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Google Trying New Strategy to Fix Fragmentation 355

Posted by samzenpus
from the lets-stay-together dept.
CWmike writes "Google announced a new version of Android this week with some impressive new features, but it's unclear if it's done enough to solve a problem that has dogged its mobile OS: fragmentation. Even as it announced the imminent launch of Android 4.1, or Jelly Bean, the majority of users are still running Gingerbread, which is three major releases behind. According to Google's own figures, just 7 percent are running the current version, Ice Cream Sandwich, which launched last October. That means apps that tap into the latest innovations in the OS aren't available to most Android users. It also means developers, the lifeblood of the platform, are forced to test their apps across multiple devices and multiple versions of the OS. So when Google's Hugo Barra announced a Platform Developer Kit during the opening keynote at I/O this week, the news was greeted with applause. The PDK will provide Android phone makers with a preview version of upcoming Android releases, making it easier for them to get the latest software in their new phones. But is the PDK enough to secure for developers the single user experience for big numbers of Android users that developers crave? In a 'fireside chat' with the Android team, the packed house of developers had more questions about OS fragmentation than Google had answers."
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Google Trying New Strategy to Fix Fragmentation

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  • How about... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 01, 2012 @08:24AM (#40510101)

    ...enabling users to upgrade the devices themselves? And actually forcing all carriers to open source everything?

    • Also how about virtual machines for testing for all those, with all known display sizes as easy-to-configure test options and atomatic generation of binaries for each version.

      My phone is 9 months old, and has Android 2.3. It came with 2.2. It hasn't auto-upgraded yet.

      • Re:How about... (Score:5, Informative)

        by ozmanjusri (601766) <(moc.liamtoh) (ta) (bob_eissua)> on Sunday July 01, 2012 @08:55AM (#40510223) Journal

        Also how about virtual machines for testing for all those, with all known display sizes as easy-to-configure test options and atomatic generation of binaries for each version.

        You mean this one? http://developer.android.com/tools/devices/emulator.html [android.com] AVD makes it pretty simple to set up most configurations.

        Likewise Eclipse makes it simple enough to target any OS version. The problem is if you use and ICS-specifc function, it won't work on devices with earlier versions of Android. As a result, most of us design/target 2.2 and ignore all the recent cool stuff.

        • by Verunks (1000826)

          the emulator is not perfect though, they only recently added multi touch support which is something that they should have done from the beginning

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by symbolset (646467) *
            Somebody offers a real hardware testing framework where you can test your app on a variety of equipment as a rental.
        • You should check out the support libraries [android.com], and ActionBarSherlock. There are backports of the most important ICS APIs so you can still use them. I use an app that feels ICS native but it still runs on older devices.
      • Re:How about... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Sunday July 01, 2012 @12:55PM (#40511495) Journal

        My question would be "How long is Google gonna pour a billion a year into a platform they have ZERO control over?" which is really what it comes down to. I mean why EXACTLY is there so much fragmentation in the Android section? Because CCC (Cheapo Chinese Crap) use Android on devices that can just BARELY support the version that it is running, so even if they open it up good luck on trying to get the latest version to limp along. There is a reason why Apple cuts off support for their older versions of iPhone folks, its because they would run like crap with the latest version of iOS installed.

        While those that lock down Android is still a problem I'd say the CCC that is flooding the market is a bigger one. Maybe Google should put out base specs? Like low/medium/high or maybe like AMD does with their Fusion chips? Because for the average folks its hard to tell what a good unit is and what a bad unit is because they have no idea how to read the specs. Can't go by price because as we all know there are plenty of places like Woot! that will sell overstocked units for crazy cheap prices, can't go by look because while its pretty easy to spot the difference between a $1000 laptop and a $400 one by build quality and finish all these tablets and phones are just plastic squares.

        But I'd love to see the figures because i bet the biggest users of old Android are the CCC manufacturers. hell go to any China Mart style eStore and see how many Android 2 devices are still being sold. If there was an easy way for a developer to put down "requires Android Plus" or something that might help some but in the end a device that can barely run Android 2 is sure as hell not gonna run Android 4 in a usable way, it just don't have the power. For Google to fix this they are gonna have to have some sort of base specs and just cut off any access from the really old versions, although even then I have a feeling it'll be awhile before the CCCs quit using it, after all look how long the CCCs used Android 1.4-1.6.

        • by RogerWilco (99615)

          There is a reason why Apple cuts off support for their older versions of iPhone folks, its because they would run like crap with the latest version of iOS installed.

          My iPhone 3GS is over 3 years old. It runs the latest version of iOS 5 and rumours are that iOS 6 will also support it.

          This is a phone from when Android was on version 1.5. It's about as old as the HTC Hero, which didn't get any official updates after Android 2.1. CyanogenMod can get 2.2 on it, or a rather unstable 2.3.

          Other similar age Android phones (Samsung Galaxy I7500), never even got an upgrade to the 2.x series.

          My 3 year old iPhone is still getting OS updates, and looks to be good even for the next m

        • by GodInHell (258915)

          all these tablets and phones are just plastic squares.

