Google I/O has been a lesson in how far Android has come and just where it’s going to go in the next year. The Ice Cream Sandwich update is set to reunite Google’s OS across tablets and smartphones, while new guidelines to ensure updates are delivered to old phones as well as new suggest that fragmentation is high up the agenda for Andy Rubin and his team.
But while these changes are exciting, surely Google’s ability to deliver the changes on time and without rancour has to be called into question. That’s not to say Ice Cream Sandwich won’t arrive in Q4 of 2011. It most likely will. But if past form is anything to go by, it’ll only land on specific devices, most likely Nexus-branded ones.
The Nexus 3 is already being touted and a Nexus Tab is not far behind if the rumour mill is to be believed. That means Ice Cream Sandwich phones are unlikely to be taking centre stage until early 2012, with next year’s Mobile World Congress the most likely place for major launches from partners such as HTC, Samsung and LG. But it’s the new guidelines that throw up the most questions. It’s great that Google has recognised that there’s no point in dropping cash on a pricey new smartphone, only to discover it can’t handle updates and is outdated within months.
The 18-month update cycle means most phones will get new software for almost their entire life cycle. But there’s the much wider issue of how quickly updates come out. Google says manufacturers and networks are working together on new guidelines about the speed with which software changes are released. Sure, that’s laudable. But who really believes that there’ll be a unified strategy in getting updates out?
Currently, Android 2.3.4 is kicking it on Nexus phones, with a vague roll out due over “the coming weeks”.
This is the perennial gripe about Android phones and it still matters. It’s all very well saying phones will be updatable for 18 months, but when it takes the best part of six months from the release of initial software for vanilla phones to it landing on skinned, network-backed devices, it’s hardly something to get excited about.
HTC and Samsung owners have had a torrid time in the last year getting the newest software on their phones. While new guidelines will help, Google has to be more proactive and stringent in insisting devices are easily boosted. It seems evident that Google won’t be teasing another update beyond Ice Cream Sandwich for some time. It’s already said it’ll be playing a longer game, with fewer major software changes in order to cut down fragmentation.
Its move to make changes to the update system is welcome, but it’s difficult to imagine it will make much difference. Google needs to keep a tight lid on things if it wants Ice Cream Sandwich to be a raging success.