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.