          That's not true. Motorola builds with rubberized metal and gorilla glass, Samsung uses high impact plastic and (wait for it) gorilla glass . . . when you pick up a cheap phone you can feel the difference. That said, the best way to tell apart a good phone and a bad phone is the same way you can tell apart a high-end dell and a low end dell computer - they're both delivered in a branded case made of cheap plastic and aluminum, but the specs are radically different. (Or, if you prefer, the same way you tel

    • Re:How about... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by del_diablo (1747634) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @08:37AM (#40510157)

      I would say that changing the way that Android works would be better: Update system will by default upgrade everything, instead of just apps. OEMs using Android will be forced to assume that the device will upgrade itself, and that it has a system that will brick & replace menu systems if they don't work.

      Carriers flossing won't do anything, it will still involve a lot of thinkering and rooting to get past their restrictions.

      • Re:How about... (Score:5, Informative)

        by ZankerH (1401751) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @09:23AM (#40510335)
        Hardware vendors, not carriers. That's the one thing Apple did right - cut one useless middleman out of the loop, the carriers. It's the carriers' modifications and general dickery that delays or prevents updates even further.
        • Re:How about... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by cmdrbuzz (681767) <cmdrbuzz@xerocube.com> on Sunday July 01, 2012 @09:34AM (#40510399)

          Problem is that the you are not (usually) the hardware manufacture's customer. The carrier is and from a hardware manufacture's point of view, why should they spend any money on getting a new version of the OS onto an already sold and accounted for phone?
          It won't make them any more money, and might even help loose money in both the costs of getting the OS up and running, testing it and supporting it, and also if you (the end user) has the new OS on the existing phone, where is the incentive to buy a new phone with the new OS?

          Not saying its right, but it seems to be the way it works right now.

          • by Nerdfest (867930)

            The fact that the carriers are the hardware manufacturers customers is a separate problem. It should be consumers. If I ran the word (and I really think I should), things would be different. It would be illegal to have phone contracts longer than 2 months. You could sell a subscriber a phone, but it would be a separate cost, and you must support phones you don't sell. Let consumers decide the best products.

            • Re:How about... (Score:4, Informative)

              by Anne Thwacks (531696) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @09:57AM (#40510515)
              Or, you could leave America!
            • Re:How about... (Score:4, Interesting)

              by LurkerXXX (667952) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:09AM (#40510567)

              You don't need to rule the world, just the U.S.

              In Europe, everything is GSM and folks can buy new phone with no contract willi-nilli, just swap in their SIM card and off they go.

            • by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:13AM (#40510587)

              I don't know where you are, but here in the UK it's easy to buy basically any smartphone or tablet device of any level, from the basic entry-level gear up to the latest Galaxy or iPhone model, directly and with all the usual consumer protection laws applicable. Then you can get a SIM-only package, on a rolling monthly contract without any long-term tie-in, from any of the major phone networks to get the voice and/or data connectivity.

              Most people don't do this, because it would force them to confront the real cost of buying that shiny new smartphone instead of mentally writing it off as part of a monthly credit agreement^W^Wcalling plan, where both the cost and the interest rate they're effectively paying for the device are mixed in with the flate rate they're paying for the network anyway. But as with most credit-like agreements, if you have the money up-front and do the maths, it's almost always cheaper over the lifetime of the deal to buy your own device, and of course it gives you a lot more flexibility to change your connectivity package mid-term as better deals become available in a highly competitive market.

              I'm always slightly surprised that the usual rules we have here for advertising credit agreements (making it clear that you're tied into paying a certain interest rate, described in a standardised way) haven't been applied to the mobile phone market. If the carriers were forced to describe how much their calling plan is really costing in an easily comparable format, and to show the price of the equivalent up-front purchase and separate connectivity, I suspect the market would shift rather sharply in the average consumer's favour.

            • Re:How about... (Score:4, Insightful)

              by macs4all (973270) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @11:47AM (#40511127)
              You DO realize, of course, that the statements:

              If I ran the word[sic] (and I really think I should), things would be different. It would be illegal to have phone contracts longer than 2 months.

              ...and

              Let consumers decide the best products.

              Are mutually exclusive concepts, right (Government control vs. Market Forces)?

              But what can I expect from a person who wants to rule the word ???
          • Re:How about... (Score:5, Informative)

            by AmberBlackCat (829689) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:32AM (#40510675)
            I definitely think the carrier is a bigger problem than the hardware maker for me. Because I have an EVO 3D on Sprint in the US. And the EVO 3D is running Ice Cream Sandwich for everybody all over the world except Sprint users.
          • by Idbar (1034346)
            Loyalty? I'm positive my next device is not going to be Samsung. It sucks getting stuck with AT&T bloatware and not being able to stop or remove poorly written applications. Also, the performance of my GPS went down the toilet dramatically with each upgrade. If they don't protect their products from crap, and don't provide the tools to remove them, I guess they'll face the same battle Microsoft is facing because OEMs install all that bloatware that requires a fresh install.
            • Count your blessings. At least you CAN unlock your bootloader and reflash, unlike most users stuck with a Motorola phone. Head over to XDA-developers.com sometime and feel the misery and despair in the forums for phones like the Motorola Photon/Electrify. Lots of people bought Motorola phones believing their promises that they'd be unlocking the bootloaders (especially after Google's purchase agreement was announced). The unlocking never happened, and quite a few angry users have sworn to god (or their favo

          • Re:How about... (Score:5, Informative)

            by macs4all (973270) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @11:41AM (#40511093)

            Problem is that the you are not (usually) the hardware manufacture's customer. The carrier is and from a hardware manufacture's point of view, why should they spend any money on getting a new version of the OS onto an already sold and accounted for phone?

