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Mobility

The Android upgrade conundrum: Who's at fault

Jack Wallen addresses how Lollipop perfectly illustrates how the Android upgrade process is broken.

Android upgrade

Android Lollipop was released to general availability in October 2014. At this point, less than 2% of Android devices are running the latest iteration of the most widely used platform on the planet. I currently have six different Android devices, none of which are running Lollipop. I check each of them everyday for an update, and not one of them has shown signs of a fresh, candy-flavored Android.

Google has found themselves in a bit of a situation. The demand for Lollipop is high — people want it (some badly). In fact, many users are opting out of their current contracts in order to purchase newer devices just to get their hands on the upgrade.

Now, before the conspiracy theorists rise up and cry foul, the lack of Lollipop isn't Google's attempt at getting users to purchase new devices. If that were the case, this would have been happening with every new and shiny release of the platform.

We all know what the hold up is (as we do with every release). The difference this time is that, because Lollipop is the single biggest leap forward for the platform, the soak tests (and the addition of bloatware) each manufacturer must perform are taking far more time than expected. That is understandable. Each device and carrier wants to make sure the user experience is as good as it can possibly be.

Understandable... but is it acceptable?

I say, "No."

The current process of releasing Android updates needs to be revisited. Announcing a new release and then withholding said release from the majority of devices on the market seems (to me) a bit short sighted. The current release process looks something like this:

  1. Tease the public with the new features/design
  2. Release the design on special, members-only devices
  3. Release bug fixes to those select few devices until they run smoothly
  4. Release the code to manufacturers and carriers for soak testing
  5. Carriers add bloatware
  6. Once soak testing has succeeded (to manufacturers/carriers specifications), begin releasing to certified "soak test approved" devices

That is a simplified version of the steps, but you get the idea.

Before I dive into an alternate reality for the release process, know this — I fully understand the complexity of releasing Android. This isn't iOS, where you have a minimum of devices to cover. This is Android, where a multitude of devices must be considered. But with the current process, so many issues can be introduced. Android releases the code to the OEMs/carriers, and they must tweak the platform to fit their needs (sometimes in the form of adding bloatware). This puts the power in the hands of those that shouldn't wield such control over the platform.

With that said, here's how I think the Android release process should go:

  1. Google develops new iteration of Android
  2. Google releases development specs to OEMs/carriers and a certification test for hardware
  3. Carriers run certification test against their available hardware
  4. Upon passing the certification test, OEMs/carriers inform Google
  5. Google releases code for certified hardware and announces certification
  6. OTA update is released

Again, it's simplified, but it should be clear that this process puts the power back in the hands of Google and could easily make for a much more efficient release process that prevents bottlenecks from occurring in the hands of the OEMs and carriers. Announcements could come from Google itself, such as:

Verizon Wireless Droid Turbo certified for Lollipop.

Once the announcement is made, it falls into the owness of the carriers to get the update over the air. This eliminates the guessing game for the consumers. Once their device is certified for the release, it should be released shortly thereafter.

In an ideal world... I know.

What this ultimately addresses is the fact that the current state of releasing Android is somewhat broken. The idea that 1.6% of Android devices are running what has been called the most progressive and important iteration of the platform to date should pin a spotlight on the fact that the release process is flawed and the problem lies not in the hands of Google, but in those responsible for the hardware and networks that make use of the Android platform.

There is absolutely no reason why it should take this long for an update to make its way to devices. Google released Lollipop in November 2014. It is now mid-March 2015, and an overwhelming majority of devices have not seen the slightest hint of Lollipop's arrival (outside of media outlet speculation).

The release of a platform upgrade should not be this difficult. The only major challenge should be the certification of hardware — and even that should be fairly black and white. A device is either suited for the release or not. But if carriers and OEMs retain all the power (as they currently do), this process will continue to be a nightmare and the majority of users won't be getting Lollipop until Android 6.0 is on the horizon.

When you purchase a flagship device and your platform is a major release behind, that reflects on everyone involved with the process. Google needs to take control of this and retool the Android upgrade process.

What do you think? Who is currently responsible for the bottleneck, and who should be responsible — or do you believe the process is fine as is? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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