A gaggle of happy Google I/O attendees listens to the latest Android platform updates. Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com
SAN FRANCISCO ? Many Android customers know the frustration of buying a new phone, only to find out that they can?t get the latest version of Android on it.
Google has heard their cries, and replied with a plan to get the most-recent updates onto more people?s phones.
At its I/O conference here Tuesday, Google announced a new initiative to fight against software version fragmentation across Android devices. In a partnership with manufacturers and wireless carriers, Google is developing guidelines for how quickly device owners will receive updates to their software.
Beginning today, any new Android smartphones or tablets you buy from participating partners and carriers will receive the most-current version of the Android software, for up to 18 months after the device?s initial release.
Essentially, this means that your phone won?t be made irrelevant through lack of software updates, even when the next generation of smartphones hits the market.
?It?s essentially a logistics problem,? said Android head honcho Andy Rubin at a press conference Tuesday. ?We?re not just building one phone, there are over 100 different devices based on Android. And all the operators have different product specs and qualifications.?
Initial partners include major Android-device manufacturers HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Motorola and LG. Also included are the big four U.S. carriers: Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile. Rubin says that Google is open to as many more partners as want to join.
Fragmentation has been a side effect of Android?s success in the marketplace. The more phones that use the operating system, the more different versions of the OS are out there. Because of the way a phone?s OS dovetails with its underlying circuitry, it?s not always easy to deliver OS upgrades. On top of that, carriers and manufacturers have an incentive to encourage you to buy the latest models rather than indefinitely upgrading your old phone.
While fragmentation among Android phones declined last year, it?s still a concern for many customers and for developers.
Rubin and other Google employees didn?t announce any specific details on how manufacturers and carriers would be held to the agreement. Instead, Rubin colored the announcement as ?getting [manufacturers and carriers] to the table? to discuss the problem of fragmentation. ?Before we could get people to the table, it was impossible to achieve anything.?
Now that the partners are sitting at the table, Rubin claims the work can be done. But with so few details provided thus far, it?s difficult to say how Google and its partners will be able to keep a plethora of new devices current. If you take into account manufacturers with custom interfaces ? like HTC?s Sense or Motorola?s Motoblur ? things get even trickier.
And it?s difficult to imagine the incentive manufacturers have to keep old hardware current. As technology improves at a faster pace, more handsets are released with beefier hardware specs, like the spate of dual-core phones and tablets hitting the market this year. With more and more devices being churned out at a faster pace, manufacturers more than likely want you to throw your old handsets away and buy the latest and greatest.