Google Working With Carriers, OEMs On Faster Android Updates


On Tuesday at the opening of Google's I/O developer conference in San Francisco, Google said founding members of the initiative include Verizon, HTC, Samsung, Sprint, Sony Ericsson, LG, T-Mobile, Vodafone, Motorola and AT&T. The group will develop guidelines for determining how quickly consumers receive Android updates after they're released and how long the devices will continue to receive updates.

New devices from these partners will continue to receive Android updates for 18 months after the device hits the market, if the hardware is capable of handling it, Hiroshi Lockheimer, director of Android engineering, said in a Q&A at the conference. "We think this is really great news for users, developers, and the entire industry," he said.

Google isn't yet saying exactly how quickly consumers will receive new Android updates, but as a first step the group intends to establish a set schedule to eliminate confusion.

Google Android Chief Andy Rubin said the challenges that have prevented this from happening thus far are logistical in nature: Global carriers have different processes for certifying updates to run on their networks, and with 310 different Android devices currently on the market, getting updates out is a time consuming process.

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"It's pretty complex from a global perspective," Rubin said in the Q&A.

Carriers are often accused of dragging their feet on updating older devices to get customers to buy new ones. This leads to a lack of OS uniformity that's frustrating for developers as well: Because Android is so fragmented, an app written for Android 2.2 that has been customized for a Dell device might break when ported to future versions of Android for a Samsung device. If it's a mission critical app, heads could roll.

Carriers often claim they need to meticulously test updates before deploying them. So what has changed to convince them to hew to a specific schedule? Rubin said the founding group members recognize that it's in everyone's best interests to come up with a more formalized process for releasing Android updates.

"We realized that there was no common expectation set, and we wanted to establish some form of that," Rubin said. "We see ourselves as the coordinator, and the incentive for carriers is that consumers want it."

The group will continue to hammer out the details of the plan, and Google doesn't have all the answers yet. But the important thing to realize, according to Lockheimer, is that dialogue between the different parties is a good start. "Before we could get everyone to the table, it was impossible to achieve anything," Lockheimer said.