T-Mobile Android handsets lag behind rivals in OS updates

After seeing the recent report showing the various versions of Android on today's handsets, I began to wonder just which phones are holding the platform back. Are we simply waiting on Motorola to catchup or are there other devices responsible for the "legacy" pie chart looking this way?

As of today, every Sprint and Verizon handset comes with Android 2.1, while other carriers play catch up. AT&T's current handset, the Backflip, should see Android 2.1 at some point in the third quarter of the year, though its two recently announced phones, the Aria and Captivate, will run Android 2.1 when they arrive.

But what about T-Mobile? Though the carrier was the first to carry Android smartphones in the United States, its handsets are looking outdated and underpowered. In fact, T-Mobile is responsible for all but one Android handset not running 2.0 or higher. We've already told you about the expected updates to the Cliq and Cliq XT, but the Moto phones aren't T-Mobile's only Android phones.

Two T-Mobile models, the original G1 and Samsung Behold II are dying a slow death as neither phone will see an update beyond Android 1.6 Donut. I can't say I am surprised by the G1, as it felt like a beta phone from the day it was released. Unfortunately, the device was not built to handle the rapid growth of the platform. Indeed, today's Android handsets not only have more-advanced hardware, but they simply look more appealing on the shelf.

The Behold II, however, is another story. The G1 got 1.6, but Samsung's phone is still sitting on last summer's 1.5 version of the platform even though it went on sale in November 2009, a full year after the G1's debut. Even worse, Samsung issued a statement a few weeks ago saying that the Behold II was "not upgradable beyond Android 1.6." With this being one of Samsung's first Android phones, I think it fell victim to the same problem that plagued HTC and the G1. These are exactly the types of issues that should slow over time as Android continues to grow.

As part of a "No Phones Left Behind" statement from T-Mobile CTO Cole Brodman, the entire MyTouch 3G series of phones will "soon" see upgrades to 2.1 Eclair and 2.2 Froyo. What's more, these won't be simple stock Android upgrades as the Faves Gallery and Genius Button, which T-Mobile offered as standout selling points for the MyTouch 3G Slide, will find their way onto all MyTouch 3G handsets. Going forward, I expect to see one or two versions of the myTouch 3G handsets released per year with various hardware configurations.

Released just this month, the Garminfone is also running Android 1.6 under the hood. This phone is unique in that it operates more like a GPS with phone functionality added as a secondary feature. I get the feeling that the target demographic for this handset doesn't care as much about applications and upgrades, but that's not to say the phone can't or won't see Android 2.1 or beyond.

As Android releases slow down to once a year, the complaints about fragmentation will dwindle. Android is at a point now where it can shift attention to aesthetics and user experience and not groundbreaking features. Apple seems to be doing OK with its annual release of iOS, so I assume Google will be just fine doing the same.

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