Google’s Android team has no difficulty shipping software. In fact, consumers have received some 10 significant OS updates over the past three years, most recently Android 4.0, aka Ice Cream Sandwich, or ICS.
But there’s still a problem: With hundreds of different devices running Google’s mobile operating system — all with different hardware specs and additional software add-ons — it’s difficult to determine exactly when any given handset will receive an OS update (let alone an update to ICS).
Fret not, however; some handset manufacturers are providing at least an inkling of when to expect the latest Android updates on their phones.
Most recently, Samsung gave a few estimations of when ICS would come to its Galaxy S II and Galaxy Note smartphones. Both devices, Samsung says, should receive Android 4.0 some time in the first quarter of 2012.
Samsung also continues to rattle off a number of other devices that will get the upgrade — most notably the four different-sized versions of the Galaxy Tab, the LTE version of the Galaxy S II, and the Galaxy R, a budget smartphone. For these devices, however, the company hasn’t provided a timeline as to when customers will see updates.
Currently, only two devices are running Ice Cream Sandwich — the recently launched Galaxy Nexus, and last year’s flagship device, the Nexus S (both are from Samsung). So if you want ICS right now, you’ll have to do some last-minute Christmas shopping for yourself.
So that’s the Samsung story — and in terms of ICS deployment, it’s the happiest story around.
Motorola, for example, is in the process of a major campaign to relaunch its Razr smartphone, a best-selling brand in the mid-2000s (over 50 million Razrs were shipped by the end of 2006). The new Razr is being marketed as a high-end device, complete with state-of-the-art, durable construction and an exceptionally thin profile.
And yet, the Razr — which was released just weeks before the Galaxy Nexus — will not come with Ice Cream Sandwich. Nor will its beefy companion, the Droid Bionic. Nor will the original Xoom tablet. Nor will Motorola’s Xyboard tablets, the successors to the Xoom.
These are frustrating developments for Motorola customers — developments that the company has attempted to spin via a detailed memorandum on exactly why it could take anywhere from three to six months before Moto devices see ICS.
Surprisingly, much of the holdup comes not from integrating the software into new hardware, which might seem on the surface to be a major sticking point. Instead, the update process gets bottlenecked after the manufacturer submits the phones to the carriers for certification. This portion of the software update pipeline can can take anwhere from two to four months to finalize.
HTC is in a position similar to Motorola’s. Although the company says a large number of its devices will receive ICS — look for updates in the Rezound, the Sensation series, two of the newer Evo phones, and the Amaze 4G — we shouldn’t expect those until early 2012.
All three of the major Android handset manufacturers have something else in common; While they’ve announced a selection of phones that will get ICS, we’re not being told which phones will most certainly not receive the update.
That said, it’s not hard to predict inevitable ICS have-nots. Phones that are two to three years old will probably be left behind, as they don’t have the hardware brawn to support Google’s latest OS version. Even HTC’s Nexus One, the first device to take the Nexus legacy name, isn’t capable of handling an ICS update.
And even if some of the older devices were able to handle the update, it’s not exactly in the best interests of manufacturers and carriers to compel you to keep an aging phone. Do device makers work hard to offer product support, ensuring what you paid for always works? Yes. But are they incentivized to throw resources into adding new features to old hardware? No, sadly not.
Bottom line: Unless you’re a Nexus owner, you won’t be seeing an ICS update until well after the holidays. If at all.