            Because GOOGLE should be creating a licensing agreement that FORCES them to.

            But GOOGLE doesn't care about you any more than the OEM or Carrier does.

            Think about it. Google could solve this with the stroke of a pen. It's their baby; they control the licensing, period.

            But 2.2, 2.3 or 4.1 all return ad hits to Google quite nicely, thank you; so why SHOULD they care?

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Cinder6 (894572)

              I wouldn't be surprised if Google is worried about such a stance increasing fragmentation. They don't want to annoy hardware vendors enough that they go the Kindle Fire route and break away from Google completely. I think they'd be especially wary of upsetting Samsung, who (last I read, which was months ago) accounted for more than half of Android sales.

    • by neokushan (932374)

      The carriers are only part of the issue. The Manufacturer has to supply the carriers with a ROM, it's up to the carriers to them load their bloatware and push that ROM.

    • by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @08:51AM (#40510211)

      I don't know if open sourcing everything is necessary.

      If SONY wants their experia UI, HTC wants their Sense, Samsung wants whatever theirs is called, then I'd be fine with them keeping that locked up as tight as they want.

      But when they add a piece of hardware that is not familiar from other devices, open up the interface to that hardware.

      Right now I could put CyanogenMod on mine, but the FM radio wouldn't work, the camera wouldn't work, and mobile data wouldn't work. Pass.
      But that's not the CyanogenMod devs fault - they have to work with what's available, and the stock Android rom doesn't know what to do with the hardware there either.
      If only the manufacturer opened up the interfaces, then those devs could easily build bridge software.

      As it is, I opted to go with another rom that's based on the manufacturer's official rom binaries. That's not gonna fly for getting ICS or JB on there, though.

      That said, I'm happy with it as it is - some setcpu and link2sd sprinkled on top and off it goes. It'll never be a Galaxy SIII - but then, a Galaxy SII will never be a Galaxy SIII either.

      • I'm waiting for a Manufacturer to offer a Cyanogenmod version of Adroid as Stock ROM, with everything working out of the box. Samsung might go that route having hired Cyanogen himself. If they do, my next phone will be a Samsung, and I won't even look at another phone.

    • Re:How about... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AngryDeuce (2205124) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @08:56AM (#40510227)

      A thousand times this. I cannot blame Google for these fragmentation problems when it's pretty clear that the carriers are deliberately holding back the newest OS updates to force people to purchase new hardware, not to mention the tons of crapware most of the carriers insist on shoving into every corner of every Android device.

      Well, I can blame Google for not doing more to stop the carriers from playing those games, but I doubt it would do any good, as that level of deference seems to be reserved for Apple.

      Google should just start making plans to jump into the telecom space as a service provider, as they seem to be exploring with Google Fiber on the ISP front, but I doubt that will happen. I mean, how fast would Google end up testifying before Congress again before they even tried? "We've gotta stop this 'free, ad-driven' bullshit at all costs! It's goddamned communism!!! Buy the new iPhone, the official smartphone of U.S. Congress!! (TM)"

      • Most devices lack the ROM/RAM to run releases two higher than what they were shipped with. The manuf provides the next size up of memory from what was needed for the release current at time of shipment, and there is no way to upgrade the hardware of a phone after it is built.

        Personally, I think fragmentation is a red herring. It really is not difficult to support different resolutions, and stuff, and Android provides hooks to do it. If your app really needs the latest performance, then users with older ph

        • Re:How about... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by samkass (174571) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:32AM (#40510671) Homepage Journal

          Presumably anyone who cant manage to support two versions of Android is stupid or incompetent.

          I think the is the crux of the problem: is it that thousands and thousands of developers are all stupid or incompetent, or is it that Google has not provided an ecosystem that makes it financially worth it to make things work perfectly, debug, test, answer support questions, etc., for large numbers of versions and devices?

          The iPhone is a whole different beast. There have been 5 total models since its initial release, and 5 versions of the OS. Over 80% of all iPhone users are on the latest OS. The iPhone 3GS, released about 3 years ago, runs the current OS and will be upgradable to the next one. That leaves the original iPhone, and the iPhone 3G (which many had complaints about its upgradability) as the only orphaned iPhones. That's one side of the equation. On the other side is an app marketplace which outsells Android by a significant margin despite a smaller installed base, and which is well-curated with a clear path from development to release to sales. That yields a dramatically better return on investment, and is (I think) the reason developers are less willing to support the latest (or multiple) Android versions.

    • Exactly. There's no reason why my Samsung Captivate Glide should be stuck on Gingerbread.

      Similarly, there are people out there with a phone that is on one carrier and has X release of Android while the EXACT same phone on another carrier has the newer Y release of Android.
    • Re:How about... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lightknight (213164) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @09:23AM (#40510333) Homepage

      Agreed. I have a Motorola Triumph, and while I can download hacked versions of ICS (do want), a proper / supported version seems unlikely.

      The way I figure it, from the cellphone manufacturer's point of view, offering an upgrade to the latest version of Android may not be in their best interests: in doing so, they are missing out on a chance to up-sell you on a newer model. It's that brain-damaged style of thinking that infects some sectors of the global economy, and holds the rest of the human race back.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        It's that brain-damaged style of thinking that infects some sectors of the global economy, and holds the rest of the human race back.

