Jul 06 AT 8:48 PM Taylor Wimberly 46 Comments

HTC explains why Android updates are slow [Custom UIs]

Google released the source code for Android 2.2 last month and Nexus One owners have already been treated to the latest firmware via an over the air update. Outside of Google’s official Android phone, other customers could be waiting months.

The problem (or is it a feature?) with other Android phones is the multiple layers of complexities placed between the customer’s device and Google. With a phone like the Nexus One, Google initiates the update and sends it directly to customers’ devices. On all other Android phones, Google releases the source code then the handset maker ports their custom UI to the latest firmware and finally the carrier tacks on their own applications and tweaks.

Recent transitions from Android 1.5 and 1.6 to Android 2.1 have shown us that most customers can expect to wait around 6 months while the updates are prepared. In fact many Android users (~45%) have yet to receive an upgrade to Android 2.x and some never will.

HTC recently said that most of their Android phones released this year would see Android 2.2 in the second half of 2010 and new comments suggest we should see updates released before Christmas.

Pocket-lint got to spend some time with a HTC representative at the Qualcomm Uplinq convention and they shed some light on the situation.

“It takes time to port all of our applications over to Froyo and then make sure that it is running well on each of our devices. That’s not like a one week kind of project. We need to make sure that our applications are taking advantage of the Froyo features. To make sure that they’re all running properly on the OS now that it’s a new version. And then to make sure that it’s running on our hardware as well as we expect”.Eric LinHTC PR

As you can see, it takes a lot of time for handset manufacturers to port all their code over and make sure it works with Google’s latest Android release. Google team members have hinted that the next major version of Android, codenamed Gingerbread, could address custom skins and make the update process easier but no time frame has been set for its release.

When the HTC rep was asked about Gingerbread, he said he didn’t know much about Google’s plans and guessed we might not see it released till Q1 2011.

In the end, the slow Android update cycle might not matter for most consumers. About 95 percent of Android users are unaware their phones can be updated and the other 5 percent will just hack their device and load an open source Android 2.2 firmware like CyanogenMod.

The only way to guarantee your Android phone will have the latest version of Android is to buy a Nexus One from Google, but it looks like the future of that product is in jeopardy. It appears carriers favor the custom UIs over stock Android, so don’t expect speedy firmware updates anytime soon.

Source: Pocket-lint

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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  • jakmayhopher

    Bull crap!!! Im a myTouch owner and Tmo is pissing me off! They told us that we would get a 2.2 update soon! I’ve been a customer for a long time, and this is really pissing me off! Frak custom UI’s!!! FRAK Tmo!

    • http://blog.tenkely.net tenkely

      I heard a while back the 2.1/2.2 update for MT3G owners would add Sense… That would suck, but would explain the delay. I bought a My Touch because it did NOT have Sense.

      • http://Website Jack

        I would be absolutely fine with sense on my Mytouch, which I bought without knowing what sense was. I like sense, and if you don’t, you can easily turn it off and not ever use it. That being said, 2.1 has been out since January, and if we really wait until December for our update, that’s over a year since the last one. That blows.

    • http://Website jdistance

      Hey Zeus, God of Thunder chill out with all that thunder and lightning.

      They said “coming soon” one month ago. If it was with in a 2 month time frame, they would have given a date. In fact I’m pretty sure no one has set a date… you know, because they are still testing it. Only 1.8% of Android users have 2.2, so you are not the only person waiting and wanting.

  • http://www.mazimi.com mazimi

    “About 95 percent of Android users are unaware their phones can be updated”, source?

    • http://Website derek

      I agree, this statistic seems kind of contrived. I believe the number of people that know their phones can be upgraded but are still waiting patiently is greater than the 0 percentage suggested by the article.

      • http://www.mazimi.com mazimi

        I enjoy reading the posts on this site and retweet a good number of their articles including this one but I would really like to see sources for claims like that, otherwise they should be left out / make it clear you are exaggerating.

    • shmengie

      +1,000,000. i think as android users, we are MORE aware of the tech. maybe taylor got those numbers reversed…?

  • http://Website JamieB

    Go Nexus! Been on 2.2 for some while now :o)

  • http://Website Mark Loj

    …Simple solution here HTC. Get rid of the Sense UI and allow your customers to use plain vanilla 2.2.

    • http://blog.tenkely.net tenkely
    • http://alanmcgarrity.info Alan McGarrity

      I’ve got a Desire, and whilst I bought it due to sense, I no longer use it! I’m using LuncherPro, Beautiful widgets and extended controls, All that = one beautiful piece of kit, Of course if I wish I can still use Sense, But its nice to change it up a little…

    • http://Website Greg

      Sense is cool for the first few days. Then you discover launcher pro or adw and you could care less about sense. They just need to make their widgets available at least to HTC buyers, because the widgets are the only cool thing about sense. ADW is my choice.

  • http://blog.tenkely.net tenkely

    Vanilla Android is the way to go.

