After the release of Android 2.3 it’s shocking to learn that only 51.8% of Android devices have made the upgrade to 2.2. Worse, 35.2% are on 2.1 (I’m one of those with my Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant), 7.9% are on 1.6 and there are even 4.7% still running 1.5 which is now more than two years old.
It’s not the users fault.
It’s the carriers and the OEMs who are to blame.
They deliberately withhold updates to phones for BS reasons such as wanting to provide incentive for customers to upgrade to newer phones and differentiators for new customers.
An anonymous post, out of the XDA Developers forum sheds some interesting light on the behinds the scenes politics which are currently keeping all U.S. Galaxy S Phones on Android 2.1:
I’m going to step across the NDAs and explain the issues behind the Android Froyo update to Samsung Galaxy S phones in the United States. I think most of you have come to this realization yourself now: the withholding of the Froyo update is a largely political one, not a technological one: Froyo runs quite well on Galaxy S phones, as those of you that have run leaked updates may have noticed.
To explain the political situation, first, a primer on how phone firmware upgrades work for carriers. When a carrier decides to sell a phone, a contract is usually written between the phone manufacturer and the carrier. In this contract, the cost of updates (to the carrier) is usually outlined. Updates are usually broken into several types: critical updates, maintenance updates, and feature updates. Critical updates are those that resolve a critical bug in the phone, such as the phone overheating. Maintenance updates involve routine updates to resolve bugs and other issues reported by the carrier. Finally, feature updates add some new feature in software that wasn’t present before. Critical updates are usually free, maintenance updates have some maintenance fee associated with them, and feature updates are usually costly.
In the past, most phone updates would mainly consist of critical and maintenance updates. Carriers almost never want to incur the cost of a feature update because it is of little benefit to them, adds little to the device, and involves a lot of testing on the carrier end. Android has changed the playing field, however – since the Android Open Source Project is constantly being updated, and that information being made widely available to the public, there is pressure for the phone to be constantly updated with the latest version of Android. With most manufacturers, such as HTC, Motorola, etc. This is fine and considered a maintenance upgrade. Samsung, however, considers it a feature update, and requires carriers to pay a per device update fee for each incremental Android update.
Now, here’s where the politics come in: most U.S. carriers aren’t very happy with Samsung’s decision to charge for Android updates as feature updates, especially since they are essentially charging for the Android Open Source Project’s efforts, and the effort on Samsung’s end is rather minimal. As a result of perhaps, corporate collusion, all U.S. carriers have decided to refuse to pay for the Android 2.2 update, in hopes that the devaluation of the Galaxy S line will cause Samsung to drop their fees and give the update to the carriers. The situation has panned out differently in other parts of the world, but this is the situation in the United States.
Some of you might have noticed Verion’s Fascinate updated, but without 2.2 : This is a result of a maintenance agreement Samsung must honor combined with Verizon’s unwillingness to pay the update fees.
In short, Android 2.2 is on hold for Galaxy S phones until the U.S. carriers and Samsung reach a consensus.
Some might wonder why I didn’t deliver this over a more legitimate news channel – the short answer: I don’t want to lose my job. I do, however, appreciate transparency, which is why I’m here.
This fragmentation is leaving a bad taste in a lot of users mouths. If the only time users can upgrade their phones OS (without going the route of rooting the phone and installing custom ROMs, which is a daunting and intimidating notion for most non-techie users) is by buying a new phone, users are very quickly going to loose loyalty and not want to be burdened with the issue.
Users look at other phones such as the iPhone and see that updates are delivered without much hassle. They will hear (and see) the promises of Windows Phone 7 with over the air updates thathas claimed the carriers can only block for one cycle, then they will arrive.
People want the latest and greatest.
The realization that the operating system is (essentially) free, that there is no good technical reason why your phone can’t be updated (just marketing and politics), that you are being denied something that was part of the marketing push for your phone (get X with 2.1 today – 2.2 coming soon etc..) will drive consumers to other devices.
The feeling that everyone else’s phone is better than mine and there is nothing I can do about it(other than buy a new phone) because the bullies won’t let me play, will drive people to choose phones running other operating systems.
This growing feeling of discontent among Android users will lead to a backlash. It will lead to consumers NOT recommending Android to their friends.
After all, who wants to have the knowledge that their phone isn’t as good as it could be and the only reason is that the carriers and OEMS are stopping them from getting something that, to their mind, is essentially free?
As the fragmentation increases and more consumers become aware and vocal of how they are being short changed, the opportunities for other established and emerging phone OS’s will increase, and it will happen at Androids expense.
Right now Android is riding the wave of success but if the deliberate fragmentation continues that wave will likely crash against a rocky shore.