Feb 09 AT 5:34 PM Dustin Earley 44 Comments

Motorola: Google’s hardware choices are why updates take so long

ota update Image via: Johan Larsson with Creative Commons

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.

Source: PCMag

Dustin Earley: Tech enthusiast; avid gamer; all around jolly guy.

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  • Ps3y3Ops

    Absolute BS and pure lulz! Moto you suck to the MAXX!

    • Jeff Pan

      A bad workman always blames his tools!

      You can do better Motorola!

      • http://mihai.discuta-liber.com/ tmihai20

        As always, the truth can be found always in the middle. I believe the VP from Motorola when she says that the new Android release is optimized for the Google phone that was just launched. If it was entirely true, then we wouldn’t have seen Android 4.0.3 or 4.0.5 released so soon after the official launch. If they expect Google to supply them with everything they need and they just slap their bloatware on the device, they are wrong. Also, this doesn’t excuse them for not unlocking the bootloaders on their phones. Nobody expects updates to the new Android version in a few weeks after the release (whoever think that way is totally unrealistic). I don’t think that Google is really that subjective when it comes to releasing updates for the phones that could run that version of Android (or helping them with the drivers).

        • dcds

          Motorola: stop blaming others and even the flow of time for the choices you made.

          It was YOUR decision to flood the market with a thousand different devices, each one with custom software layers! It has almost nothing to do with time or with Google. Google has a whole operating system to create and give it to you. Free.

          Remember Truman: The Buck Stops Here!

        • aranea

          I agree that it’s not just black and white but I think in this case the truth lies a little further away from Motorola than the middle. For one the companies ship several phones and then of course don’t have the resources to update them They have to change their attitudes from the old days in which people upgraded to new OS only with a new hardware. Two, the bloatware and heavy customization introduces several bugs and inefficiencies. Get rid of it! Three, custom mod community gets a version out in a couple weeks and gets out a almost bug free version in a fraction of the time it takes these companies with dedicated engineers working on this.

    • YNWA

      So glad I go on the Nexus wagon and out of this storm of BS! I would have sooner, but only Verizon had decent service where I lived.

      • thel0nerang3r

        Well, I have a Nexus S 4G. I’ll get ICS some day. So, it gives credibility to Moto.NS4G has CDMA and Wimax radios. That’s the hold up on updates.
        Good luck on your GNex with VZW, I have a feeling you will not get the updates at the same rate as the GSM versions. Considering that it’s officially no longer a “developer” phone.

        • daveloft

          Even the AT&T version of the Nexus S hasn’t gotten ICS, only the T-Mobile version has gotten an update.

  • Raul Barbosa

    So that is why they haven’t updated my Fing Atrix in Mexico to Gingerbread… i mean… hardware is THE SAME as everywhere else (expect usa, canada and korea cause of 4g), Europe and Asia have them updated since Nov/Dec, then 4g ones since July.

    They need to stop whinning and start working as a worldwide OEM. Samsung provides their updates pretty much everywhere the same day.

  • spazby

    Hopefully this will change as the current process is unacceptable

  • NotRelevent

    Complete and utter BS if you ask me. Especially when you consider the fact that Moto’s flagship the crappy RAZR contains the basically the same chip as the Galaxy Nexus. What’s your excuse for that Moto? Hmm?

    • eallan

      The RAZR certainly has a different radio set up though, the bionic and RAZR use moto’s on LTE modem, which could be significantly different.

  • ben dover

    If this is true? Why are they just now bringing it up? Something smells fishy…

  • greeny42

    I feel oh so sorry for them. Please, let us all have a moment of silence for their troubles.

    • YNWA

      Exactly. From selling no smartphones before Android to selling a bunch now. I fell so bad for them.

  • redraider133

    If it was the case why does moto use the same processor that is in the current nexus (omap) yet is still saying it will take months for updates? Maybe their shitty skin and their own inability to issue an update in a timely manner that doesn’t screw up the phones worse than they were before( droid x gb update)

  • Leo Young

    I imagine that the ultra-competative market for new phones means that the manufacturers MUST concentrate on new features for the new phones. Let’s face it, the only value maintaining the old phones is to assure the customer that the phone will last two years until the customer gives in and buys the new hotness.

