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Google must save Android from oblivion Featured

HTC has announced that the One S, its 2012 flagship Android smartphone, will not receive any more Android software updates.

HTC is probably the best, most technically adept Android smartphone designer and maker. Its Sense user interface (UI) is one of the better Android interfaces and, along with its metal casing and sleek design, makes this a premium phone.

HTC are not the only makers abandoning their update responsibilities. It serves no purpose to name more offenders at this time but it appears the majority have quietly abandoned any more than one future Android update.


Android is suffering from massive fragmentation. At end of January 2013, 39.3% of handsets were using Android 4.x with 61.7% stuck back in 2.x. This is causing massive headaches for app developers who do not want to develop legacy versions of apps.

Taking the fragmentation further there are over 4,443 unique Android devices to cater for. A developer commented that TouchWiz (Samsung), Sense (HTC), Emotion (Huawei), UI (LG) and Xperia (Sony) were all offenders. “These are not simple apps that change the look and feel but are deeply embedded into the Android kernel and more often linked to proprietary features like capacitive touch buttons, camera and sensor interfaces, and power management,” said a local developer. “We are frustrated that there is no such thing as pure Android anymore except on Google Nexus devices which comprise an almost infinitesimally small segment of the market,” he added.

Compared to Apple iOS where 93% of users are on the current 6.X version and the remainder on 5.X and Windows Phone ecosystem with only the legacy of 7.x and current 8.X to support Android is an absolute mess. Nokia has said that it will not contribute to any circumstances where it, not Microsoft, would have to issue operating system updates. “We will ensure that Nokia premium features will always work as apps” Steven Elop, CEO of Nokia said.

Google’s response has been to change the Terms of Service to include the following clause

“3.4 You agree that you will not take any actions that may cause or result in the fragmentation of Android, including but not limited to distributing, participating in the creation of, or promoting in any way a software development kit derived from the SDK.”

Android’s open-source contributed to its success, with various manufacturers like Amazon forking the Android SDK to build a customized version of the platform that runs on Kindle. Google is looking to curtail further fragmentation by warranting that all manufacturers use the same SDK, and in doing so, can ultimately ensure that all devices running Android can get the latest iteration fast, and one which is unified.

Google waved a big stick at Samsung and HTC insisting that their flagship S4 and One respectively were available via Google Play running plain Jelly Bean. Both have complied but, as of a few days ago, the prognosis was not good – the phones lose too many of their features to compete (See iTWire article here).

The reality is that Google is all talk and fragmentation is still happening. Google needs to have the guts to withdraw the Android license from any manufacturer that cannot confine its Android modifications to user installable apps.

Back to HTC’s abominable decision not to support its 2012 flagship users with updates. It argues that the handset is not compromised, it will do everything promised at the time, and that a US$500 product does not warrant further development – sell and forget. Do not forget that HTC’s implicit policy at the time was that all phones would receive updates for at least 18 months. Now that has changed across the board for all 2012 and prior phones – no more updates. We cannot confirm if this will apply to 2013 models.

Ironically HTC has always had an underground movement at XDA developers and there are forums about how to successfully root Android to load 4.2.2 onto the HTC One S – apparently it is not difficult to do.

There is also a petition - so far, more than 5,000 One S owners have voiced their displeasure to HTC .

Opinion

As a business person I can perhaps understand the logic in limiting ongoing updates in an open source environment. But to deny premium users access to the significant changes between Android 4.1 and 4.2 if only in security and say power management areas just stinks.

Clearly, HTC do not believe there is any loyalty in the Android cesspool and customer satisfaction is not a priority. HTC used to have close to a 90% loyalty factor but now it is around 65% and dropping fast. By comparison Samsung have grown to over 80% of users being prepared to buy from it again.

Google needs to take back control of Android before it drops the ball. It has proven that Nexus devices (plain Android) work and owners do not have to worry about future updates at least until hardware changes overtake Android 4.X.

With Telco’s looking to lock users into 24 and now 36-month contracts the minimum software update period needs to be just that.

Interestingly it’s all about who really owns the customer relationship now – Android (Google and Google Play) or the handset maker and its own app store.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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