Smartphones

Google finally moves to standardize Android updates

Spotty OS updates have been one of Android's sore spots. Google wants to fix it with a new Android consortium. Get the details and the latest updates on the Android ecosystem from Google I/O 2011.

If you've been waiting for months on an OS update to your Android device, you may soon get some relief thanks to a new Android consortium that Google announced on Tuesday at its Google I/O 2011 event in San Francisco.

One of the worst parts about being in the Android ecosystem is the lag in OS updates. As I wrote in my piece The dirty little secret about Google Android, the Android platform is largely controlled and dominated by the smartphone manufacturers and wireless carriers -- and not Google. And, those powers-that-be -- particularly the wireless carriers -- have shown little interest in pushing out Android software updates on a timely basis. Why should they? From their perspective, once they sell the phone, it's time to start collecting revenue from the customer and any additional resources they spend on a device cuts into their profit. That's why only 4% of Android devices have the latest version of Android, Gingerbread, which was released five months ago.

Google is finally doing something to fix the situation. As part of a flurry of Android announcements during the opening keynote of Google I/O, the company announced that it has established a new consortium of Android partners who will be collaborating on setting standards for deploying Android updates. The initial members of the consortium include all four of the big US wireless carriers (Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Spint) as well as all of the leading Android device manufacturers -- HTC, Motorola, Samsung, LG, and Sony Ericsson. Google has also opened the door for other partners (and future Android partners) to participate as well.

Here's what Google said in its official post about the news:

"The Android ecosystem has been moving really fast over the last two and a half years and rapid iteration on new and highly-requested features has been a driving force behind Android's success. But of course that innovation only matters if it reaches consumers. So today we're announcing that a founding team of industry leaders, including many from the Open Handset Alliance, are working together to adopt guidelines for how quickly devices are updated after a new platform release, and also for how long they will continue to be updated. The founding partners are Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Motorola and AT&T, and we welcome others to join us. To start, we're jointly announcing that new devices from participating partners will receive the latest Android platform upgrades for 18 months after the device is first released, as long as the hardware allows... and that's just the beginning."

So, the only official news from the new Android consortium is that they've agree that all new devices from consortium members will receive Android updates for 18 months from the time the device is released (unless the hardware can no longer handle the latest Android software). That sounds great, except that some devices are on the market for as long as a year, so by the time a consumer buys a device it may only have six months of updates left.

When Andy Rubin, Google's Android chief, was asked when consumers would start to see a more unified Android update schedule, he said that he didn't "have the answers right now." He stressed that getting all of the Android partners gathered around the same table was simply the first step.

Latest Android statistics

During the Google I/O opening keynote, the company also gave a variety of updates on the state of the Android ecosystem:

  • Google has activated over 100 million Android devices across the globe
  • There are now 310 Android devices in 112 countries
  • Google is activating 400,000 Android devices per day
  • The Android Market now has over 200,000 apps
  • Over 4.5 billion app installs have been made on Android devices

Android news and updates

Google also made a variety of new announcements about Android:

  • Announced Google Music Beta, a cloud-based service that will let you upload all of your existing music and playlists and sync wirelessly to your devices; it's an invitation-only beta at first but will be expanded soon; the Android app is available today for those who get into the beta
  • Google is launching movie rentals in the Android Market starting at $1.99; it is a cloud service but it will let you "pin" (download) movies to your device for offline viewing such as on an airplane; movie rentals will arrive with the Android 3.1 update
  • Android Honeycomb 3.1 will begin launching today on Motorola Xoom devices in the US and includes lots of fixes and improvements
  • Android 3.1 turns an Android tablet into a USB host so that you can connect cameras and other accessories to it
  • Android 3.1 will be coming to Google TV this summer in a major update and will also bring the Android Market to Google TV as well
  • The next version of Android is codenamed "Ice Cream Sandwich" and Google said, "This will be our most ambitious Android release to date."
  • In Ice Cream Sandwich, the new holographic UI uses facial recognition to move elements on screen based on direction you turn your head
  • Announced Android "Open Accesories" API which enable different types of machines to interface with Android and share data with apps; the example used was an exercise bike
  • Announced "Android at Home" as a home automation hub using an Android box codenamed "Tungsten" that you plug into your existing appliances and lights

Also read

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

8 comments
l_creech
l_creech

Do exactly as Apple does if they so choose. Apple doesn't stop updating iPhones after 18 months, and Microsoft doesn't stop supporting any of their products at 18 months. With this news and the fact that it took months longer than it should of to update my Epic to Froyo I will likely be switching back to a Windows Phone or to a Blackberry as soon as my current contract is up.

markinfairfax
markinfairfax

What a joke. Facial recognition? How about a native IPSec VPN client that works with Cisco equipment? Apple has had it for years and those of using this so called open platform are still waiting. Google why don't you finish what you started before added gee-whiz, I don't give a crap features...

smccullor
smccullor

I tend to be an early adopter. Bought a Dell Streak 5 the night I saw it. The first update (from 2.0 to 2.2) crashed the phone. Fortunately Dells tech support is better than their OS development team and I was able to make it functional again although I had to reinstall most of the apps. Last week they released 2.2.2 and wouldn't you know it crashed again but this time it was unrecoverable. The replacement arrived today. You can bet I will NEVER UPDATE THE OS AGAIN. New toys and gizmo's are fun when they work but I'll take reliability and stability over cutting edge any and everyday.

tripplec
tripplec

I have repeatedly called both Samsung and my carrier, Telus. They both plead ignorance and say they nothing of any newer version available. They both say to contact Android (android.com) for the info and availability. Its been a joke getting updated for far far to long. I also have an LG Shine Plus still on 2.1. There are several subreleases of 2.2 listed but we don't get them either. Bugs and security updates/patches are not available to the android community. Apple released their 4.3.3 within weeks of the uproar of location tracking in the Iphone. I though wow, it takes us years to see an update pushed to the android be they can get several updates and when necessary in a blink of an eye. We all need this standardized and out of the hands of the carriers and OEM Since both Samsung Galaxy S series and LG Shine are extremely poorly supported by the OEM's. I have been on the virge of tossing my phone and looking into an IPhne for that very reason. No updates and no support.

kcharney
kcharney

Being on the same page is so important for the platform. With all the releases out the it makes more work for the developers as well. Plus I am hoping that my we can finally get an update to our droid 2. My wife's recently got struck by the issue where the in-call volume is almost nothing. Blue tooth works good and all sounds on the phone apart from in-call are good. I read about the update over a month ago but still nothing unless I root my phone... Anyway - I am all for it - good job.

cbader
cbader

I used to love hearing about new Android releases, new features that were being added or upgraded etc etc. But I realized that I could care less about Ice Cream Sandwich because it will probably be at least a year after its release before you start seeing devices with it installed. If Android is going to maintain its momentum Google has to figure this out and quick otherwise people wont care about the new releases anymore and when that happens they will stop caring about Android in general.

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

But also contract duration is a factor here. If you get a phone that's 12 "model months" old, not only do you have just 6 months left on the support calendar, you're stcuk with an unsupported device for the last 18 months of your contract. including the last 6 months of the device's warranty. Whatever else Apple and Microsoft (or Microsoft and Apple) do or don't do, neither one stops support products while they're still under warranty!

Editor's Picks