Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was shocked about the news that Sprint will not initially support over the air system updates for Android. Many of our readers questioned the report and some people are assuming I don’t have my facts straight.
Since writing the initial report, I had the chance to speak with several more sources (including people from HTC, Samsung, and Sprint) and obtained new information on this interesting problem.
Q: How can you claim Sprint will ship Android 1.5 when Android 1.6 is the build that added CDMA support?
A: Both HTC and Samsung created custom builds of Android 1.5 and added CDMA support on their own. This is no different from how Cyanogen was able to take bits of Android 1.6 and port them to some of his earlier roms. If you watch our hands on video with the Samsung Moment, you can clearly see Android 1.5 is installed and it was working with CDMA.
Someone from Samsung told me they wanted to ship with Android 1.6, but Google released the final code much later than they were expecting it.
Q: Why is Sprint not supporting OTA updates? T-Mobile has been doing it with Android for months.
A: Everyone I spoke with mentioned the file size of updates as the limiting factor. Sprint’s OTA system is only designed to handle update files up to 10 MB and many of the Android udpates are 40-50 MB.
I know this sounds crazy, but I’m just reporting what I was told. A Sprint developer explained this issue as a legal matter. He said that the OTA system Sprint is using will render a phone inoperable while it is being updated. They currently have this 10 MB cap because they don’t want the customers phone to be unusable for any longer.
Q: Will Sprint customers really have to wait till 2010 to receive Android 1.6?
A: A Samsung executive told me not to expect Android 1.6 until 2010. I questioned a Sprint dev on the timetable and he would not deny it. He explained that T-Mobile was able to release Android 1.6 already because they have more experience with Android and had more time to test the latest release.
Q: How does Sprint expect the non-tech people to update their phone?
When I asked how Sprint expects people to update their phones without over the air updates, I was given two scenarios. Customers could download an update file to the PC and apply it by hooking up their phone via USB. Non-tech people could visit a Sprint store and have a Sprint employee perform the udpate.
Neither option sounds that great to me. If the updates are not automatically sent out, I picture more than half of Sprint’s customers never updating their phone.
Conclusion: So what now?
I would love to be wrong on this OTA problem, but everyone I spoke with provided the same information. I understand that Google was late releasing Android 1.6, but Sprint needs to find a way to quickly roll out this update. Android 1.5 is lacking many of the new APIs that are included with Android 1.6 which means it will not support many of the new applications that are coming out.
At the end of the day, system updates are controlled by the carrier and not the handset makers. If you want to express your concern over this issue, please direct it at Sprint and not HTC or Samsung.
Hopefully Sprint will recognize the importance of Android 1.6 and come up with a solution to provide it before 2010.