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What Mama Didn't Say About Mobile Upgrades

Consider these statistics: a whopping 96% of Apple customers are using iOS 6, the latest version of the OS compared to only 38% of Android users using Jelly Bean 4.1.x and 4.2.x combined. 

With Android and iOS being the dominant platforms used in mobile devices the indisputable fact is Android is more fragmented than iOS.

It isn’t Google’s fault. It’s one of the few negatives of having an open platform. Unlike Apple, Microsoft and Blackberry who maintain strict control over the hardware and software, Google gives away the Android OS for free. It is OEMs such as Samsung, HTC and LG who actually build and sell the phones. This in turn creates a disconnect that Apple obviously doesn’t have.

Every time Google releases an update to Android, the code is published on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). Anyone, including the handset makers and developers, can download, tinker and build ROMs for their phones. However the original code is only designed to run on Google’s reference devices. It takes time for a company to modify the code to be compatible across the various chipsets and sensors in their specific models.

Manufacturers can’t prepare their devices to handle Android updates in advance because they can’t access the code before Google publishes it. Neither can Google make Android easily compatible with the large number of hardware configurations across so many OEMs. Google is trying to solve the problem with the Platform Development Kit. This gives the manufacturers early access to parts of the framework. This still only helps with the launch of new devices and does nothing for upgrading old ones.

Additionally, manufacturers and carriers appear to be more interested in certifying and launching new phones than updating older ones, since that is how they grow their business. Because of this resources are most likely allocated to new devices opposed to older ones. I would think even less attention goes towards models that either didn’t sell well or were more of a budget model. Companies may feel it isn’t worth the time and money involved to bring updates to those models.

So should manufacturers be forced to update mobile device software?

Security, being of the greatest concern since our smart-phones and tablets contain so much confidential data. Phone numbers, addresses, stored passwords, email identification, login information and more. Poor security could lead to this information being compromised without having the latest versions of software on our devices. Malicious exploits once found are often repaired in newer versions of software requiring an update or patch to bring older systems to the same level of security. In these cases, it is important that the software be updated no matter how expensive or time-consuming the process.

In cases where the phones are budget or outdated it probably isn’t reasonable to expect that they be updated indefinitely, however many models receive no significant updates at all. I understand manufactures and carriers wanting to sell more phones so they can grow their business. I also can understand possibly holding features over to the new models the older models would be capable of given the software. Security is a different subject all together however. I believe we should all know that we are using the safest and most secure models reasonably possible for the life of the phone and the manufacturers, carriers and Google should work closely to give Android users a similar experience to what Apple iOS users have grown to know and appreciate.

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