AndroidTablets

Are Android devices too short-lived?

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New products are announced all the time and for the most part it’s a good thing- but if you’re happy with what you have, there often isn’t any reason to upgrade. I still use my iPhone 3GS and can’t say that I miss the features of the iPhone 4. Apple is generally pretty good at keeping older devices updated, so you can use your devices for more than the one year that Apple sells them. Android on the other hand, is another matter….


OS numbering aside, iOS and Android gets features at more or less the same pace. Sometimes it’s just a few fixes and a few new features, sometimes it’s game changing like Android 3.0 and iOS 4.2 that are both the tablet milestones for their respective OSes. However, with Android there’s always a question regarding whether an older device will actually get the update. Heck, you can’t even expect new devices to run the latest version of the OS- Archos still releases brand new devices with Android 1.6, Viewsonic does the same, Chinese OEM devices might still run 1.5 and even if you buy an Android smartphone new on contract you might be stuck with 2.1 or so- like the San Francisco (name of the phone). Sometimes these are updated eventually, sometimes not.

Even if they are updated, you can’t expect to still get software updates for your phone in a couple of years. The latest version of iOS still works on the iPhone 3G (hardware limitations aside), but the first Android phone, the G1, never made it past Android 1.6 even though that model is actually a few months newer than the iPhone 3G. Even more recent, top of the line models such as the Motorola Droid from late 2009 is already lagging behind; Android 2.2 was released in May 2010, but the Droid didn’t get it until August. The Milestone, which is the european version of the same phone, didn’t get it until a few days ago- half a year later! Android 2.3 is already out so while they’re still rolling out updates to an older OS version they’re already a month behind on the next.

Part of the problem is the way Android works. It’s a framework as much as a complete OS package and many manufacturers tinker with it themselves before rolling it out. That delays everything and also makes the job of updating older devices a more costly process. Apple on the other hand, runs a “one size fits all” deal because they really only have three devices; iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch. They share some of the same hardware and features so you don’t have a couple of dozen different manufacturers each having to tailer the OS to each device.

You can flash your own ROMs and get the new OS versions that way, though you might lose some features in the process. That solution is also not for the mainstream consumer, so for most of the users of any given device the majority will update as far as official updates go. Even people who are fully capable of doing it this way might eventually get tired of having to force things to work- that’s one of the reasons I like the iPad, even though I have spent countless hours fiddling with both my Viliv S5, Archos 5, N800 etc over the last years.

OS version and updates aside, Android devices are also updated more often hardware-wise than iOS. Not because the manufacturers put out devices more often, but because there are many different manufacturers releasing very similar devices. The iPad was announced almost exactly one year ago, and released last April. That makes it 9 months old, and byt the time the iPad 2 hit the stores it’ll most likely be a year old. The Galaxy Tab, which is the current top-of-the-line Android market that’s actually available, was announced in early September last year. It has already been severely beaten both hardware and software wise by tablets announced at CES, which beat it in every respect including running a newer version of Android. While these are not available yet, they will be very soon and people who are looking to buy tablets will be more hesitant to buy the current model when they know better ones are coming. If that wasn’t enough of a death sentence for the poor thing, Samsung is apparently going to announce the Galaxy Tab 2 in just a couple of weeks, if we believe a presentation schedule leaked online. So there you have a much newer device than the iPad, one that even costs more, that is already outdated before it’s even 5 months old. It will probably (hopefully) get Android 3.0 when that gets here, but beyond that I wouldn’t bet any money.

When you put these issues together: outdated initial software, slow updates, few updates and the likelihood of the hardware being outdated within 3-6 months, then I think it’s time to put a serious question mark regarding the lifespan of an Android device. Even if you don’t need the hardware changes, being left out of the software updates is a major dealbreaker in my opinion. Most people want to get several years use out of their devices- especially casual users who can’t justify $500+ for a one-year (or less) device, so this issue is one that I think the Android device manufacturers need to address quickly.



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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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33 thoughts on “Are Android devices too short-lived?

  • Avatar of copeys

    I agree, software updates are critical on things I buy as you said most people like to get several yrs out of their devices. It’s a bit disappointing to see the lack of android update takers (manufacturerer wise) though.