    Thankfully, the community does not need to make a profit and is willing to put the time and effort in to bringing phones along. Go modders!

    • redraider133

      If they would make 1 or two phones with top of the line specs rather than leaving out specs just so they can release a new phone a month or so later( ala bionic, razr, razr maxx) then they would make more money and have more time focused on fewer phones speeding up updates. No need to produce 20 different phones if only 2-3 are big sellers.

      • greeny42

        Don’t forget about the Droid 4

  • KennyL

    Regardless, the process needs to be streamlined and sped up. Sounds like a lot of excuses to me.

  • T1392

    Excuses excuses, I thought Moto was pros with TI OMAP processors. The majority of their phones run on OMAP processors. Shouldn’t they know how to get the updates going just off that?? I know there is other opsticles but naming a procssor that you use in many of your phones as a reason for slow progression is ridiculos to me. IMO

  • YNWA

    If it is such a process to release updates, then:

    1: Stop releasing so many damn models! Stick to two or three models a year.

    2. Just use stock Android! Then all you have to do is a few hardware tweaks, and you don’t have to rebuild your crappy software on top of every new version of Android.

    The phone manufacturers have done it to themselves. No need to whine about it now. Either complete updates on time, or change the system so you can. Enough said.

  • Ps3y3Ops

    I have an OG Droid that runs a stable 2.3.7 AOSP ROM and custom OC Kernel that Motorola didn’t work on and isn’t touched by Verizon. See what happens when you let Android be Android? Support your Devs and the open source community for they are truly responsible for innovation!

    • redraider133

      Or at least do not lock the bootloaders down so that if you do stop supporting the phone at least the dev’s will work on it and be able to keep putting the updates the manufacturers would not push.

  • medwa

    Our amazing dev community seems to have no problems whatsoever with getting updates to devices in a timely manner.

    Hell, I was able to run ICS on my original Droid Incredible without any real issues. I’d say that is a much greater hardware challenge than a Droid Razr.

  • David Reyna

    Let me explain why this is utter bull shit!

    Devs that do this in their spares time, do it without drivers or source code in a quicker time frame. If they had an unlocked bootloader, with access to the kernels and drivers they could do it in a couple of days to a week.

    The manufacturers don’t do it because they don’t make money on upgrading your already purchased phone.

    Companies that update their products in a timely manner are only doing it to attract those customers that care about that kind of thing. And even still they don’t do it to all of their phones, just the popular ones.

    • JSW25

      Well it does help that when the community releases an upgrade everyone is okay is some functions don’t work yet. The OEM releases can’t miss functions or be unstable.
      And the dev community don’t have the same testing requirements or have to go through carrier testing.

  • jamal adam

    Excuses, Excuses. How is it that CyanogenMod, MIUI, and the like are able to update most phones which have different CPU’s, GPU’s, screens, manufacturers, carriers, etc and you can’t even update your phones. If the Android community can do it, you too can update your phones to the newest version of Android in a reasonable amount of time.

    • honourbound68

      exactly! how is it that CM was able to get rid of the LOS bug on my Samsung Epic 4g while Sammy released 4 or 5 updates and couldn’t do it? you can go up and down the list of manufacturers and find that the devs in xda release updates faster WHILE fixing the bugs in the OFFICIAL releases. It’s sad that Moto has to blame Google. GL on your merge with Moto, Google. I’m hoping that you won’t have a messy divorce.

  • rashad360

    If these manufactures want to put out updates faster, just ship with unlocked bootloaders and watch the community churn out an up-to-date MOD. Then it is just a matter of looking how they did it and copy their work, idealy paying the top contributors. You then put together an official release for the general public. This will mean less work for you, a happy modding community, and happy regular customers. Everybody wins.

  • bd1212

    Wow, this is sad. Motorola has stooped to a new low. Without Google’s Android OS, they’d be bankrupt right now.

  • yankeesusa

    I don’t understand this. The merger is about to happen and they are dissing their merging partner? I hope this comment was approved by both parties.

    • Sturoid

      I don’t see this as a diss, they are just being transparent and telling it as it is. Google makes Android and the Nexus phones and that is the only devices they are worried about being updated to latest. Android is then set free upon the world for people to do with what they like. As much as Google would like every device to run the latest OS it doesn’t really matter, as long as it is running some version of Android then it will bring in money.

