May 10, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka
Google Android Product Manager Hugo Barra had our hearts a flutter when when he announced that Google is forming a task force to encourage companies to commit to updating their Android phones. “When hardware allows,” Android phone makers will promise to update new devices up to 18 months after initial release. The clouds parted, birds chirped, and all seemed right with the world.
But the rain came back and the birds stopped singing soon after the Google I/O Day One keynote. Barra’s comments set off a wave of excitement, but only because people misunderstood his words. Google is not forcing carriers or manufacturers to update their phones; it’s simply working with them to make updates faster and more likely.
Barra announced that several companies – HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and Vodafone – have formed a team to “create guidelines for how quickly Android devices will get updated after new platform releases.” This is really just a collective of companies that work with Google to determine the best way to update phones. That does not translate to phones always getting these updates, and logistics problems alluded to by Google VP Andy Rubin in the post-keynote say as much.
For instance, the members of the update partnership could say that a new device should still be able to receive Android OS updates within the first 18 months of release; however, companies would not be obligated to stick to that guideline, and that does not mean that phones would access every new release. The group could suggest that a phone capable of running the latest software should reasonably have it within two months of the code becoming accessible; however, testing problems or developmental sluggishness could stand in the way of that happening.
The new collective proposed by Google is merely a team of Open Handset Alliance Members who are establishing best practices for improving the Android update process. It is not an obligation or Google reigning in manufacturers have some people have suggested.
Android users would love to see Google be more forceful and put pressure on phone makers, but that’s not Google’s strategy. Instead, it will work with carriers and manufacturers to establish guidelines that could lead companies to better understand the importance of prompt updates, and make it easier for them to deliver updates to Android phones. This will not solve the fragmentation or slow update process in the immediate future, but it’s still a step in the right direction.