Manufacturers are always catching heat for not staying up to date with Android software. They can release three phones in a quarter, each with better hardware than the one before it, but not a single one runs on the latest version of Android. Why is that? We know third-party UIs and carrier customizations hold up the update process. That’s not all though. A Motorola executive has spoken out on the hardships of updates, and it looks like the Big M holds Google’s Nexus hardware choices responsible for much of the delays.
When Google first releases a new version of Android, only the company lucky enough to be chosen as the manufacturer of the next Nexus has access to it. When that new version of Android is released with the next Nexus, it’s optimized to run on Nexus hardware. According to Christy Wyatt, senior vice president and general manager of Motorola’s Enterprise Business Unit, that’s where the problems begin.
When Google does a release of the software ... they do a version of the software for whatever phone they just shipped. The rest of the ecosystem doesn't see it until you see it. Hardware is by far the long pole in the tent, with multiple chipsets and multiple radio bands for multiple countries. It's a big machine to churn.Christy WyattMotorola
Clearly, manufacturers are faced with several hurdles leading to a consumer update. Some are uncontrollable, while some could be worked on.
Carrier control isn’t likely to go away anytime soon. Companies like Motorola don’t see any advantages in limiting what a carrier can do to their device. Some devices make it to market with only a handful of custom apps, while others, like Moto’s Droid devices, are as carrier branded as Android gets. In return for giving Verizon this sort of control, Motorola gets to be the face of Verizon for many ad campaigns to come.
Limiting the hardware a manufacturer releases would also help alleviate some of the stress behind updates. This could be a growing trend in 2012. It was certainly well voiced in 2011.
As far as Android being optimized for specific hardware, forcing manufacturers to work overtime to optimize for their hardware, there’s not a whole lot that can be said. However, companies with less hardware available, who make less changes to stock Android, generally get their updates out faster than anyone else.
Hardware optimization and custom software aside, one can’t help but wonder how much of the drawn out update process is tied to sheer laziness or a “who cares” attitude. Take Motorola’s unfulfilled promise to unlock bootloaders: instead of making good and releasing the necessary tools, they’ve announced yet another version of the RAZR with an unlockable bootloader and “Developer Edition” in the name.
Is that because Verizon told them unlocking the original RAZR would be a bad idea? Are they too busy working on new phones, ignoring the old ones? Do they really even care? If Motorola is spending all their time trying to optimize new versions of Android Google released with a Nexus in mind, would they be opposed to some hardware limitations imposed by Google? Or probably most ideally for Motorola, should consumers just get over it, and be happy that they can still run (most of) the latest apps from the Market?
Whatever the case, one thing is for sure. Don’t expect the manufacturers to suddenly start updating their handsets faster any time soon. They have plenty of
excuses reasons lined up to explain the wait.