updated 08:30 am EDT, Thu October 27, 2011
Android support seen lagging iPhone by wide margin
A new breakdown of Android updates has shown that most American models have had far worse support than the iPhone. Looking at at models released 2010 and earlier, Michael DeGusta showed that most were abandoned by their makers quickly. Of the group of 18, 15 don't run Android 2.3, 12 were current for weeks at best, and seven ran obsolete versions even when they launched.
It's considered likely that "at least" 16, though more likely all of them, will go without Android 4.0. Google just recently ruled out the Nexus One.
The worst offenders were Garmin, Motorola, and Samsung. Most of their phones shipped at least one version of Android behind, had very short support cycles, and were left two or more versions behind for the majority of an owner's contract. Samsung had drawn fire almost immediately as it claimed it couldn't upgrade the Behold II past 1.6 despite past promises and hardware that could clearly run 2.0 and possibly beyond.
HTC has been the most consistent with updates. It has more often kept its phones current and may still be updating the Droid Incredible and Evo 4G. The best results have come from those that clung most closely to an iPhone-style model of using a strictly reference OS: the Nexus One has been current for almost all of its life and is only just now losing support. Motorola's Droid, which has always run a stock version of Android, has had more recent features than some of the phones released a year later.
iPhone owners, meanwhile, have always had up-to-date OS versions for the length of a contract and often beyond. The original iPhone only stopped getting support in February 2010, over two and a half years after it went on sale. While iPhone 3G owners complained of slow iOS 4 performance, they were current up to November 2010. The iPhone 3GS is not only fully up to date almost two and a half years later but still runs smoothly and is very popular, according to AT&T, which noted that more new customers picked the 3GS than any individual Android model.
While Google and Android supporters have noted that it's not always necessary to have the most recent version to use the latest apps, the study showed that there were still serious problems caused by letting updates lag behind. Developers who want to reach as many Android users as possible could be waiting as long as 2015 if they wanted to target 2.3 as the baseline. Also, unlike for iOS as well as most desktop operating systems, Google doesn't offer retroactive security updates and could leave a large part of its user base exposed to newly discovered security holes.
DeGusta speculated that most Android makers were taking a negative approach to spurring hardware upgrades. Contrary to stereotypes, it was Android makers who had planned obsolescence. To date, they have had little incentive to support a phone after release. In some cases, such as Samsung's, they have fueled suspicion that the designer let OS releases slide in hopes it would make a future model look more desirable. Google has formed an anti-fragmentation coalition that has pledged more frequent and longer-term support, but the difference in loyalty has suggested that long-term support was the key to getting repeat business.
"If that's really the case [that support is dropped on purpose], the phone manufacturers are spectacularly dumb: ignoring the 2 year contract cycle & abandoning your users isn't going to engender much loyalty when they do buy a new phone," DeGusta noted. "Apple's way of getting you to buy a new phone is to make you really happy with your current one, whereas apparently Android phone makers think they can get you to buy a new phone by making you really unhappy with your current one." [via TechCrunch]