This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 28th, 2012 at 9:16 and is filed under Analysis & Commentary, Smartphone. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
I still marval over the frenzy Apple can generate over its iPhone even in light of the latest rumors that show pieces of a next-generation release that barely catches up with Android hardware that has been available for months…and even over a year in some cases. When Apple showed off iOS 5 last year at WWDC, it’s top ten list of improvements included four Android features, most notably the Notification Center. This year, iOS 6 showed off many Android attributes again and yet the media treated it like Apple re-invented the iPhone all over. Please.
The truth is, the next iPhone will be of little matter and those running the two phones from previous revs will have something that looks almost identical to the new one and all three will run the same operating system. Sure, the new one will support a key feature or two the older hardware will not have within the confines of its slate glass body, but still, they all will play in iOS 6 land.
Google released its follow up to Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) called Jellybean recently and those devices that have it look filled with envelope-pushing technology. (Sorry iPhone users, you’ll have to wait for iOS 7 to get most of them.) The Nexus S is the model of which Google loves to show off its newest creation and it really does shine on the Samsung-made hardware. But interestingly enough, Samsung’s own recently release Galaxy S III runs the older 4.0 instead of 4.1. It’s puzzling since it’s not even a major release as to why the Galaxy is not in the same universe as its sister model. This seems to be one major problem of Android that Apple has no issues with. Why?
Android is much like Microsoft Windows. It’s an operating system freely given away (unlike Windows) to hardware vendors to slap it into its phone. Just like Windows, there are guidelines made for the hardware; however, manufacturers are free to offer a variety of features to differentiate themselves from the competition. This creates variations that requires engineers to make adoptions to the operating system, Android, to function on its device. This difference is known as “forking” in the industry. Because of this, Android updates generally fall behind in release once Google hands it over to the manufacturers. Sometimes, the new OS has made some changes that require heavy lifting to make it function on older hardware, even as old as a few months. So, it’s just easier to create a new device than spend more time getting an old one to run the new update.
Take a look at the Android landscape and you’ll find much of the hardware is not running Android 4.1. Heck, a lot isn’t even running 4.0. There are still Honeycomb devices in the wild and even older versions of Android elsewhere. But take a look at any iPhone made in the last three years – a lifetime in technology – and the vast majority are running iOS 5. Forking has prevented Android users in staying current let alone cutting edge. As seen with the Samsung Galaxy S III, just because you purchase a relatively new Android phone doesn’t mean you’ll be abe to run the newest operating system on it. This is one of the greatest drawbacks of Android and one reason I have stuck it out with the iPhone.
Google will tighten its code more and more and thus allow for easier upgrade paths for Android phones; however, as long as the alien software allows for heavy forking, you most likely will be stuck with your version of the operating system until your next hardware upgrade. It seems ironic for an operating system that Apple has been playing catch-up to for the last two, maybe even three, years that owners of the avant-garde Android will be passed up by the snail in just one short year.