Following Google I/O back in May, it at last looked as if the Big G had brought manufacturers into line when it came to ensuring phones using the Android system were kept up to date for a decent period of time. Open Handset Alliance members agreed, on paper at least, to ensure new phones would be upgradeable for at least 18 months after release.
But just over a month on and HTC has scored the biggest own goal since the whole issue of fragmentation first reared its head. The Taiwanese titan yesterday announced that Android 2.3 Gingerbread will not be made available for the HTC Desire a phone released in March 2010 and not exactly a piece of creaking, old hardware. It’s since backtracked on that, but right now it’s not clear how it plans to surmount the issues it claimed caused the volte face.
While this phone does not fall under the auspices of Google’s new deal announced at I/O, HTC’s bold as brass initial decision to leave it stranded on Android 2.2 FroYo brings back to the forefront some key issues which the Big G had hoped had been dealt with.
HTC’s reasoning, as outlined on its UK Facebook page, is simple. “We’ve been forced to accept there isn’t enough memory to allow us both to bring Gingerbread and keep the HTC Sense experience on the HTC Desire.” The phone comes with just 512MB of internal memory, expandable by SD card.
Irate users have taken to Facebook to complain that they’d rather have the latest Google software than HTC’s own memory-heavy custom skin. Google is clearly hoping that the future Ice Cream Sandwich update will kill off the need for custom skins, but for the current generation of phones, this isn’t going to happen. HTC’s failure to load up the Desire as it had announced it would at the turn of the year shows that it has scant care for the latest Google software and is more concerned with its own custom experiences.
Coupled with the recent announcement that the new version of HTC Sense won’t even work on phones revealed at Mobile World Congress 2011 and it appears that HTC’s strategy is utterly confused. Forward planning for new software seems to have been put to the way side as the company looked to up volumes of new phones quickly.
And then there’s the much wider consideration regarding the Desire’s shelf life. Just a year ago this was HTC’s flagship device, but until the phone maker’s change of heart, it could easily have been consigned to the dustbin of history. While progression in the smartphone space is inevitable and broadly welcome, not supporting a phone that some users will have to use for upwards of another year is appalling. The iPhone 4 will get iOS 5, making it viable for the two years that most early adopters will have it for.
Google will be seething that HTC did not see this coming and did not plan for a major Android update accordingly. Here’s hoping forthcoming HTC phones are covered as part of Google’s anti-fragmentation strategy. Either way, Google needs to tighten up regulations to ensure this problem never happens again.