        No, the brain-damaged style of thinking that is holding the human race back is exemplified by the fact that you claim to care about upgrades but you would buy a device without knowing if you will be able to upgrade ahead of time. You're not thinking ahead and you're blaming others for your problems.

    • by Snaller (147050) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:36AM (#40510697) Journal

      But 99% don't give a crap.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mjwx (966435)

        But 99% don't give a crap.

        This,

        I hack my phones and make sure they're on the latest community ROM's but my housemates also have Android phones and they dont know, let alone give a shit what Android version they're on.

        \

        99.9999999% of IOS users are the same, they dont know, let alone give a shit about what version of IOS they are on. I regularly come across outdated Iphones, hell I've come across Iphones that are over 2 years out of date with the user being completely oblivious to this ("oh, Apps? I don't bother with those" or

  • by mehrotra.akash (1539473) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @08:34AM (#40510145)
    My laptop was a midrange one purchased in 2008.
    It runs WinXP to Win8 (tried the DP) flawlessly, only RAM was upgraded to 4GB
    Why cant phones have a similar level of stardardisation/compatibility across generations?
    I should just be able to load a version of Android/Windows phone/Symbian onto a memory card, pop it into my phone and install it like I do on a PC
    • by tepples (727027)

      Why cant phones have a similar level of stardardisation/compatibility across generations?

      I can think of a couple reasons. First, there's no standard for a bootloader or fallback input and output methods on ARM the way there is on x86 (BIOS bootloader, PS/2 keyboard and mouse, VESA video). Second, phones emit a radio frequency signal, and the radio software has to be approved by multiple national radio regulators.

      • Thats not the core. The core is that it would require the manifacturers to provide drivers to multiple devices, most of them refuse to give out drivers for anything else than the first batch of devices, or demand stuff max compitablity is with whatever old backport CentOS is running.

      • by vlm (69642) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @08:46AM (#40510195)

        The most important reason is you'd riot if your laptop couldn't be upgraded, but the carrier business model depends on you signing a new 2 year contract in exchange for a new "free" phone... with upgraded software.

        If the vast majority of people were only able to buy laptops via their ISP, their ISP would use upgrades as a lever to force 2 year contracts, just like cell phone operators.

        • by RenderSeven (938535) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @11:02AM (#40510821)
          Thats not even the worst of it. Add a phone to an existing account, new 2 year contract. Drop a phone, new 2 year contract. Change your plan, even to add more services, new 2 year contract. Probably next step is if you call for support, you have to sign a new 2 year contract.

          Maybe if upgrades were linked to a new 2 year contract the carriers would take upgrading more seriously. Of course people would riot, but then again the average sheep doesnt seem to complain about these abuses any more than they complain about dropped calls, low data rates, and piss-poor call quality. Im dumbfounded that no one has seriously sued any of the carriers over failure to support existing contracted customers with sufficient towers and software updates.
    • by neokushan (932374)

      You can't upgrade the RAM on a phone, so there's that. However, what you've just described (sans memory card) is possible with Android as it is, depending on how willing your manufacturer and/or carrier are to letting you unlock the device. Anyone with a Galaxy Nexus can install Jelly Bean onto it right now if they wanted, same with the Galaxy S III or the HTC One X, despite official ROMs not being available yet - all because of being able to root them.

    • by grumling (94709)

      That's the last thing manufacturers want. They saw what happened to the PC hardware market, which was basically a race to the bottom on price. If they can do ANYTHING to differentiate themselves from each other they will, even if it means they have to support hardware themselves. Unfortunately they want it both ways, selling commodity hardware with a "unique" wrapper.

      The way it should work is similar to Cisco's model (not that Cisco is all that great either). Buy the hardware, and buy a support contract. As

      • by ozmanjusri (601766) <(moc.liamtoh) (ta) (bob_eissua)> on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:07AM (#40510561) Journal

        That's the last thing manufacturers want. They saw what happened to the PC hardware market, which was basically a race to the bottom on price.

        Too late.

        Chinese companies like MediaTek, Allwinner and RockChip are already producing and selling very capable low cost SoCs. Manufacturers are already using them in $150 phones that perform better than last year's premium handsets.

        http://armdevices.net/category/chip-provider/mediatek/ [armdevices.net]

        I've said this before, but I don't think we're too far away from seeing very usable phones cheap enough to be retailing in blister-packs in supermarkets.

      • by mounthood (993037)

        Upgrading software and replacing hardware is a great strategy for the telecoms -- both are dirt cheap compared to their service contracts. I think they could easily sell a "never-ending upgrades" premium contract that gave new hardware with the latest software, say, once a year. That would make everyone happy: Google because Android fragmentation would be fixed, and in basically the same way iPhone fragmentation is fixed: massive turnover. Hardware manufacturers could sell in much greater volume, which woul

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      My subnotebook was a cheap-ass one purchased... hmm. Don't even know. It's a Gateway LT3102 or 3012 or some shit like that. It's got R690M chipset so that should help date it. It only runs Vista correctly. I've heard that you can use drivers for some other machine to get Windows 7 working. XP, no, fail. Linux, no, fail. radeon gives me massive display corruption and fglrx has never supported this hardware. Did a test recently and the radeon driver is worse than ever.

