Android’s Version Problem
One of the problems with Android’s explosive growth is that the best Android phone out there is unlikely to hold that title for more than a few months.
The droid was the best of the best in November, then the Nexus One made droid buyers look silly in January. There will be a better Nexus One that starts to hit next month, and something better than THAT will come by Summer.
This can’t be helped. But the pain could be lessened by Google.
Let’s look at Apple’s model. Apple releases one iPhone per year. Stuck in 2 year contracts, iPhone users pine over the new model released a few months after their purchase. Most won’t choose to upgrade early due to the cost (a non-subsidized iPhone is $600). The early adopter crowd (I’m in that crowd) could easily get frustrated with this pace of one device per year.
But Apple gives a little gift to ALL existing iPhone users in the form of a free software update that comes out right around the time of the new phone. This causes early adopters to get something totally new to play with, and it brings their phones halfway to the features of the newly released phones. In the case of the 3GS, I would even argue that the 3.0 software update had a greater impact on the usability of the phone then the faster processor and better camera did in the 3GS. Once the 2 year contract is up, these happy customers run out and buy the latest model of iPhone.
So Apple pleases it’s existing customers with software. What does Google/HTC/Motorola do? They release a ton of new devices. Each of these appears either incapable of running the new OS, or the device manufacturers simply choose not to upgrade it. So now, a month after the Nexus One and Android 2.1 releases, the droid is still on version 2.0. All the previous android phones (some released as late as November 2009) are running either Android 1.5 or Android 1.6.
I think Google and device manufacturers should work more closely together. It’s hard to blame Google if Motorola is dragging it’s feet, but the device manufacturers need to realize that their old phones need updating. What if Google, HTC, and Motorola entered into an agreement where they made a commitment to release all devices with at least the next 2 major versions of the OS within, say, 2 weeks of the release date of the OS? They would also have to agree to not use the version of the base OS as a differentiator against their competition. They won’t do something like this, but something like this needs to be done to give users the best picture of Android that they can.
If I bought an Android phone in October, 2009, running Android 1.6, it’s likely that I would be unable to get it past version 1.6 or 2.0, even 2 years later when my contract is up. It’s basically the same phone as the day I bought it. However, if I bought an iPhone on that same day, at the end of my contract it would have gone from 3.0 to 4.0 to 5.0 of the iPhone OS. Even if they don’t keep up this rate of major releases, it would certainly be running the latest version of the OS. And it’s more than likely that iPhone OS 4.x or 5.x will be far superior to Android OS 2.0 or 1.6.