The Problem With Your Android Phone


Photo: Flickr/holisticmonkey

Google began rolling out the new version of Android, called Jelly Bean, to smartphones Tuesday night.But chances are pretty good you’re not going to get it any time soon.

For now, the update only works on the unlocked model of the Galaxy Nexus, Google’s flagship phone that it sells in its own online store for $399. The Jelly Bean update won’t work on the Verizon and Sprint models of the Galaxy Nexus (yet), which most people in the U.S. likely own.

So, out of the dozens of different Android phone models available in the U.S. today, only one of them has Jelly Bean. And it’s one very few people here own since Google began selling the phone in the U.S. only a few months ago.

It gets worse.

According to Google’s own numbers, almost 90% of Android devices worldwide are still two or more versions behind. The vast majority are running a version called Gingerbread, which came out at the end of 2010. It’s taken almost eight months for the last version of Android, called Ice Cream Sandwich, to reach 10% of Android devices.

The tiny Jelly Bean rollout demonstrates the biggest problem with Android today. No matter how good the operating system gets – and Jelly Bean is really, really good – most people have to wait months after a new release to use it, assuming they get it at all.

For example, Samsung and its U.S. carrier partners are just now pushing out the Ice Cream Sandwich update to the popular Galaxy S II phone, which launched almost a year ago. Some top-of-the-line phones from big manufacturers like Motorola and HTC aren’t scheduled to get Ice Cream Sandwich until the fall, almost a year after the operating system’s release.

Meanwhile, Google is chugging along with Jelly Bean.

So why does this keep happening?

First of all, manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, Motorola, etc. like to customise Android with their own “skins” to set them apart from other devices. It takes time to skin a new version of Android.

After that, U.S. carriers have to test and approve each software update. That takes even more time as carriers like to bog down Android with their own apps and services. 

So months and months and months can pass between the release of a new version of Android and the time it actually pushes to your phone. And by then Google is usually gearing up for it’s next version of Android. The result: most users are perpetually two versions behind, as is the case today.

What’s the solution?

For consumers, your best bet at ensuring you get the latest version of Android right away is to buy one of Google’s unlocked Nexus-branded phones. That way you don’t have to wait for your carrier to approve each update.

Everyone else has to wait for their carrier and manufacturer to update their phones. Unfortunately, there’s no real incentive for them to do so in a timely manner, so it’s usually a long wait.

When Google announced Jelly Bean a few weeks ago, it said it gave some manufacturers early access to the operating system. That should help updates arrive faster, but don’t be surprised if your new Galaxy S III, HTC One X, or any other Android phone you buy today is stuck on Ice Cream Sandwich well into 2013.

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