constantly appearing that bemoan the Android upgrade cycle, and while there are a lot of things about it that seem impractical (such as giving carriers, who know little about hardware OR software, so much say over what changes will be made) it always has the stink of a pissing match because a little version number buried somewhere deep in some settings menu has so little to do with what the phone actually does.

    If these articles were all about how Android 2.3 had glaring bug [X] or glaring missing feature [Y], and Android 3 or 4 or 9.8 was supposed to fix all that, then I would say "game on" and be right there lighting the fire under whoever is holding up the process. As it is, all we are doing is complaining about the weather because honestly if version numbering and release state were kept under wraps (like they are on monolithic platforms) then none of this would ever be discussed at all.

    If I were to (warning, a line is about to be crossed) write an article that said Apple's iOS 6 was "finished" and I had evidence to back it up, and I went on to complain that the release wouldn't happen until December 2012 because of some group's lengthy test process, or bureaucracy, or AT&T's insistence, or whatever, should that depress all the Apple users thinking that they were holding a phone in their hands that was running an "outdated" operating system?

  • by bartoku (922448) on Friday December 09, 2011 @04:30PM (#38318658)
    When will I be able to install whatever OS I want on my phone from a flash drive, in the same way I install the OS on my PC?

    Now I understand the carriers do not exactly want this and perhaps the manufacturers are not keen on the idea either, but someone stands to benefit from the model and force everyone to follow.

    So we have the politics to deal with in some ways, lets talk technical and economic first.

    If I can swap a SIM card or forge an ESN then I have a technical solution around the carriers, right?
    It seems CDMA may be a bitch, does anyone know if I can technically bring any CDMA phone with the right modem to the likes of Verizon and Sprint without their "help"?

    Now we just need a manufacturer willing to make some open hardware, there seems to be a few out there and the Nexus line of phones is not too bad.
    But the bootloader and then the driver issues seem like another pain I hear about.
    What is the issue there, and what are the solutions?

    PCs work with the fabulous x86 BIOS stuff? Just need a Windows or Linux driver then and you are good to go? Can that be possible with the ARM architecture, or is everything wild west and so custom outside of the standards that it will not work that way?

    Economics? It will never sell? Everyone expects a $200 on contract phone. These free, as in speech, phones cost to much and no knows they want them except geeks?
    Cell phones are a status symbol, they are jewelry?
    Oh well, maybe we can get enough of use geeks to buy them. Perhaps people will get fed up with the constant phone upgrading and everything will level out like the PC and notebook PC markets seem to have.

    What do these new OSes offer me anyway? Android Froyo sped up my applications with JIT and gave me tethering. After that Gingerbread and the like have just slowed down my Nexus One and offer no new features.
    Maybe I do not really need to ability to upgrade the OS on my phone, it is not worth it.
  • Re:tl;dr (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mlts (1038732) * on Friday December 09, 2011 @04:37PM (#38318722)

    Google needs to take the first step and have their subsidary, Motorola Mobility, lead by example. Even if it is something as simple as going onto a website, typing in your phone's IMEI, getting a response code, and then using that during the fastboot oem unlock procedure, it would show that Google/Motorola was open.

    Locked bootloaders do have a place -- they are good at keeping Joe Sixpack out of things he shouldn't be mucking with, so the tech support department can tell him to hard reset and go about his life. However, if someone is willing to go to a website, acknowledge that they are doing stuff that only they will be taking responsibility for, and has the tech ability to get adb working with a device, it is only fair for the phone maker to hand over the keys.

  • Re:tl;dr (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Baloroth (2370816) on Friday December 09, 2011 @04:41PM (#38318762)

    This is true. OEM's also have considerably more and (presumably) more knowledgeable people working on the problem. My point was, if hackers on the Internet can get it working, paid software engineers should be able to get it working well. Maybe my expectations are just too high though.

    Oh, and OEM ROMs often contain bugs that it should be unacceptable for an OEM to release... but still, fair point.

  • A kernel does not an operating system make.

    Yoda, is that you?

    Yoda would more likely say "Make an operating system, a kernel does not."

    There's a difference between Yoda-speak and German-speak. Yoda-speak is OSV (object subject verb; "a fine mess this is") or VOSv (verb, object, subject, helping verb; "help you I will"), in contrast with the SVO or SvVO order of English (and presumably of standard Galactic Basic). The "X does not Y make" pattern is SvOV, as commonly used in German and Dutch and occasionally in English until the early modern (17th century) period. It's an allusion to a Richard Lovelace poem [wikipedia.org].

    The Moar You Know ...:::*

    You know, your excellent and informative (if off-topic) post just made me really nostalgic for the days when such were common on slashdot.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming

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