It’s only two days since Android Gingerbread finally got its official unveiling. But already the dreaded word fragmentation is starting to dominate talk about the latest iteration of Google’s excellent mobile OS.
While the Nexus S will be the first phone to come loaded up with Gingerbread, devs have confirmed a rollout to the year-old Nexus One is still weeks away. But of much greater concern, LG’s US arm has said it won’t be boosting the brilliant Optimus One from FroYo to Gingerbread, citing hardware constraints.
Much to the Korean tech giant’s embarrassment, though, Android boss Dan Morrill has said no such constraints exist, suggesting that while excuses are easy to come by, in reality manufacturers just aren’t interested in hurrying along Android updates.
It all means that fragmentation is very much a fact of life for Google and one which users are going to have to accept too. The rollout of Froyo proved that mobile makers are all on different pages. Vanilla phones felt the love early, but those with skins waited ages to get some of the action.
Indeed, some will wait until April next year to get FroYo (the Xperia X10, we’re looking at you). And the shift to Gingerbread looks like it won’t be any different if these early indicators are anything to go by. Why? Well, it’s pretty simple. Android updates don’t make manufacturers any money and are a hassle to get out into the wild. However, new phones packing the new OS are a cash cow that’s well worth flogging.
That’s not a gripe, it’s just business. Why upgrade an old phone when you can release a new one and get hundreds, nee thousands, of new users on board? As long as the likes of LG, HTC, Sony Ericsson and Samsung release new smartphones every four months or so, upgrading old hardware is never going to be top priority. And as the pace of change in mobile technology isn’t just confined to software, the days where new phones are seemingly released every month aren’t going anywhere.
It means that for Google, fragmentation is going to be an issue for a long time to come. How can it tackle it? Release less frequent updates? Perhaps, but then it won’t be able to keep pace with rivals like iOS, Windows Phone 7 and webOS. Put pressure on OEMs? It’s a move that runs completely counter to the philosophy of the Open Handset Alliance.
So, now is a time of acceptance. If you want the latest Android software on a trusty old handset, expect to be well down the pecking order as far as the phone makers are concerned. To get a taste of Gingerbread, your best bet is to sign up for a Nexus S stat, all the while trying to forget that Honeycomb is only just around the corner.