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29 June 2012, 12:52

Google plans to ease the Android update problem

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Google is making another attempt to fix the Android update problem at the Google I/O conference. The plan is to give smartphone, tablet and chip manufacturers earlier opportunities to adapt their current and new hardware to forthcoming Android versions. Google said that it hopes that this will allow users to receive their updates faster.

To achieve this, Android executive Hugo Barra announced a "Platform Development Kit" (PDK). Barra said that the kit contains the "required source code" to allow manufacturers to port a forthcoming Android version to their hardware. He added that Google will make the PDK available to its partners two to three months before a new version is released. The executive didn't mention what criteria Google will use to select these partners.

Google releases updates on a six-monthly basis. With Android smartphones sold in 2009 and 2010, it took about nine months before manufacturers such as Samsung, Motorola and Sony passed on Google's updates to their users.

As a result, the software on many devices constantly lags behind the latest version. Take, for instance, the AT&T version of the Samsung Galaxy S II. It was updated to Android 4.0 just this week, which means that it will likely only be running the latest Android version for about two to three weeks, as Google plans to release Android 4.1 in mid-July.

If Google implements its PDK plan as announced, future updates may reach the users of older devices a few months sooner. Mobile manufacturers could work on porting a new version to their hardware while Google is still fine-tuning the details – provided that they plan to update at all, which hasn't always been the case even with relatively recent smartphones. According to Motorola, adapting the code to chipsets and other components is the biggest challenge when developing updates.

The PDK is Google's second attempt to fix the update issue. At the I/O 2011 conference, Google had promised that HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson devices would provide updates to the current version of Android for at least 18 months. However, such a promise isn't worth much if it does not state the speed of updates. When asked by The H's associates at c't in April 2012, almost none of the manufacturers involved wanted to comment on the "18 months" plan, not even Google itself. This is the biggest issue with Android for most users: many smartphones get very late updates, if they get updates at all.


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