When you fear upgrading your phone because of software incompatibility, there’s something wrong with the eco system

I bought my current Android phone back in January, on a one year contract – the longest allowed by law here in Norway. There’s still three months left, but I will admit to keeping an eye on the market for my own future upgrades, stealing some hands-on time with whatever I can whenever I can. And yet, when that date comes around, I’m not even sure I want to upgrade – or should I say, dare to upgrade.

- for some reason we don't have an alt tag hereNot a week goes by without me seeing a report of some sort of compatibility issue on some sort of Android device. I just came from the xda forums, where the WidgetLocker thread is currently buzzing with people who can’t get the thing to work right on Jelly Bean. A few days ago, I had an email conversation with someone trying to control screen brightness in Tasker on a Galaxy S III, revealing an issue where the brightness won’t change unless you turn the screen off and on again. That’s only one of several issues with Tasker and the S III. My tablet now uses a (to me) awkward pin unlock code in order for Unlock With WiFi to work after the changes made to “security” in ICS, there’s an instant upload bug with Dropsync on my phone, and so on and so forth.

I won’t debate whether or not you should blame Google for making Android the way it is, the manufacturers for not agreeing on how to modify Android, or the developers for not being able to keep up with compatibility fixes. That’s a discussion for another day. In the end, it doesn’t change the very basic, and very disturbing, fact: I don’t know if I actually dare upgrading my phone!

To me, software is what Android’s really about. I most certainly would like a higher resolution screen, more processing power, a better camera, and all that, but given the choice between my current Galaxy S II with the software I have on it and a Galaxy S III or Galaxy Note II where only part of it actually works, I most certainly would pick the former. I occasionally watch video on my phone, making a better screen nice to have. I occasionally do processing-heavy tasks, and experience UI lagg, making a faster chip nice to have. I occasionally take important pictures, making a better camera nice to have.

However, I each and every day have my phone do tasks like control my lights, feed me weather data, handle my todo list, handle my emails, control my calendar, act as a remote control for my PC, and a whole bunch of other tasks where hardware is really not a major factor. These are the features that are threatened to fail complete if I upgrade the features I use only occasionally on my device. Not exactly a bargain to begin with, and then you slap a massive price tag on top of the upgrade too.

I freely admit that my phone is much, much more customized than most.  People generally don’t have to worry about their custom control UIs not working properly on a new device, because they don’t have custom control UIs. However, the problem is there even for more standardized Android users, as exampled by mainstream apps like WidgetLocker and Unlock With WiFi being affected. It shouldn’t be like that. There’s a big enough monetary downside of upgrading to a newer device that you most certainly shouldn’t have to worry about it actually turning out to be a downgrade in the process. Jokes about Apple Maps aside, you generally don’t have to worry that going from an iPad 2 to a third generation iPad or from an iPhone 4S to the iPhone 5 is going to cause you endless pain because nothing works the way it used to.

I’m not placing the blame in any specific corner here, I’m simply pointing out that there is a problem. I don’t have the luxury of going to a platform like Windows Phone or the iPhone anymore, because they’re so ridiculously incapable of doing the things I do with my phone that I might as well just get a string and two cans. Still, it would be nice to be on a platform where the answer to the question “should I upgrade” doesn’t result in a formula that looks like something related to quantum physics.

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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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