Quick, grab all of your devices and check what release of Android they are using. Are they all the same? If so, consider yourself one in a million. The Android platform is plagued with numerous releases on numerous devices — even the same devices from different carriers can suffer from different iterations of Android!
Because of what I do, I have numerous Android devices. The different releases are:
All of the above are on devices ranging from a Samsung Galaxy Tab to an HTC One Max (and just about everything in between). As I work with one of the various devices, I have to bounce back and forth to remember where something is located on a certain release. Although this isn't a deal breaker for me, imagine having to support hundreds of devices, all with varying releases. Now, we're talking about the breaking of deals.
But this issue goes deeper than that. It's common knowledge that certain providers and certain device manufacturers are quicker to update than others. Motorola, for one, has always been at the top of the heap for updates. My Moto X always has the latest version of Android (almost immediately upon release). Samsung devices? Not so much. And if you're with AT&T — good luck.
At one point, Google created the Android Update Alliance. That failed, but not because of Google. The blame here lies at the feet of the carriers and hardware manufacturers, including:
This update issue isn't only widespread, it's also very counter to rolling out new devices. How can Samsung (or any manufacturer) or AT&T (or any carrier) sell a device with an out of date OS? And with KitKat showing off how much more efficient it is at memory management, it's become imperative that Android devices are released with the latest version.
I know this is a challenge for all involved. The second you release a piece of hardware, it could quickly become out of date. And each manufacturer has a different spin on the UI:
- Motorola Motoblur
- HTC Sense
- Samsung Touchwiz
When a new release of Android hits, each company has to integrate the underlying platform with its UI, so there's another slowdown.
Here's my beef with this — I can go to the Google Play Store and install any number of home screen launchers, nearly all of which play well with whatever version of Android I'm using (with a rare exception). In some cases, these home screen launchers are developed by a single person who must constantly keep up with changes made to the kernel and various stacks that make up the Android platform. And they do it with aplomb and efficiency.
So, how is it that a single developer can manage this, yet a large company cannot? It truly baffles the mind.
Well, I've come up with some ideas that might help this along. Some of them are unlikely, and some of them just might actually work. Let's take a look:
- All hardware manufacturers drop their in-house home screen launchers and go with vanilla Android (they can offer their versions on the Google Play Store).
- Google develops a set of standards for all hardware manufacturers to use for developing their home screen.
- Set up an OS upgrade check during the first run wizard? Out of date? Update.
- Carriers stop selling out-of-date Android devices that won't run any version of Android other than the most recent two major releases.
I know it's a lose-lose scenario. The carriers, the manufacturers, and Google are not going to see eye-to-eye on this issue. But they need to lose their egos and stranglehold on their devices and come to some sort of unified structure that allows Android updates to roll out in a universal fashion. Having carriers selling devices with out-of-date operating systems does no favors to Android. And users not getting the best possible experience, because a carrier or a manufacturer can't seem to get the upgrade process refined, does nothing but frustrate users.
KitKat is a substantial improvement over an already solid release. Every Android user should be enjoying the speed and features brought about by the latest iteration of the platform. Every entity involved needs to step up and make this happen... soon!
What do you think? Are you one of those suffering from an out of date release of Android? What do you think needs to be done to resolve this problem? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
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 jackwallen.com.