    Reply
  • Agreed. The fact that manufacturers complicate the upgrade cycle further is no help at all. I had to wait for very long to get my HTC Hero update to Android 2.1 and I don’t understand why. In the end, customers are left frustrated or cheated, it’s just wrong. I hope Windows Phone 7 will do things differently, they seem to be off to a good start.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Barto

    Yeah, but isn’t that the nature of the beast? I mean, what could Android do about it even if it wanted to?

    Reply
  • Avatar of the larch

    I agree manufactures need to push the updates faster.

    Reply
  • In concept the Android experiment should work, but there are too many players adding to the receipe for there ever to be a final product….Apple realized this years ago and put up that “garden wall” but you know what? Their system works!

    Reply
    • Avatar of macilaci457

      You are right. Freedom cause chaos in some aspects, there need to be a supervisor or what who says what can manufacturers do and what they can’t. In case they want android, need to follow some rules too.

      Reply
  • The problem is on the manufactures, not Android and Google itself. Apple makes the software and then wants to upgrade the hardware, something that does not occur with Android. One of the arguments towards hardware/software companies.

    Reply
    • Avatar of macilaci457

      I think the solution is at the hand of google, not the manufacturers. They have no restrictions. Google has the right, to make that, and nothing else.

      Reply
  • Indeed the problem does lye with the manufacturers. I remember reading somewhere that HTC’s are the best for updating there phones whilst samsung are the worst! For the less ‘tech savy’ this can put people off android.

    Reply
    • Avatar of Strephon Alkhalikoi

      That is why when I upgrade my phone (eventually), it will be to a HTC unit. Very prosumer friendly.

      Reply
  • This is why many dig iDevices. Oh fragmentation when will you ever go away?!

    Reply
  • Avatar of macilaci457

    This is Why I don’t buy android. I still use WM6.5 on a superb Omnia II smartphone.
    Android is a young child with many things people can worry about. Especially updates, as it is not so perfect yet. This is all okay but manufacturers has realized the potential in android devices is so big they pushing them out like … (well, think here anything you want.)

    Reply
    • Avatar of Wouter Henderickx

      Wait… wut? You’re using WM 6.5 and complaining about android updates. That doesn’t sound right at all. Since I bought my android phone, there have been released a couple of major updates for my phone. Can’t say that, can you?

      Reply
  • Avatar of Wouter Henderickx

    I agree that some phones have been left in the cold regarding updates. But it should be noted that if you buy a cheap smartphone with great features that the manufacturers have to nib in some other ways. Like not investing future time in updates.

    I don’t want to compare to an iphone again but… here we go. Apple says it still releases updates for its first iphones. True, they get the new OS… but not the new features. So where’s the point of updates then? Just saying, even with all the fragmentation, i think Android manufacturers are still doing pretty good releasing updates.

    Reply
    • It’s not apple’s choice to not have multitasking on the 3G. It has a 400Mhz CPU and 128MB RAM, it’s physically impossible to have multitasking on it. Hardware changes and until we reach the point where the OS just optimizes current features rather than bring us new ones, that’s a fact of life. Also they do get some new features, the 3G at least. Apple finally cut off the first gen iPhone, 3 years after it came out. That’s still a lot longer than you can expect to get updates to an Android device. As proven by the G1, to compare first gens to first gens

      Reply
      • I can’t let that “physically impossible” statement go by – my Amiga could multitask with a 7.16 MHz clock and 512 KB of RAM. If the iPhone can’t multitask with a 400 MHz clock and 512 MB of RAM it is purely a software issue.

        Reply
        • Sorry, 128 MB of RAM – still much more than 512 KB!

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        • That’s true, but only if you put a different OS on it or seriously held back on features and capabilities of apps and the OS itself. The original comment was regarding “new features”, not completely different ones, so it’s still physically impossible to give the iPhone 3G the same multitasking that the 3GS and 4 has

          Reply
  • Avatar of Overlord Nadrian

    The problem with Android is that there is one ‘basic’ version, and then there are the hundreds of different manufacturer-specific versions, that can most of the times only be updated by the manufacturers themselves. And we all know how that goes.

    The iOS would be stuck in the same scenario if it was used by other companies than Apple, but due to that not being the case, those guys are a bit better off update-wise.

