Google’s still-born attempts to unify its Android platform have long met with frustration.
Despite trying to bring its hardware partners onside with a pledge to release new software on devices up to 18 months old, the search giant has been unable to get handsets singing from the same hymn sheet.
More than a year after its release, Jelly Bean sits on fewer than half of Android phones.
Samsung has made great strides in bringing new software to its older phones, but it seems that once again Google is making a play and try and bring its disparate bunch of mobile-makers together itself.
A newly leaked confidential document, snagged by former Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Lessin, appears to show that Android KitKat, Google’s forthcoming update, is going to work on a lot more devices.
Even phones with as little as 512MB of RAM, by and large the most basic Android phones, will be able to use the tweaked OS.
The OS apparently “optimises use of every major component” with, “tools to help developers create memory efficient applications”.
The potential here is massive.
It means that phones that have been kicking around for years on old versions of Android could get a whole new lease of life, boosting the app economy on Google’s platform in the process.
Windows Phone is already achieving great results by offering the same version from the high to low end of its spectrum.
Google could do this on a scale that Microsoft can only dream of.
There’s one major problem though: manufacturers.
Samsung might be willing to put Jelly Bean (and soon KitKat) on older devices, but its testing takes time and it’s unlikely any update for cheaper Galaxy phones would be available until well into 2014.
Then there’s HTC, renowned for not offering updated Android to users and suffering untold opprobrium from power-users in the process.
Will testing KitKat on old phones using outdated versions of its Sense software really be a top priority for a company that’s edging closer to an unseemly demise? It’s doubtful.
So, while Google’s intentions are good, it’s not really down to them how this gets implemented.
Unlike Apple, it doesn’t hold sway over its hardware, and has jurisdiction only how Nexus devices are updated.
That means that despite this hard work, it’ll struggle to get Samsung and HTC et al to play ball.
Here’s hoping Google succeeds. Smartphones could be even greater if it manages the impossible.