    • by jmichaelg (148257)

      Look back to how Windows propagated. When DOS first came out, hardware was all over the map. There wasn't a standard PC platform. In the mid-80's I was running a Mac publishing firm and I simply wasn't interested in trying to port our products to DOS because I didn't think we could do a good job supporting customers who had such disparate hardware. So products like Crystal Quest, Fluent Fonts and Conflict Catcher stayed Mac-only. By the late 80's, my sales VP was pushing to expand into the early versions of

  • HTC and Samsung along with countless others IMO fail to push updates quickly enough. I only got my official OTA update for my Galaxy Note about 3 weeks ago. Does Google try to enforce some kind of release schedule across manufacturers?
  • by Michalson (638911) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @08:44AM (#40510183)
    The PDK does address an issue that Google shouldn't have made an issue to begin with - manufacturers actually getting some lead time. But it doesn't address the issue of why Gingerbread itself is still such a big chunk of the market.

    ICS simply can't run on budget Android devices. The Android makers that are making money (Samsung) are targeting a much wider market then just the high end subsidized North American market. Samsung is able to turn a profit because they're spreading their costs over a much wider net with both mid range phones like the Ace line and a lot of super-low end ones (Y, Mini, Pocket) that compete directly with feature phones and in emerging markets. ICS is never going to run on those and Samsung and others won't try - they're still releasing brand new phones, 8 months later, running Gingerbread with no hope for an upgrade.

    Android will continue to be 'fragmented' between Gingerbread and whatever the latest and greatest is for a long time, at least as long as the gulf exists between heavily carrier subsized phones in a few countries (allowing iPhones, Samsung Galaxy Ss and HTC One Xs to sell in any quantity) and full cost phones in other countries where (Gingerbread) Android's price point is the biggest selling point against more expensive smart phones and increasingly identically priced feature phones.
    • by Shavano (2541114)

      ICS simply can't run on budget Android devices. The Android makers that are making money (Samsung) are targeting a much wider market then just the high end subsidized North American market. Samsung is able to turn a profit because they're spreading their costs over a much wider net with both mid range phones like the Ace line and a lot of super-low end ones (Y, Mini, Pocket) that compete directly with feature phones and in emerging markets. ICS is never going to run on those and Samsung and others won't try - they're still releasing brand new phones, 8 months later, running Gingerbread with no hope for an upgrade. Android will continue to be 'fragmented' between Gingerbread and whatever the latest and greatest is for a long time, at least as long as the gulf exists between heavily carrier subsized phones in a few countries (allowing iPhones, Samsung Galaxy Ss and HTC One Xs to sell in any quantity) and full cost phones in other countries where (Gingerbread) Android's price point is the biggest selling point against more expensive smart phones and increasingly identically priced feature phones.

      There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it's a good thing to have cheap low-end choices, as long as you're told up front when you buy the phone that it's not capable of upgrade because of its limited hardware capability, and you pay more for a more powerful phone that can support the latest, most powerful and prettiest Android.

  • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Sunday July 01, 2012 @08:46AM (#40510191) Homepage

    Fragmentation has been getting less and less of an issue for Android over time, it's a lot more complex than Apples presentations would have you believe.

    The first issue is that a lot of features announced as part of new Android releases are actually new features of the apps, and those apps are often backported to old OS releases and released through the Play store. For instance, basically any feature added to Maps becomes available all the way back to at least Gingerbread, and I think also Froyo. Voice search, upgraded Gmail apps, upgraded YouTube apps, new versions of the Play app etc, all backported. Apple tends to announce new app features as part of new iOS releases, and then remove them from the "upgrade" distributed to old devices. Therefore you can be running a new iOS or an old Android yet have the same or better features!

    So what about from a developer perspective? Well, here too the issue is more complicated than it looks. A lot of the new APIs that are "pure software" have also been backported through compatibility libraries. These are drop-in libraries you include with your app download that provide the API on older phones that don't have them natively. The APIs that remain are often hardware oriented and wouldn't be available on older iPhones either.

    The final issue is upgrades that aren't. I used to think that OS upgrades on a phone were a no-brainer and if you didn't get them, you got screwed. Since then I've seen a few things that changed my mind. One is that manufacturers including Apple have sometimes (not always) released updates for old devices that can't really keep up and which seriously degrade performance. Typically you can't go back, so that's a problem. The upcoming iOS 6 might be seen as a downgrade on the Maps front as well.

    Another is that the Gingerbread to ICS was a huge change in user interface - for the better, I think - but time and time again the software business has learned that some users just don't want big UI changes, period. I'm pretty sure if every Gingerbread device became Jellybean tomorrow, a lot of Slashdot readers would rejoice and a lot of our friends/relatives/etc would hate Android with a passionate fire, just because it's a big change that would take them by surprise. Apple has largely avoided this problem by not making any big UI changes over the iPhones lifetime. You could argue they got it right first time, I guess ;)

    • by grumling (94709)

      Except for bugs that crash the phone when you least expect it. Google doesn't seem very interested in bug fixes on old platforms. You can't tell me that Froyo's core code is perfect and the reason my old Galaxy Tab crashes is all because of Samsung's drivers. If they fix a bug I'm sure it goes into the next release. I'm amazed by how much more stable my GS2 is on ICS over Gingerbread, going from strange lock ups every day or so to not needing a reboot for 2 weeks now (since I loaded ICS).

