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Android Smartphones Still Lagging Behind Apple in Terms of System Updates

December 9, 2013 - Written By Ray Greer

We all love Android, and it shows that the rest of the world agrees with us. Android’s user base has significantly grown over the past few years, reaching numbers over 80%. One of our favorite things about Android, is how they are constantly changing, adding new features and improving the way the OS runs. One of the reasons we get upset with Android, is how they are constantly changing, adding new features and improving the way the OS runs.

Alright, that’s a bit of an over statement, but what is true there, is that we’re often disappointed at the speed of which we receive an update. That makes Android’s strength, a weakness as well. The best part about Android, is choice. We have so many different OEMs to choose from and it truly is beautiful how that works. However, when we compare that to Apple, there is something that just doesn’t quite fit our liking. We would love to argue how Android is far superior to Apple, but when it comes to software updates, Android is still falling behind.

Fidlee.com has put together a chart to better show this theory and all the wonderfully confusing numbers behind this awful truth. So lets turn to the charts, and see exactly what is behind this terrible news.

The way the chart works, is it shows the device on the left and years since release at the top. We see that almost every Android device, no matter who the OEM is behind said device, falls behind after the first year of launch. This proves one thing that most of us knew in the first place, Android devices have a short lifespan. The problem is when you compare this to Apple products, you will notice that it takes about 5 years for them to begin falling behind on OS updates.

Every OEM has what is known as a flagship device for the year. The flagship device, is supposed to be the main device OEMs will focus on during the next year. The chart shows that even the flagship devices fall greatly behind. Take the Samsung Galaxy Note and T-Mobiles G2x for example. Both devices started out one major OS behind current devices of their time of release. Meaning they all hit the ground and laid there, never really catching up to the rest of the devices out.

It is easy to place blame for the lack of update status on the OEM’s, but that is too easy. Take the HTC flagship devices that is a Google Play Edition, the HTC One GPE. A Google Play Edition is a device that has essentially been commissioned by Google to run Vanilla versions of Android, meaning no UI overlays, a purely Google experience. However, these devices still need to be worked on by HTC to receive the update, and the HTC One GPE has already received Android 4.4 Kit Kat. Also HTC has vowed to give the US an official update within 90 days of the release of Android KitKat. Even though their history isn’t so great, HTC has been making great strides in improving that view. So who is left to blame? We can’t necessarily point any fingers at Google, since they have updated all their devices save for one, the Galaxy Nexus by Samsung. Which makes their track record very similar to Apple. That leaves carriers in the US.

Could it be the carriers that are keeping us behind, and blocking our ability to receive the newest version of the OS? Well that is a possibility, though slim. We are all aware of what “bloatware” is, it comes in many forms, Samsung’s TouchWiz, HTC Sense, and carrier specific apps. The issue is that when Google releases a new update to their OS, they don’t exactly wait for everyone to get caught up and then release it all at the same time. If they did that, their would be less of a reason to buy their own Nexus devices. Still the last step after the update has been released to OEMs is the carriers. They need to inspect and make sure the update works with their networks, and add their carrier specific apps. Once all of the additions have been made, the update needs to go through many tests and rebuilds. This is one of the main reasons why it takes so long to get the update, though there is still no reason we can solely point the finger at US carriers.

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It would seem to be a combined effort by all involved, from Google, to the Carriers, to the OEMs. Every little step that needs to happen when an update comes out, puts us a little behind, and by the time the update would be ready for some devices, OEM’s already have a new flagship device ready. Which gives us another option, update your device. Spend more money to get the latest Android version, but who has the money to purchase a new device every time Google decides to update their Android OS? Which gives you more reason to buy a Nexus device.

Not to seem like, “the man is out to get us” and all, but there seems to be a bigger pattern to this whole situation.

The luxury that Apple seems to have, is that they are the only ones creating their devices, and their software. That’s the only reason they are able to see numbers like, 77% of users on the current version of their software. This is also the reason why Apple is able to say they are responsible for the “fastest software update in history”. Easy to say when you’re cooking in the grocery store.

No matter how we look at it, Android is and will most likely always be fragmented. It is a strength and a weakness that we must all deal with if we want to stay with Android.

Do you think we can fully blame the OEMs, the carriers or Google for the fragmentation, or do you think it is a combined fault of all three?