On Android Updates

I know it’s the popular thing to do at the moment, but I just have some thoughts on the issue that I’d like to share.

Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab
The topic was kicked off a few days ago when Samsung confirmed the Galaxy S, it’s most popular Android phone to date, and Galaxy Tab will not be getting Ice Cream Sandwich because of TouchWiz. I think this is a little bit of a bullshit excuse. With it’s current partition scheme, it probably won’t fit, but would it not be possible for them to release a manual update tool that will also repartition? Maybe it’s not, and if so, I take it back. But it still points out a very important thing — manufacturers skins do add bloat to Android, enough to block updates that users deserve.

The Nexus Program
Ok, so most people probably don’t care. Their phone works as it did when they bought it, they can still play Angry Birds, they’re happy. The general argument is, if you care about updates, buy a Nexus. But the Nexus program has a glaring issue. The fact that there is only one current generation device on sale at a time (not counting the mind-boggling number of Galaxy Nexus variations) means many have to either pay full price for a SIM free device, or switch network to get it on contract, sometimes resulting in far less value service. In Ireland, you can only get the Galaxy Nexus on Vodafone which, from what I can tell, is the worst value network in Ireland. Having carrier exclusivity deals really goes against what Nexus originally stood for.

The Solution
I think it’s time for Google to change the Nexus program. Google talk about choice, but there’s only one Nexus device released each year. I think Google should look towards the Windows Phone model — mandate particular hardware, and manage updates themselves. Manufacturers can still create their own skins with their own hardware, but they can also release one or two Nexus devices. Manufacturers should love this, as they can essentially forget about a phone after selling it and still keep existing customers happy. Google should love it because it will fall inline with their “choice” buzzword, and it will stop people from moving over to iPhone or Windows Phone to ensure consistent and speedy updates. And of course, techies will love it because they’ll get the latest version of Android to play with sooner rather than later (or never).