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28 October 2011, 17:16

Android updates: a vendor lottery

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According to a well-illustrated report by Michael Degusta, very few Android phones are well-supported when it comes to upgrading the phone's operating system. The report was inspired by news that Nexus One users will not be getting an upgrade to the next version of Android (4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich).

Degusta analysed the OS update history of every Android phone shipped in the US up to the middle of last year – the Nexus One has actually fared quite well, with only one short period when the then current version of Android was not available for it; some phones have fallen three or more major versions behind the current Android release. The vast majority of the phones in the study, with the exception of 2 models, were still under contract at the time the report was published.

Degusta points out that as well as many smartphones not being updated regularly, if at all, many ship with a version of Android that is already out of date. The numbers are high: he found that 7 of the 18 smartphones in the study have never had a current version of Android and, of the 18, 11 ceased to be supported with updates less than a year after their release. The report estimates that at least 16 of the 18 are unlikely ever to be upgraded to the next version of Android, code-named Ice Cream Sandwich.

It is important for smartphones to receive updates to the operating system, not only to give users new and improved features, but also to ensure that their smartphones are secure. It has been shown that criminals are increasingly turning to smartphones as their next favourite target after Windows PCs.

The report draws a telling comparison with the iPhone. Whereas Android phones are distributed by a multiplicity of vendors through a variety of carriers, each with different enhancements to the operating system, Apple has full control over the iPhone update system. As a consequence, Apple can ensure that the latest version of the OS is available throughout the lifespan of each iPhone model.

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