Android is on a roll. It is the fastest growing smartphone operating system with more than 700,000 Android devices being activated daily and there are hundreds of smartphones consumers can buy for less than Rs 5,000. This year has been a dream run (or gangbusters as Google CEO, Larry Page would say) for Google and its partners. Samsung became the biggest smartphone vendor riding on the popularity of its Galaxy range of Android smartphones and Symbian, for the first time, is not the most popular smartphone platform in India. The iPhone might be the largest selling smartphone globally, Android as a platform is far ahead of the pack. Yet, there is a big piece in the puzzle that Google has to solve in 2012 – fragmentation. Read on. Also Read - BlackBerry to soon roll out Messenger on Android Gingerbread
Google works on Android like any other online project with frequent updates – roughly two major updates a year. Unfortunately, Google does not “own the entire widget” and it is up to its hardware partners when (and if) they want to update their older devices to the latest version of Android. Google has certainly thought about this and announced an alliance of hardware vendors and carriers to tackle this issue. The main motive of this alliance was to ensure that if the hardware permits, every vendor will update its smartphones to the latest version of Android for 18 months after its launch. A few things that the alliance did not take into consideration is how soon the updates will be made available and the problem with customized UI that most vendors go for to “differentiate” their smartphones from their competitors.
Samsung played the ‘hardware not supported’ card when it announced last week the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab won’t be updated to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS). But reading the fine print reveals that the hardware can indeed support ICS but it cannot support Samsung’s proprietary TouchWiz UI running atop ICS. HTC rarely gives out a timeline for future software updates of older Android smartphones and just informs users whether or not their phone will be updated to the latest version. One can only imagine how frustrating it would feel to have spent over Rs 20,000 only to be left clueless while the company belts out new phones with the latest version barely six months after the earlier phone.
Handset vendors also do not help their case when they launch a new smartphone with an older version of Android. They usually mention that the device is “upgradeable to” XYZ version of Android and leave it there – they do not mention when and if the update will really come. After all, they do not have any monetary incentive to update phones that have already been sold and have reached their end of life on market shelves. They would rather spend those resources to develop new products and ensure users change their phones more frequently.
Things will only get worse with more smartphones running Android ICS next year. Of course, not every Android smartphone that is launched next year will run ICS, especially those in the lower price range. This means that Android Gingerbread will still remain relevant, at least for handset vendors and users, but Google has been very quiet on whether it has any development plans for Gingerbread or not. And that is really the question most Android users and developers will be asking Google next year.