Aug 14 AT 2:04 PM Taylor Wimberly 104 Comments

T-Mobile G1 owners: Don’t expect any future Android updates (Updated)

Update (8/14): I emailed T-Mobile PR and they responded with the email below.  It is nice to see them respond so quickly as this is an important topic to many customers.  They say the G1 will continue to get “updates”, but I stick with my original belief that the full version Eclair may not be possible.

T-Mobile’s statement:
We plan to continue working with Google to introduce future software updates to the T-Mobile G1. Reports to the contrary are inaccurate.Regards,

T-Mobile USA, Inc.
Public Relations

I suspect that the updates they refer to are going to be bug fixes and security patches.  What form these updates take is yet to be seen.  Maybe we will see periodic service packs that contain updates, but it is impossible for them to fit the future versions of these operating systems on the internal storage space of the G1.  The secondary program loader (SPL) determines the size of all the flash partitions on your G1.  The two main partitions are data (stores your apps) and system(stores the operating system).

Google knew the internal flash space of the G1 was going to be tight so it was a difficult challenge to balance the space.  The end result was a tight system partition and a data partition that lets you install about 40-50 apps.  Just as users quickly found their storage space fill up when installing new apps, the system partition filled up with all the new features in cupcake. Donut and Eclair are going to add a ton of code and it won’t fit in the system partition.  I have outlined the different possibilities below so I’m not going to restate them.

You can say I’m fear mongering, but I think it is important that everyone fully understands the physical limitations of the G1.  Of course you can hack your phone and load upsidedowncake, but the average T-Mobile customer is not willing to do that.

One of our readers got the following response from Android engineer, JBQ.  Keep in mind he doesn’t make the decisions on any updates, but who would better understand the situation.  Read the article over and keep the discussion going.  Question with boldness.

I'll let you be the judge on this one.

I'll let you be the judge on this one.

On a final note, those of you thinking Google is going to magically add the ability to install apps on your SD card are going to be disappointed.  The feature sets of Donut and Eclair are frozen and do not include installing apps2SD.  There are things higher on the priority list – like coding for new devices.  This is just the reality and it’s better if you accept it.

Update (8/19): I wrote another article “Don’t discount the G1 just yet“.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but someone has to say it.  If you currently own a T-Mobile G1, your days of Android updates are numbered.  In fact, cupcake might have been your last treat.  Users should not expect to receive the Donut update in its full form.

I know what you are thinking, T-Mobile said they would release four updates to Android each year.

Yes, it is true that T-Mobile plans to keep pushing out Android updates, but they have not specified which devices.  The G1′s days are numbered because of its limited internal space.  I recently asked the question “Are early adopters of the T-Mobile G1 getting the shaft?” and tried to explain the situation, but most people thought I was complaining about the 2YR contract.  I mentioned the 2YR contract because I didn’t think the G1 would continue to get updates during that time period.

Will the G1 get the Donut update?

Let us look at what some of the Android engineers are saying about Donut coming to the G1.  Please remember that these guys do not make the actual decisions about carrier updates, so don’t take your anger out on them.

“I don’t think that anybody… can precisely answer your question at the moment. Size remains a constant concern, not just for the G1 but also for other devices.” Jean-Baptiste Queru, Android Software Engineer

“I don’t believe that has been decided yet, and ultimately it will be a decision made in conjunction with the carrier. It is even possible that some carriers may want the update and others won’t.  There will come a time in the near future when we won’t be able to fit the latest release on the G1 internal flash.” Dave Sparks, Android Software Engineer

Based on all the information I have, I’m just going to assume no more updates for the G1 till I hear something different. You would be wise to start thinking the same thing to avoid being disappointed.

Why could the G1 stop getting official Android updates?

The limited storage space of the G1 is the single reason its days are numbered.  It is a bit of a no-win situation.  No one will admit it, but the small storage space could have been the reason Cupcake was slow in coming.

“Where the situation is really tricky is that the system partition on the US G1 was already filled to the brim with cupcake, and we were routinely flirting with build sizes that were a few dozen kB under the limit (or several MB over…), which means that even small changes to the core platform could very easily push the system size over the limit and staying under the limit took some effort”. Jean-Baptiste Queru, Android Software Engineer

We know future updates are in the pipeline, so what are the possible scenarios for G1 owners?

  1. Google could stop upgrading “small” devices altogether.
  2. Google could restrict the entire platform to features that will fit on the smallest devices.
  3. Google could maintain different feature sets for different devices, such that the smallest devices could receive updates to the core platform but no new major features.
  4. Google could remove functionality that worked in a previous release to free up more space

None of these choices are a great option. Number 1 penalizes the early adopters.  Number 2 penalizes the entire ecosystem by making the latest phones less competitive, by supporting the lowest common denominator.  Number 3 penalizes the early adopters less than 1 but adds quite some engineering cost to maintain the different versions.  Number 4 would piss people off and I don’t think it is a viable option.

The most likely scenario is number 1 – Google will stop upgrading “small” devices.

“At some point this is a no-win situation, something has to give.  Looking at the speed at which the system grew from 1.0 to 1.5 in about 6 months (and at the effort that already had to go into making 1.5 fit on a G1), we’ve got to realistically anticipate that a G1 sold today with a 2-year contract might not be able to run the latest and greatest version of Android 2 years down the road.” Jean-Baptiste Queru, Android Software Engineer

Whos fault is it?

Who should take the blame for this problem?  Google?  T-Mobile?  HTC?  All companies collaborated together, so I guess we can point the finger at everyone.  Google should have communicated to HTC they needed more storage space for their first Android phone.  It is really hard to understand this oversight.  You would think these companies would do some due diligence and ask the question, “Can we support this device for the full contract length, 2 years?”

Feel free to direct your anger at any of these companies, but do not place blame on the Android engineers.  They are the low men on the totem pole and have no control over carrier decisions or product launches.  If anything, we should thank them for being open about the topic and willing to discuss it.

What are my options?

  1. Be happy with the phone you purchased and stop anticipating future updates
  2. Purchase a shiny new phone loaded with Android 2.0
  3. Hack your phone and load a custom build of Android (I suggest cyanogen roms)
  4. Lobby T-Mobile for a trade-in program

Eventually, T-Mobile is going to be forced to comment on this issue.  The reality is not pretty, but it must be addressed.  We know the G1 is getting close to end of life, but they are still selling the device with 2 year contracts.  What will happen to the million G1 owners?  I honestly don’t know.

Don't get your hopes up for Donut or Eclair.

Don't get your hopes up for Donut or Eclair.

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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