      • drksilenc

        Yes its on the hardware maker to get the drivers. the problem isnt drivers its motoblur drop blur and it takes no time at all

  • Taylor

    Then how is that a group of volunteer coder spread across the globe manage to take ASOP and turn it into custom ROMS lo-o-o-ong before the OEMS? I think Larry Page ought to fire Ms. Watt as soon as the merger goes through.

  • Sturoid

    ‘However, companies with less hardware available, who make less changes to stock Android, generally get their updates out faster than anyone else.’

    What companies and devices are you referring to exactly?

    The only ones that tend to do this are the mid to low end devices which are crap and dont get many updates anyway. Last device besides Nexus phones was the G2X that came nearly stock and has it been updated yet?

    Only things that seem to be getting fast updates are some tablets at the moment, other than that everything is slow getting there updates.

  • Shawn Clark

    I guess this is more like a attempt to rat out the partner you suppose to be working with. Sound like Moto done got some inside info and twisted their words and forgot about the fact they share familiar processors. Moto…just update your UI and go over it with Google so you can adjust that to make your version of ICS.

    By the way…if the merger is approved…they should ICS rolling in no time…i would think so.

  • Derek

    I have to call BS on this! The devs over at XDA working from homes and basements part-time after their regular jobs can take a leak for one device and port it to many others in a matter of a few days or a couple of weeks. The actual device manufacturers have teams of software engineers that work round the clock. They can take AOSP android and optimize it for their hardware in no time at all.

    The real problem is the carriers. They have unbelievably strict testing methods. There’s an article on Engadget where a couple of AT&T software quality control engineers talk about all the testing thats done. Months worth of testing, then they give comments to the manufacturer. then they make adjustments, then it undergoes more testing, then more comments, then more adjustments, then more testing, till its finally right. Then its released. Thats why updates take eons.

  • dcdttu

    Ok, so the Nexus manufacturer has access to the latest and greatest code for specific hardware.

    Samsung made the Nexus S. The Nexus S is a spitting image of the Galaxy S line of devices. The Nexus S currently is running ICS. Is the Galaxy S? No, and it never will according to Samsung.

    Samsung makes the Galaxy S II. The Galaxy Nexus is very similar, sharing chipset architecture with at least the T-Mobile variant of the S II. The Galaxy Nexus released with ICS. Does the Galaxy S II have ICS? No.


  • http://None Javier Bastardo

    I definitively call BS

  • WlfHart


  • JSW25

    Every now and than there is a story like this that brings out all the “psydo” tech people to act like they know what they are talking about. Seriously, you think you understand design because you read a couple of articles?

    How many phones have ICS today? Must be a reason no one has released an update.
    Look at past OS launches, did any phones besides the launch phone have the new OS for awhile?

    Here are the limitations that cause delays…

    Different Application Processor (obvious, even the posters here get that one).
    Different Radios (CDMA, LTE, GSM, and than within each one their are different suppliers).
    DIfferent RF Transcievers.
    Different Connectivity chips (Bluetooth, WLAN, GPS).
    Different sensors.
    Different PMICs.
    Different DACs.
    Different displays.

    After all that is accounted for and the new OS is actually ported, there is testing at the OEM than testing at the carrier. This is a massive bottle neck, carrier testing takes weeks to months.

    Do the OEMS sometimes take to long, yeah they do. Is it reasonable that they would have released ICS updates to their phones by now, sorry it isn’t. Whine and complain all you want, but it isn’t possible.

  • Anuj Singh Tomar

    Thats why apple is also a top blayer in mobile arena .. few phones, fixed specs .. one update applies to all devices .. simple philosophy ..

    On the other hand android is so fragmented that it sucks sometimes .. also since it allows mobile companies to monetize the devices, most of the efforts of developers are invested in making a elegant OS to a just working piece of bloated application with loads of crap ..

  • inviolable

    So everyone dislikes the wait period for their phone to possibly get the newest version, but when Motorola gives reasons for it, you jump all over them, as if it only applies to Motorola? What if Google came out and confirmed what this company, the company they are purchasing, are saying? What then would you all say about it?