Few would argue with the idea that Android M was the biggest announcement to come from this year’s I/O event. It was. If you are in doubt, then pick whichever announcement you thought was the biggest, check the fine print and somewhere in there, will be a mention of Android M. This is because Google are forward thinking and all of their other announcements are created with a view to running on/with or along with Android M, the next android update. To a number of people, M will simply stand for ‘Miles away’. As that is how far away it will seem the Android M update is from reaching their device. And they are probably not wrong. These are the people who have yet to see the current flagship update (if it can even be called that now due to M), Lollipop, arriving.
While the battle for the Lollipop updates raged over the last few months, it is worth remembering that the latest figures from Google state that only 12.4 percent of users are on Lollipop. In simple terms, that is one in ten android users are currently running Lollipop. When you think about it, that is amazingly low. Lollipop has been ‘out’ for well over six months, the next update has already been announced and yet 9 out of 10 android users are still not on Lollipop. With those kind of numbers, what does Android M really mean to the majority of android users?
A prime example of this point occurred this week, when a number of reports emerged about the DROID Turbo. This device is quickly becoming the unsung victim in the race to Lollipop and has now become somewhat infamous for its lack of updating. The device is new (by ‘new’ standards) and yet it still seems unclear as to when it will receive the update. With June here, July nearby, M scheduled for the Fall, how long will the DROID Turbo have Lollipop before M gets released? Then the impending question of how long will the DROID Turbo have to wait for the M update? The perpetual cycle continues. In fact, it is this never ending cycle which raises the most significant issue Google is facing for the future. It is all well and good having more than a billion handsets floating around, but that simply means there is also a billion updates waiting. Need another example from this week? Huawei entered the U.S. market with their mid-range positioned Huawei P8 Lite. The surprise feature, it comes running on KitKat. This is a brand new device, and if, at the time of launch it does not come with Lollipop, then what are the chances it will reach M?
It is no secret that the Android operating procedure is a tricky one. Google releases an android update and then passes it to its preferred manufacturers, otherwise known as the OHA (Open Handset Alliance) and they fix up their lightly skinned version, and then pass to their partner carriers, who then fix up their carrier-integrated version, send off for testing, wait an eternity and then one day the user receives the OK to download and install the OTA. If you have an unlocked device, then fine, you can remove one layer and forgo the carrier wait. If you have a Nexus device, then fine, you can forgo the next layer and skip the manufacturer wait. After the recent issues with the Nexus 9 waiting on its more recent updates, even being a Nexus does not carry the same weight in updating that it used to. The whole thing has just gotten too messy.
In truth, and as much as it pains to be said, Apple have perfected the updating process. Yes, they did have some issues last time around and the android world basked in those issues. Do not be confused though, they were nothing compared to the Lollipop issues and will probably be nothing compared to what is already highly likely to be the M issues. In fact, it was also this week that Apple decided to release their update figures. While Lollipop is currently on one out of ten android devices. the latest iOS is already on 8 out of 10 of the compatible Apple devices. Another way to look at this, is the percentage of those not running the latest iOS is almost the same as those running Lollipop. It is that much of a difference and one that it is likely to continue going forward. For instance, how many android devices will be running Lollipop before M arrives? 2 out of 10? Maybe. 3 out of 10? doubtful. 4 out of 10? Certainly not. Then the whole cycle begins again. Although with M, the percentage of upgraded devices will be even smaller. Why, because a number of devices will never see M. How do we know this? Because this is the way the system currently works. The cycle of updating is so slow that by the time some devices are eligible to receive the update they are no longer supported, or their hardware is no longer relevant, or whatever other reason a carrier, a manufacturer or Google can find to justify not sending the update to that device. Android M is the next level of Android, although, for what seems to be the majority of users (at least based on what has happened so far), it is a level of android which will never be seen.