Android users get screwed

December 05, 2011

JackGanssle-December 05, 2011

Keeping a product up to date is tough, but is one sure way to market success.

In his October 26 post on The Understatement, Michael Degusta shows that many Android phones, even some actively for sale today, generally don’t have an upgrade path to the latest version of the OS. (The chart on that site is an example of the brilliant use of graphics to convey a lot of information.)

iPhones, in stark contrast to the 18 Android devices he examines, always support the latest version of iOS (as long as the user bothers to install the update).

Interestingly, seven of the phones never ran a current version of Android, even when first released.

The reasoning is understandable, in a way. I’m sure that once a device gets to market management tasks engineering with developing the Next Great Thing. Product support falls by the wayside.

This is hardly news to the embedded world. One of the best things about Linux is that it is constantly being improved. Of course, in a way that’s the worst thing about Linux, since many embedded systems must lock in a particular version long before the product ships. Then there’s the support conundrum: what is the cost, and risk, of upgrading to the latest distro when updating a product?

The implication for phones is that bugs don’t get fixed. New OS features never migrate to the installed base. Security holes remain open. And yet Android itself gets so much better from one release to the next. The voice recognition, for instance, in Ice Cream Sandwich is reputedly much better than before. A Slashgear review says “Responsiveness and auto-correction accuracy have each received a huge boost”. Surely every Android user will pine for that.

As we know from physics, expenditure of energy is needed to combat entropy. So in a sense the phones run down, degraded by wear and tear. Apple’s approach means that their customers’ phones actually improve over time.

This is not to bash Android; rather, it’s a management failure. When the suits decide that their loyal customer base is unimportant those people may not be so loyal.

Degusta summarizes the situation in a very pithy way: “In other words, Apple’s way of getting you to buy a new phone is to make you really happy with your current one, whereas apparently Android phone makers think they can get you to buy a new phone by making you really unhappy with your current one.”

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at His website is

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