AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson isn’t too happy with the Android update process. In a response to a question about the slow update process, Stephenson put the blame squarely on Google, stating:
Google determines what platform gets the newest releases and when. A lot of times, that’s a negotiated arrangement and that’s something we work at hard. We know that’s important to our customers. That’s kind of an ambiguous answer because I can’t give you a direct answer in this setting.Randall StephensonAT&T
It’s unclear exactly what Mr. Stephenson is referring to here. This response flies in the face of how we understand the upgrade process to work. When Google finalizes an operating system update, it pushes that update as open source to source.android.com as soon as the first device with the new software is released. That gives handset makers access to the release, which they then customize to their heart’s content, then submit to carriers for approval.
AT&T has a whopping two devices that has been upgraded to Android 4 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” Google’s own Nexus S and the HTC Vivid. All other Android handsets on the carrier’s network are running either Android 2.3 Gingerbread or 2.2 Froyo, though some Samsung Galaxy S II devices have ICS coming soon. It’s possible Stephenson is referring to the Verizon-branded Galaxy Nexus, which went nearly 5 months without getting an update from 4.0.2 (to 4.0.3 or 4.0.4), an update rumored to fix several issues with the device and bring it in line with the most recent version of ICS.
Still, only a handful of devices are currently running Android 4, with all of Google’s Nexus handsets running on the newest platform except for the three year old Nexus One. It’s clear to us that Google has done all it can to get the update out to devices, and that the delayed implementation lies in the hands of handset makers and carriers.
Google was obviously bothered by Stephenson’s criticism, and issued the following response:
Mr. Stephenson’s carefully worded quote caught our attention and frankly we don’t understand what he is referring to. Google does not have any agreements in place that require a negotiation before a handset launches. Google has always made the latest release of Android available as open source at source.android.com as soon as the first device based on it has launched. This way, we know the software runs error-free on hardware that has been accepted and approved by manufacturers, operators and regulatory agencies such as the FCC. We then release it to the world.Google
Google obviously doesn’t want to take blame for the Android 4 update mess, which sees only a handful of smartphones running the latest version of Android, which has been available to handset makers for over 5 months. Motorola, soon to become part of Google itself, provided insights as to the upgrade process back in December, and it was crystal clear from their account that the bulk of time taken in the update process is attributed to handset makers updating/re-building their custom UIs, and carriers adding the customary bloatware.
I think we can safely say that Mr. Stephenson got his facts wrong here, and that handset makers and carriers (including AT&T) need to take some responsibility for the delayed upgrade cycle. We’ll bring you any updates from AT&T as they weigh a response to Google’s statements this morning.