Google will announce the next version of their OS before 10% of their users are on the last version. Think about how insane that is for a second.
Who’s fault is this? Is the hardware developers? Does the problem lie with Google? I don’t know, and I don’t know that assigning blame really fixes anything. Still it is a problem. If you really care about user experience, you do not let this happen.
Most Android users, myself included, are still on some variant of Gingerbread. I’m still on this OS because Motorola has not yet released an update for my phone. Supposedly, they’ll get around to updating the Atrix sometime in Q3 of this year. Sure, I could probably rootkit my phone. But why should that be my responsibility?
The two-year life cycle is a very real thing to many, if not most people. Who can afford an $800 up-front phone? Not many. So we sign service contracts with providers.
Even if Ice Cream Sandwich can run on my phone, I’m still at the mercy of Motorola to get around to updating a dead product line. Incentive? Not really. Well, except for the fact that I will be going back to the iPhone and iOS the next time my contract is up. They have forever lost me as a customer.
The Role of Standards
I have a very nice graphics card in my PC. It’s an NVidia GTX 560. You want to know what’s really cool, though? When NVidia releases a driver update, it applies not only to all GTX 560s by all manufacturers, it applies to all NVidia GeForce products, from the lowly GeForce 5 to the blazing new GeForce 600 series GPUs. How does this work? Because there’s a standard for all devices to conform to a specification. And do I have to wait for eVGA to publish the update? Of course not! I can download the update directly from NVidia, install, and enjoy!
Parts manufacturers recognize that not everyone can afford to spend $250 (or much, much more) for high-end graphics cards for their computers. That’s OK, because when the updates come out, they apply to everyone. Divorcing the hardware from the software works, and it works because of the standard. You could still have $25 Androids and $250 Androids and have everyone running the same software. We know this works!
Google could implement and enforce a standard for device manufacturers. That’s fine. There’s plenty of room for device manufacturer competition. Not everyone wants to or can afford to spend $200, $300, or $400 up front for an iPhone 4S. Just so, they shouldn’t be punished by not being able to upgrade their toys.