  • http://Website Adam

    Hopefully gingerbread will put an end to this. Would be great if manufactures just ran stock Android 3.0 on their phones with some custom apps and maybe a custom home launcher.

  • http://Website JAG

    I knew it all the time!!!!

    Just like other companies, MOTOBLUR, UX, TOUCHWIZ, etc.

    (Get rid of the f*ckin CUSTOM UIs)

    I like nexus one interface, so every phone can be like that.

    • http://Website HolySmokesBatty

      I don’t see why they don’t just make the custom UIs Market downloads. That way, you get away from the update delays, and then you could just update the UI at will, bugfixes and the like. It would be a much better strategy and would increase the frequency of OS updates on all devices, as well as updates to the UI itself.

  • http://Website DgDeBx

    Taylor, where do you get your statistics?

  • http://www.frieswiththat.com.au Steve

    Does anyone else think this is not good enough? What happens as more and more phones get produced by more and more companies? Isn’t this a huge amount of overhead for each carrier to be taking on – updating and testing the integration of their UI-of-choice and taking half a freaking year to then release it to the public (meanwhile a new vanilla version of Android is released by Google and the whole process begins again)?

    What happens if the vanilla updates become more frequent? Does the carrier (seeing that their modded version will be out of date by the time it is released) skip Android versions and take even longer to release updates?

    This is lame. From the start designs should have accommodated for the core OS to be separate from the UI as much as possible, but with the ability to update the UI or OS at any time without affecting the other. New OS releases could then make older UI ‘hooks’ available in a backward compatible manner and then the carrier could update the UI as it pleases them… over the air even.

    Ok now I’m just babbling, apologies, just pissed. I’m a G1 owner and did expect to be left behind, but not as early as my carrier in Australia had decided. Great OS/phones, but the level of our reliance on our carriers for OS updates is bloody ridiculous.

    • http://Website Daniel

      “What happens if the vanilla updates become more frequent?”

      At Google I/O, Google said (in the keynote on day 2, I believe) that updates would become less frequent as the platform matures. I think they gave once a year as the future update frequency (but they also said Gingerbread would be coming this year).

  • http://Website dre

    Anyone that has followed android knows this is nothing new. Your best best us to stick with vanilla android……….or wait 6 months!! Nexus One wins again!!! :-)

    • http://Website Me

      Dont forget the DROID, sure MOTO and Verizon might be a tad bit slower, but sometimes first isnt always the best….

  • http://Website Ben

    We should get the option of plain old vanilla android! Go ahead and hold back the O.S. updates for those interested in the htc and carrier apps, but give them the option of a quick plain android phone also. It would be interesting to see real data on how many users would opt for plain android instead of the htc/carrier version. Providing this option would make all customers happy. The guys wanting the quick update could get it right away and the people that need Sense could get it when it is ready. Maybe they could even charge extra money for their apps.

  • http://Website Austin

    HTC Sense, Moto Blur, etc should just invest in making home replacements that cost 20 bucks. Android should in return allow more access for deeper customization and things like that.

    I was thinking about getting the MTS but I don’t wanna wait half a year for the next release of Android to be ported.

  • http://Website Graham

    Here in Canada, those of us on Rogers are still waiting for the HTC Magic to be upgraded from 1.5 :(

    • http://Website TonyJ

      1.5?
      Dude, root your phone already! Cyanogen is almost ready to release a version of FroYo

  • http://Website Eric

    I must say it’s pretty comforting having a N1 and Android in it’s purist form. You would think that “each” of the BIG guys could produce just one pure Android phone. I have had Sense on a HD2 and an EVO and the crap that Moto and Samsung lay on top of their phones. I really do like Sense, but there is so much out there in the Market and elsewhere for customizing that I find myself going back to my N1 time and time again.

    N1 = Ideal size, wonderful screen, its most underated feature: noise cancellation, rubberized coating, track ball and best of all – it will always be the first phone to get the latest and greatest version of Android. If it was on Verizon with Sprints price plans and TMobiles customer service, it would be the perfect phone.

  • http://Website AdamZ

    Well… as usual – the most used Android device was left out of your article. (21% market share of all Android phones the last time I checked.)

    One word… Droid.

    No, we don’t get updates nearly as quick as the Nexus One – obviously since that’s the device Google currently uses more than any other to test and debug. However, we don’t have to wait for obtrusive overlays and skins. This always puts us Droid owners second in line for updates. In fact, FRF57 – a test release – was leaked quite a while ago; and another test version FRF75 right after. Then, shortly after that, FRF84B was leaked – the Verizon release. It is, currently, available to rooted users only so that the identifying marks that would reveal who leaked it could be removed.

    This does at least prove that updating the Droid is a much easier process than any of the other devices running a custom overlay. In fact, all that is required is setting up the firmware/vendor setup and radio. For Motorola, it shouldn’t be a very involved process at all. In fact, shame on them for taking as long as they do. Android 2.2 for the Droid should be released on July 13th, and could have been much sooner.