    • by Cereal Box (4286)

      A lot of the new APIs that are "pure software" have also been backported through compatibility libraries.

      Actually, very few APIs have been backported. You have the compatibility library which is centered around providing support for added APIs in core classes (View, Fragment, etc.) but other than that, you get nothing else. You don't get things like changes to WebView that have happened over several versions, action bar support (someone has developed their own 3rd party support library for that though, curious that Google couldn't be bothered to do the same thing), etc. If you actually look at the API diff

  • To quote what I wrote:

    The general consensus regarding the PDK for Android Jellybean and upwards seems to lean in the same direction as I am saying: "it won't amount to much, if anything at all." The biggest problem for end-users is the fact that companies do not want to do updates for already-released products, so releasing a PDK that is supposed to let start working on the updates slightly earlier than regularly -- with no other positive effects or incentives whatsoever -- really means nothing. If Google really sought to improve the situation for end-users they should start maintaining a "Google Experience" - version of Android.

    Implementing a "Google Experience" Android would first off require them to modularize Android somewhat so that it can be slimmed down by not installing features that won't be used, like e.g. voice search and everything related to it is mostly worthless in any country which do not support it so why insist on installing it? Allow user to choose to install it, yes, but do not force it. Modularizing Android this way would help in a situation where there is not enough storage to install the whole thing: the installer could present the user with a warning dialog explaining the situation and let user pick and unpick features -- with explanation on what each feature means -- until the system fits comfortably, then before starting the installation remind the user of what features won't be available and make certain the user still wishes to proceed.

    A second thing that would be needed would be for manufacturers to start including, say, 32 kilobytes of ROM where would be details about the actual hardware: device manufacturer, model, revision, amount of installed RAM, sizes, types and location of any storage and then a listing of all the hardware with manufacturer, model, revision, connection type, memory addresses/register addresses/etc. needed for using the device, what features the device supports and so on. The installer would then be able to check the list against Google-maintained drivers to see if there even exists drivers for the hardware, if the drivers support the connection type/scheme, etc. Also, one of the more important things would be that it would also be able to check if the Google-maintained drivers support all the features the hardware supports, and if not, the installer could warn the user of the features they would lose by installing "Google Experience" - Android.

    In that ROM could also be defined a list -- even if it were just a partial one -- of what applications the manufacturer provides on the stock ROM so that the "Google Experience" installer could try to offer substitutes for them after the installation is finished.

    These two things would solve almost all the major issues related to upgrading to newer Android-versions and would quite obviously benefit end-users enormously. As always, though, there's a catch. Actually, two catches, in this case: manufacturers won't want to make it easier for customers to get updates for their devices because they want people to keep buying new shiny, ergo. they will not install the kind of list I mentioned, and Google won't want to go along with the plan because Google wants only their Nexus-line to be directly Google-approved.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      The biggest problem for end-users is the fact that companies do not want to do updates for already-released products

      not necessarily so - I have a bodged-up version of ICS running on my Samsung Galaxy S1, so kudos to them for taking the effort. But I can imagine I won't get a JB upgrade, only partly because of the time pressure to fit it in, but mainly because my device will not have enough RAM to run it acceptably (ICS isn't as good a user experience as GB on my device, its nowhere near as fast). So its no

      • Budget phones are obviously a category for themselves, I still believe that with slimming down and modularizing Android one could actually still fit several updates even on those. One thing that budget phones often lack is storage space which makes it hard to fit newer Android-releases there, but with modularized installs one could leave less-useful features out and still get the rest of the benefits of the newer release. Also, when it comes to RAM the "Google Experience" Android would quite likely actually

  • I don't really see another way around this. The same problem plagues computer OSs also, look at windows.

    The only way I see to do this is to either force the updates directly or to have a short cutoff point for support and compatibility. (thus forcing them indirectly)

    A lot of consumers won't like this. They naturally want/prefer something they bought to last a lifetime without "paying again" to update or replace/upgrade it. But in the long-run, fragmentation is bad for them. Since companies make money of

    • by Shavano (2541114)

      I don't really see another way around this. The same problem plagues computer OSs also, look at windows.

      The only way I see to do this is to either force the updates directly or to have a short cutoff point for support and compatibility. (thus forcing them indirectly)

      A lot of consumers won't like this.

      Yeah, it's MY PHONE. I was happy with it when I bought it and I DON'T TRUST YOU to decide what software I should be running on MY PHONE.

      Carriers sees it as a phone is running on THEIR NETWORK and they DON'T TRUST YOU to decide what software should have access to THEIR NETWORK.

      The manufacturer sees it similarly as well. The phone carries THEIR BRANDING and is under THEIR WARRANTY. You have no business screwing with the way it works if it could tarnish THEIR REPUTATION and cost them money.

      Any of those rea

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @09:03AM (#40510253)
    As long as phone makers want to control the experience and Google doesn't provide its own EASY way to bypass that, they're going to have to deal with a fragmented base.
  • by sribe (304414) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @09:11AM (#40510285)

    7% is even more pathetic than it sounds. Let me back up and start with a different observation...

