Mobile World Congress has already seen some stellar Android smartphones unleashed. The glorious Xperia Play, Xperia Neo and Xperia Pro from Sony Ericsson. The mighty Samsung Galaxy S II. ZTE’s new Skate. LG’s Optimus 3D and the unique Acer Iconia Smart. And what’s abundantly clear is that most Android manufacturers have finally started reading from the same page when it comes to which version of the open source OS to use.
Rewind 12 months and HTC was rolling out the Desire and Legend, the first phones to use Android 2.1. At the same time, Sony Ericsson’s then flagship Xperia X10 range was revealed using the creaking Android 1.6 platform. Fragmentation continued to be an issue throughout 2010, with updates to Android 2.2 taking an age to reach even the very best, bleeding-edge Android phones.
Now though, all the key headline releases using Android are rocking the same edition, namely Gingerbread. What’s changed? Well for starters, Google has chosen not to release a new smartphone iteration of its OS at MWC, with Gingerbread outed two months ago. That’s given mobile makers the breathing space they need to produce handsets worthy of the name ‘iPhone-beater’.
No one has learned their lesson more than Sony Ericsson. Their new Xperia range is kicking it on Gingerbread - and with good reason. Last year’s phones were all of a standard, but just could not hold a candle to rival efforts, mostly because they were stranded on Android 1.6. Why buy a phone that was never going to see a decent Android update when you could get one from a different manufacturer at the same time, using a better edition of the excellent OS?
This all ties in with Google’s new policy of spreading out updates. It’s a good bet that we won’t see Android Ice Cream until May at the earliest, during Google I/O. Even then, it’s doubtful it’ll be released until the end of summer, by which point this week’s new phones will be gazumped already. That’s not to say updates won’t be forthcoming. The lack of fragmentation now will also hopefully mean that come update time, everybody will feel the love simultaneously.
MWC 2011 is clearly all about Android cementing its position as number one smartphone OS. The hardware is excellent, the software peerless. Nokia’s Stephen Elop can claim that Espoo’s WP7 phones will lead a charge against Google. But the Big G’s new united front, seen courtesy of OEMs firing on all cylinders, suggests Elop and co will have a lot of work to do if they’re ever to stand toe-to-toe with Mountain View again.