    And, it should be noted that it probably takes HTC so long for some phones since they release so many different variations. They would need multiple teams working on multiple phones – I’m sure they choose the “hottest” phones to work on first. Work on he ones that are still selling and can earn you money… then work on their older (?) phones. Problem is… when you make so many phones on so many networks – your chances of being left in the cold with updates is quite large. HTC, unfortunately, will have to place more and more phones on the backburner for updates – or hire a ridiculous number of programmers to work on phones that don’t sell as much anymore.

    Which one do you think they’re going to do?

    - AdamZ

  • http://www.myspace.com/hermyhalloween hermyhalloween

    Do consumers really want custom, invasive UI’s? Do consumers need them?

    Perhaps the majority, as you suggest (and is obvious), don’t even know it’s a skin or that they are missing updates. If this is true then would customers really miss it if manufacturers switched to stock OS, or new customers even know?

    The current customer’s might know/care but probably not the new consumers. My point is why bother with custom skins if the people wont miss it, or even know it’s not there anymore, and only piss off the people that do care?

  • http://Website plainbrad

    I must not exist. I (and every friend of mine who owns an android phone) knows about updates. I (and every friend of mine who owns an android phone) is not about to root my phone and is patiently waiting for an update to 2.2. I would love to see the source for this 95%/5% bullshit.

    I like sense. I like it a lot. But the fact that I have sense and it means i get a long delay for an update upsets me. What is worse is that I have a MT3GS and it doesn’t just run sense but “espresso sense” and I’m guessing this means I will have to wait longer.

    Makes me frustrated that there won’t be a Nexus 1 enterprise with keyboard.

  • http://Website B

    Words cannot describe how glad I am that I got a Nexus “way” back in January, but one thing I have wondered about is what will happen when the Nexus One becomes outdated. There wont be any ‘official Google phone’ available, and the N1′s specs wont be able to handle future versions of Android. Will all of us be waiting for HTC to play catch up then?

    • http://Website Adam

      I think Google’s plan is to convince manufactures to run stock Android 3.0. Then there will be no need for an official Google phone. This makes sense because Google is a software company and they made the Nexus One simply to demo Android’s potential. It worked and now hardware is advancing so quickly that I doubt Google want to compete in that field.

  • http://Website rod parish

    just get rid of custom UIs and let companies make paid home apps… the ones that really want em can buy em. and the companies can make themselves a little money, and we all can be happy!!!

  • http://Website James

    Rooted moto droid 2.2! CHEA!!!!

  • http://Website Johan

    HTC, and other manufacturers, can solve this very easily. Get rid of the custom UI, android customizations and the custom apps. For customers who want the Sense launcher, widgets etc just release them on them Android market, they could check that they are being used on a HTC device. More customer choice and faster updates.

    Noone I know that has a HTC phone ever uses any of the HTC stuff, most ask me to help them to root and install a vanilla rom. It’s insane.

  • http://Website zed

    I have a UK milestone that has a locked bootloader so even though I can root I cannot install custom ROM. Where in the 95/5% do I fit? :-)

    Damn Moto. This android “open source” is a spin.

  • http://Website Daniel

    This is exactly why I didn’t want a phone with some additional UI layer on top of it and got a Nexus One.

  • dubya504

    HTC,Google,Tmobile and Android can take their Christmas present and stick it where the doorknob hits them! This unacceptable. It’s like their dangling a carrot out of reach just to keep you interested. Man Fuck them! Froyo coming out SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON Yeah right!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://Website TonyJ

    Why not offer customers a choice between your custom UI, and the plain vanilla Android? Wait, don’t answer that. It’s because nobody would choose to wait, isn’t it?

  • http://Website DarbyE

    Relax guys!

    The 95 / 5% numbers probably come from the fact that the phones sell hundreds of thousands, but the internet community (those of us who do research and want to learn about what our phones are fully cabale of) are not even a fraction of the numbers that are sold.

    Now, his numbers may not be ENTIRELY correct, but I’m willing to bet that the number of people who know an actually DO hack their Droids pales SIGNIFICANTLY compared with the number of people that own them….

  • http://Website nate

    Irealy cannot see a point to the custom ui’s they really just get in the way and slow updating, I’m on a nexus one and I tried the desire Tom but the stock android is way more useaable and faster to update. I think that instead of wasting their time to update all of there sense phones HTC should just give them vanilla 2.2 and be done with sense for good

  • http://Website Dre

    What doesn’t make sense is why vanilla androids also take 6 months for a update as well, like the moment, droid, G1, and 3G. All those use the same plain android as the N1. Even if some of us won’t get 2.2 (damn sprint) we shouldn’t have to wait as long for updates since there’s not a ton added.

  • krazytrixxxsta

    About 95 percent of Android users are unaware their phones can be updated and the other 5 percent will just hack their device and load an open source Android 2.2 firmware like CyanogenMod.” what about does that do know their phone can be upgraded, but doesnt hack it.

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