Android updates, particularly in the United States, are often the cause of strife amongst those who own Android smartphones as they often roll out slowly, or not at all, for reasons that are often unclear. While many have their theories, Verizon has given us a look at how it, supposedly, decides which phones get updates like Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and which ones don’t.
As most Android smartphone and tablet owners know, the Android update process can be an extremely frustrating one on occasion. In years past, we’ve seen promised updates cancelled or delayed for extended periods of time. We’ve seen devices, without any lengthy explanation, kept on older software. We’ve seen carriers botch updates – the Droid RAZR Jelly Bean update and the AT&T Galaxy S2 ICS update come to mind – and we’ve seen American carriers consistently come in last in terms of roll out timing.
The problems with the Android update process, particularly on Verizon, where updates generally roll out long after rival carrier updates, have caused owners and critics alike to not only point fingers but come up with conspiracy theories about the update process. In an effort to clear the air, we’ve spoken to Verizon Public Relations representative, Laura Merrit, about the Android update process and how Verizon ultimately decides on which phones to update to the latest version of Android.
In response to our inquries about the missing Droid Incredible 2 Ice Cream Sandwich update, an update that has been delayed since August and now is in doubt, Merrit relayed some useful information in regards to the Android update decision process that takes place at the nation’s largest 4G LTE service provider.
Merrit has run down many of the steps that the carrier takes in determining whether an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update or a Jelly Bean update is fit for release.
First, she points out that Verizon “does not have some broad policy regarding upgrading devices to ICS or any other updates.” Instead, the carrier opts to look at devices on a case-by-case basis, with a focus on whether the update will be a good experience for the user.
The first thing that Verizon considers about a potential update are the capabilities of a device. She says that “a customer using a single core device may not have the same robust experience as a dual or quad core device owner.” This could explain why the carrier and HTC ran into issues with the single-core Droid Incredible 2.
Merrit also says that every update “involves extensive testing to ensure the device integrity and the customer experience are not compromised.” If the user experience is indeed compromised, Merrit says that “the decision would be to not proceed otherwise the customer will find their experience is not what they expected.”
Verizon is often last to major Android updates and smaller bug fix updates and a lot of the blame has been placed on its extensive testing process, which Merrit alludes to here. And while Verizon’s process is seemingly done with the user in mind, the slowness of the process has not only driven users to installing unreleased software to skip the wait times, but also seemingly pushed Google to release the Nexus 4 without carrier support in an effort to ensure swifter updates.
It’s all a bit of a Catch-22 as carriers see an obligation to avoid rolling out updates that could frustrate users but ultimately end up frustrating them anyway with the timing.
Google has taken efforts to speed up Android updates with the introduction of an Android PDK for Android manufacturers, but until the carrier approval process is overhauled or done away with completely, Android smartphone owners are going to be at the mercy of American carriers, whether Verizon and other carriers have the user in mind or not.