    I keep reading that 80% of iOS users are on the latest release, and it seems too high to me that 80% of users would upgrade. Well, they didn't. iOS sales are growing at about 100% per year. Which means that at any point in time, approximately half the units ever sold were sold in the past year. So 50% of iOS devices run the latest version because they were bought since it came out. Now, only 60% of the remaining 50% have to actually upgrade--and I haven't accounted for old devices that are no longer in use and therefore no longer show up in these stats, and therefore increase the proportion of newer devices.

    Well, guess what? Android device sales have been growing even faster than iOS. More than 50% of units shipped in the last year. But only 7% of units have the version that was released 1.5 years ago??? This means the device manufacturers are doing a unbelievably bad job of keeping up to date. If this continues, then only 7% of devices will be running Jelly Bean by about the beginning of 2014. Now there are certain things about the way that Android is distributed which mean that new versions will necessarily spread slower than iOS to some degree, and this announcement is an attempt to change that. But given the current spread of new OS versions, I think it's pretty obvious that the handset manufacturers (and carriers) don't even care and are not even trying AT ALL. Given that, I'm not sure that making it easier for them will be enough.

    I don't know how google solves this, but they sure need to! This is a good (and necessary) step, but I worry that device manufacturers will not be sufficiently motivated to take advantage and stay as up to date as they should...

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      7% is even more pathetic than it sounds. Let me back up and start with a different observation...

      I keep reading that 80% of iOS users are on the latest release, and it seems too high to me that 80% of users would upgrade. Well, they didn't. iOS sales are growing at about 100% per year. Which means that at any point in time, approximately half the units ever sold were sold in the past year. So 50% of iOS devices run the latest version because they were bought since it came out. Now, only 60% of the remaining 50% have to actually upgrade--and I haven't accounted for old devices that are no longer in use and therefore no longer show up in these stats, and therefore increase the proportion of newer devices.

      Well, guess what? Android device sales have been growing even faster than iOS. More than 50% of units shipped in the last year. But only 7% of units have the version that was released 1.5 years ago??? This means the device manufacturers are doing a unbelievably bad job of keeping up to date. If this continues, then only 7% of devices will be running Jelly Bean by about the beginning of 2014. Now there are certain things about the way that Android is distributed which mean that new versions will necessarily spread slower than iOS to some degree, and this announcement is an attempt to change that. But given the current spread of new OS versions, I think it's pretty obvious that the handset manufacturers (and carriers) don't even care and are not even trying AT ALL. Given that, I'm not sure that making it easier for them will be enough.

      I don't know how google solves this, but they sure need to! This is a good (and necessary) step, but I worry that device manufacturers will not be sufficiently motivated to take advantage and stay as up to date as they should...

      I came across the same observation too, struggling to understand why this is a "problem" for Google when damn near every device on the planet (primarily mobile devices) is replaced with new hardware every 2 - 3 years. The other 90% of manufacturers on the planet would kill to have a hardware refresh cycle that fast.

      However, trying to compare Andriod to iOS isn't exactly fair. iOS has ONE line of hardware to support, manufactured by the same company, which makes it pretty damn easy when one hand is talking

      • by sribe (304414)

        However, trying to compare Andriod to iOS isn't exactly fair. iOS has ONE line of hardware to support, manufactured by the same company, which makes it pretty damn easy when one hand is talking to the other, and you're only dealing with one hand.

        Yes, it's harder for manufacturers to keep up on Android. But that's no excuse for this: between 6 months and 18 months after ICS was released, fewer than 15% of handsets shipped with it.

    • by kidgenius (704962)

      But only 7% of units have the version that was released 1.5 years ago??? This means the device manufacturers are doing a unbelievably bad job of keeping up to date.

      ICS hasn't even been out for a year. More like 9 months. But yes, the manufacturers are terrible at it. They are STILL selling devices with gingerbread. Though I think any phone that has been released in the last 2 months have all run gingerbread. Though, I don't keep up with the low-end releases, only the flagship devices.

      • by sribe (304414)

        ICS hasn't even been out for a year. More like 9 months.

        You're right. That's what I get for trying to date math in my head first thing in the morning. Hope somebody mods you or me (here) up ;-)

    • by rgbrenner (317308) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:12AM (#40510581)

      I keep reading that 80% of iOS users are on the latest release, and it seems too high to me that 80% of users would upgrade.

      I have an iPhone, and I don't have a hard time believing 80% of users would update.

      1) iTunes, which they are already using, automatically checks for updates, and tells you when one is available, and asks you if you want to install it. IIRC, if you decline the update, it will repeatedly ask you to install the update every time you open iTunes. You can disable updates, but that is not the default.. so it would require action from the user.

      2) if you choose not to install it, it won't be long (a few months) before you will start seeing messages like "this app requires at least iOS vX.X.X", and you won't be able to install new apps on your phone or update the apps you already have installed.

      So although you could choose not to upgrade, it is very easy to update, and if you install new apps (or update your apps), then the updates are pretty much required.

      • by sribe (304414)

        I have an iPhone, and I don't have a hard time believing 80% of users would update.

        Well, hard time believing it or not, the simple fact is, the actual rate of upgrade is a good bit lower--probably around 50-60%.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Wrong:

          http://www.iphonehacks.com/2012/03/ios-5-1-upgrade-stats.html [iphonehacks.com]

          Even though iOS 5.1 didn't include any major new feature and jailbreakers were warned to stay away from it, David Smith - developer of Audiobooks app (App Store link) reports that quite a large percentage of users have already upgraded to iOS 5.1.