    Then again, most people that get Android devices get the device especially for the Android that’s on it, so they’re a bit more intelligent than the average customer, so they can figure out how to flash their own ROMs. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the general Android public is more intelligent than the general iOS public.

    *inb4Applefanboystartingflamewar*

    Reply
    • I know people with both iOS and Android devices. The majority of them are equally retarded. There will be power users and there will be people who should never have gotten the device in all aspects of technology, the same way that IQ follows a Gaussian curve this does as well.

      Reply
    • I don’t think intelligence has anything to do with it. It’s just different people have different needs, expectations and have different preferred ways of spending their time.

      Reply
  • Apple has the same problem, although not to the same degree. I have iPod Touches 1st gen, 2nd gen, and 4th gen. Only the 4th gen has the hardware that the latest iOS is optimized for. 1st gen iPad owners will also be left behind when the 2nd gen iPad shows up with cameras and other hardware not built in to the 1st. While it is nice that modern devices can generally be improved with new firmware after they are released, no one should base their purchase decision on what a device “might” be able to do in the future. Buy for what it can do for you now. There is no guarantee you’ll ever see updates unless you have it in writing when you buy the thing.

    Reply
    • While you don’t buy a tablet that lacks a feature that you absolutely need, hoping it will come later, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take into account future features that are nice to get. OS updates on both iOS and Android adds lots of new functionality and if you’re unable to benefit from those on one device then that’s a point in the favor of those devices that can. Even if you ignore all of that, there are still bug fixes and security fixes that you will miss

      Reply
  • Avatar of Jason

    I would still prefer Android over iOS

    Reply
  • Avatar of Calvin

    Samsung has been getting some bad press lately with pushing Froyo to their Galaxy S phones. This is why I’m happy that I got an EVO, because HTC is (generally) good with pushing the updates. But then again, there’s the whole argument that it’s the carrier, not the manufacturer, that controls the updates…

    Reply
  • Avatar of seroson

    Of course they are. My phone which was brand new and amazing months ago, is now slow and laggy compaired to everything else on the market. It’s quite madding.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Matthew B.

    I think it is not fair to compare android devices to apple devices. What is fair is to compare Google G1, Nexus One, and Nexus S- G1 was a bit of a fail with updates on google’s part , but i think they learned with Nexus One and Nexus S. These devices always get the latest software, with most of the features. Same as Iphone does.

    Reply
    • As my Milestone example showed, you can apply the concept to newer devices and they’re still left behind. If not entirely, then with massive delays. Besides, the Nexus One still doesn’t have Gingerbread, and it’s been 1.5 months since the first Gingerbread devices came out. It’s the inherent flaw with Android that results in not even Google’s own devices being updated when they should be. People looking for a smartphone/tablet might very well look at both Android and iOS, so comparing them is just natural. Expecting to be able to compete only with itself is quite optimistic and breaks all rules of competitive markets.

      Reply
  • The platform is just moving too fast to be able to support the same features. Why handicap newer, more powerful devices just so that you can run the same software on older devices?

    Apple can afford to fork their software for a year, and backport the more noticeable GUI features, but they don’t neccessarily change anything in the base layer of the OS.

    Reply
    • If you look at the market of Android devices the difference in hardware capabilities between existing models is as large as the difference to models that are years old. The X10 Mini, for instance, runs Android 2.1 on a 600Mhz CPU and 128MB RAM. That’s a bit more processing power and only 2/3 the RAM of the first ever Android device, yet it’s still being sold with new software. iOS added multitasking later and that left some of the devices behind due to lack of RAM, but Android’s growing feature set doesn’t have any such major changes. As for iOS, I suggest you google to see what’s missing on older models- if you think those only get GUI changes, you’re in for a surprise

      Reply
    • More like the platform is moving too fast to be able to support its own customers. I think it’s crap that my Android phone is (so soon after buying it) pretty much a mess. I expect more than 12 months of so-so performance from any electronics I buy. My wallet agrees with me.

      Reply
  • Avatar of Katie Anderson

    I just want to see something that does everything better than apple so they won’t own me anymore.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Weier Liu

    the amount of support for older gen apple products means that they can still fetch at least %70 of the original price, where-as many android-based products (the cliq, for instance) that were infact released AFTER certain apple product (like the 3gs), go for more than twice the street price of a comparable android-based product.

    Reply

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