Android Update Alliance?

At Google IO 2011, a very important announcement was made: The Android Update Alliance was setup in order to insure that Android devices in circulation would not become subject to fragmentation, and that older devices would receive timely OS updates if their hardware allowed for it. The website Android Police had this to say about it in an article they published at the time:

This is huge. Like, massively huge. Probably the best thing to come out of Google I/O so far this morning huge. I’m talking about the Android Alliance and the solution to a problem that has plagued Android users since the beginning of time (okay, maybe not that long).

The Android Alliance is a special task force dedicated to delivering Android updates quickly and efficiently to all devices for 18 months after they’re released. Among the companies involved are Verizon, HTC, Samsung (imagine that), Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Motorola, and AT&T – which basically covers most of the Android world.

This is some of the best Android related news that we’ve heard in a while, as this is the solution to the biggest problem in Android: fragmentation. It seems like the top-notch, practical solution that we’ve all been waiting on. Instead of getting a tighter grip on Android and compromising its open nature, Google decided to join together with those responsible for releasing the needed updates. It’s a genius plan, and I’ve never been happier to be an Android user.

6 months or so into the process though, many outlets (such as Slashdot and PC Mag) are reporting that the process isn’t going nearly as well as advertised by Google. PC Magazine went and surveyed all of the Android device manufacturers and carriers in the US, and the results weren’t pretty:

Motorola: “We are planning to upgrade Droid Razr Motorola Razr, Motorola Xoom (including Family Edition) and Droid Bionic by Motorola to Ice Cream Sandwich. As we add other devices to this list, we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop.” They ignored our specific question about the Photon 4G, the Atrix 2, the Droid 3, the Droid X2, and the Admiral, and our follow-up question that if not, how Motorola would reconcile this with the pledge it made back in May.

Samsung: “After reviewing various factors such as system requirements, platform limitations, and partner-related issues, we will consider upgrading Galaxy devices to Ice Cream Sandwich. Specific upgrade plans will be communicated separately. Samsung will stay committed to responsibility for its customers as much as possible.” Our question about the Samsung Captivate Glide, the Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, the Samsung Conquer 4G, and the Samsung Exhibit 4G was ignored, as was our follow-up question about the company keeping its Google I/O pledge.

Sprint: “Sprint will begin to rollout Google’s latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, to our customers in early 2012. Ice Cream Sandwich will be available via an over-the-air update to a variety of devices, including HTC EVO 3D, HTC EVO Design 4G and other key products in our line-up. Please stay tuned for more details and exact timing.” Our question about the Motorola Photon 4G, the LG Marquee, and the Samsung Conquer 4G was ignored, as was (you guessed it) our follow-up question about holding to the Google I/O pledge.

T-Mobile: We asked T-Mobile about the myTouch 4G, myTouch Q, LG DoublePlay, and Samsung Galaxy S II. “T-Mobile is coordinating with Google to deliver Android 4.0. While we don’t have any information to share regarding the devices you noted … we’ll let you know when we have more details to share,” a spokesperson said in response, but T-Mobile did not mention anything about Google I/O, either.

Verizon Wireless: A spokesperson confirmed two existing upgrade announcements for the HTC Rezound and the Droid RAZR, but couldn’t release any more information at this time. Our questions about the Samsung Stratosphere, the Motorola Droid 3, the LG Revolution, and the HTC Droid Incredible 2, and the Google I/O pledge in general all went unanswered.

This is somewhat discouraging for Android users, although it clearly hasn’t slowed down the sale of Android devices. What it means is that for developers, fragmentation continues to be (and likely will continue to be) a major problem. While Ice Cream Sandwich and Honeycomb have many awesome features such as hardware accelerated graphics, when designing an app you have to be prepared for it to be running on Gingerbread, or potentially even older devices. As developers, we at Hardin are particularly conscious of this, which is a unique challenge that we don’t face to nearly the same degree when developing apps for a lot of other platforms (iOS, for example).

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