          Smith who gets approximately 100,000 downloads per week for his app, shares some interesting statistics about the adoption rate of the latest iOS software update:

          More than 50% of the users had upgraded to iOS 5.1 within 5 days, which was almost as fast as users upgrading to iOS 5.0.1 released back in November.

        • by jo_ham (604554) <joham999@noSPaM.gmail.com> on Sunday July 01, 2012 @11:20AM (#40510961)

          I have an iPhone, and I don't have a hard time believing 80% of users would update.

          Well, hard time believing it or not, the simple fact is, the actual rate of upgrade is a good bit lower--probably around 50-60%.

          That number will change now that OTA updates were put into iOS. The majority of those who don't upgrade will be because they never connect their phone to their computer. Now you don't need to do that to update it, and it will still periodically check for you, so there will be an even larger percentage using the current version of the OS in the future.

        • by rgbrenner (317308) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @12:36PM (#40511391)

          your speculation that it is lower, while interesting, does not equal proof. Your guessing that half of iphone users are on the new version because they bought new devices.. An idea that is completely baseless. And you provide no evidence to support it in any way.

          So how about some facts.

          Here's a link to a page, from an iOS/Android app developer, showing iOS users upgrading to the latest version. Within 2 weeks, 60%+ are using the very latest version (5.1.0), and 85% are using 5.0.0, 5.0.1, or 5.1.0.
          http://david-smith.org/blog/2012/03/10/ios-5-dot-1-upgrade-stats/ [david-smith.org]

  • by ChunderDownunder (709234) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @09:30AM (#40510369)

    You know that Android vendor you bought Google? Motorola Mobility.

    Certain phones are still stuck on 2.x because *your company* won't update them. Less than 2 year old (24 month contract) phones are stuck on froyo - e.g Defy.

    Providing an unlocked bootloader so the community (e.g. cyanogenmod) can update them to Jellybean would be a good sign.

  • by steveha (103154) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @09:37AM (#40510413) Homepage

    TFA says devices are still "three major releases behind". Well, let's think about that.

    After 2.3 came 3.0, Honeycomb, which was for tablets only. Then after a long time came 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, for phones again. Now 4.1, Jellybean, is the next major release, and it is so new that Google just announced it.

    So, what is the actual current situation? Jellybean is totally new and there is no way any phone can have it yet. ICS is shipping on some phones, and other phones have shipped with 2.3 Gingerbread but with a promise to upgrade to ICS soon. No phones are running Honeycomb because it is for tablets only.

    So I think the "three major releases behind" bit is disingenuous. It would be more fair to say "ICS has been a bit slow to roll out" but I guess that's not as impressive.

    steveha

  • by kidgenius (704962) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @09:38AM (#40510417)
    Only TWO versions behind, not three. NO phones received Honeycomb. That was tablet only and doesn't count.
  • If your old phone has all the new stuff you're less likely to buy a new phone. Manufacturers have no incentive to update their phones and I suspect they'll fight any initiative that tries and force them to do it.
    • by Dzimas (547818) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:05AM (#40510553)
      And by "old," you mean 18 months. It's a significant problem for those of us living in Canada, where 3 year contracts are the norm. By the time the contract is half over, your phone is no longer supported.
  • It won't help, and here's why:

    Google fundamentally do not understand the mobile phone industry. Most phone manufacturers are following a broadly similar development methodology: design phone, put together firmware to run on it, release phone, get on with designing next phone.

    This is all carried out at breakneck speed because most of the manufacturers insist on having a stupidly large range of handsets.

    Once work on the next phone has started, firmware upgrades to the last model they were working on are few a

  • by jonwil (467024) on Sunday July 01, 2012 @10:23AM (#40510637)

    That manufacturers continue to release brand new devices running Gingerbread with no upgrade path to Ice Cream Sandwich whatsoever. And its not like these are devices that started development long before ICS appeared, some of them are devices that were likely early enough in their development phase that they could easily have started work on an ICS port at that point (and in some cases even potentially switched to ICS before the release)

    Google already has certification requirements for a "Google" device that has Play/Marketplace, gmail etc on it.
    Some things I think Google should add to those requirements that would benefit Android:
    1.They should tell OEMs that after , any not-yet-released devices that want certification MUST be running Ice Cream Sandwich or at the very least have a defined upgrade path to ICS.
    2.They should tell OEMs that Google must be the default search engine (after all, the search is a big part of how Google makes its money on Android)
    3.They should tell OEMs that they must fully comply with the license of any and all software they are shipping on the phone (including the GPLv2 for the Linux Kernel). No more of this "its industry standard practice to release kernel source weeks/months after the binaries have shipped" BS that some OEMs *cough*HTC*cough* keep pulling again and again.

    • by jonwil (467024)

      That first one should have been after a certain date, any not-yet-released devices

  • google needs to build in a OS update push that bypasses all carriers. Waiting for the carrier to get around to it is not working and will not work. Bypass them.

    android phones should check for updates from the mother-ship at google. and tell Motorola, HTC,Samsung,Dell,Sony,LG, ATT, Verizon, etc... all to suck eggs.

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