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Would You Pay For Android Updates If It Would End Fragmentation?

Eric McBride
19

 

Whoa! Wait! Stop right there and put that stone down! Before I go any further with this article, I just want to say right off the bat that I am NOT a supporter of the idea of paying for Android updates in no way shape or form. I'n not saying I am for it, and am simply introducing the idea to hear what you guys think about it. I read an interesting article on Extreme Tech (credits and link at the bottom) that had a really interesting concept behind it: Paying for Android updates. Now I know what you're thinking: "Why in the name of all that is holy should I HAVE to pay for Android updates?!“, and that's a fair question. But as fragmented as Android is, and with so many multiple devices still waiting on updates to Gingerbread let alone Ice Cream Sandwich, would you consider paying for Android updates if it would completely put an end to fragmentation?

It's no secret that Android fragmentation is a problem, and it's not one that seems to be getting any better. Ice Cream Sandwich was released back in November 2011, and to date there are less devices running it than I can count on my fingers. And that's actually a shame, as ICS is THE Android update. Not only does it bring an overhauled UI and tons of cool and useful new features, it also bridges the gapp between phones and tablet's, and delivers the speediest Android experience I have ever had. Lets be honest though...the update to Android ICS to all compatible devices is a VERY complex and difficult task, and even at Google I/O 2011, no concrete solutions were found during brainstorms on how to solve this issue. Now I'm lucky enough to be running ICS on my HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 because I'm rooted, and I'm so glad I am. But that's besides the point. As it become more and more evident that Google can't find a solution to this problem, there are only 2 options at present: 1. Wait longer for Google, Android manufacturers, and carriers to find a way to solve the issue, or 2. EVERY Android user needs to root their device to receive updates. Neither of those options are actually realistic, which is why I present to you a 3rd option: What if we started paying for them?

Why the problem exists

Back in the day, companies like Samsung, HTC, and Motorola didn't really have to focus on developing software updates for phones. You simply went into a store, bought a phone, and walked out with it running the software that it had. You never expected updates. The phone was simply sold as is. Things have changed now, as smartphones have went from phones, to multifunctional mini computers, and require regular updates to address security issues, bug fixes, and more. But a major system update? OEMS never planned on having to deliver these, especially not in a timely fashion, and as we can all see, they are struggling to do so. And that's also somewhat understandable considering how quickly Google is throwing out bigger and better versions of Android. After Google provides the actual source code from its Nexus device, it's all on the OEM's from there, which requires lots of time,manpower, engineering, testing, bug hunting, and bug fixing. But now think of this...what if that very time consuming and complex process came with a financial benefit for OEM's? I mean after all, money talks and BS walks, especially in the tech world. If OEM's were to have more of a financial motivation for the process of delivering updates, would you as the consumer pay for them?

In a way, I must admit it makes sense. I mean look at it this way...when Microsoft or Apple release new version of their PC operating system, people pay for them don't they? I don't mean service packs or bug fixes, but I mean actual OS updates. I gladly paid to buy Windows 7..why shouldn't I do the same for Android? After all, isn't the work they have to do to push out updates way more difficult than what Microsoft has to do?

How would it work?

Paying for updates makes sense in this concept, as not only does it get updates to consumers faster, but it introduces a way for them to capitalize off of the work they do for implementing updates. Up until now, the only benefit for OEM's to perform updates were in the hope that customers would by more devices if the newest version was installed. This system of paying for the update process would make that process realistic and at the same time, profitable.

Now for the bad...if Android did this, and Apple, Microsoft, and other competitors DIDN'T ,it could really push them away from Android. But in all honesty, if this system would have been implemented from the BEGINNING, would we really have a problem with it? Imagine if Samsung had charged all 20 million Samsung Galaxy S2 users 10 bucks for the ICS update. That's 150 million dollars. Would that have been enough incentive to speed up those updates? What if they would have even made the paid update system optional? Paid users get it on X date, and free users have to wait. At least then you would KNOW you have to wait. I have to admit, it's a hell of a concept.

Of course, this could create pirating issues, bootloader issues (a bootloader unlock solution could easily solve that), as well as other problems. But in the end, I think I have to actually retract my original statement. If I was an Android user that didn't root, I think I wouldn't have a problem with paying an optional 10 bucks to get my update. But as I AM a big fan of rooting, I can tell you now that I personally wouldn't do it (the process of paying would actually benefit ROM makers and modders as well, as they would receive device specific source code and drivers earlier from OEM's which would allow quick creation of custom ROMS. In a way, this idea is full of win..don't you agree?).

What do you guys think? Would it work? Is it fair? Is it too late to implement? Or is there a better solution out there?

Picture credits: intomobile.com

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Comments

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  • Craig Webster Mar 14, 2012 Link

    It's an interesting thought, but people would obviously be outraged. I read another article some weeks back about what I feel is a better solution, and that is to turn Android into a virtualized OS. So, the manufacturers just have to create the "host" system, containing real hardware drivers, which runs Android as a virtual machine, using drivers similar to vmware-tools. Then when Google releases an update, it's instantly available to everyone, and the manufacturers barely have to lift a finger.

    Of course, they'd still want to customize the ROMs with things like Sense/TouchWiz, but they could essentially just build one ROM for all their phones, graphical scaling aside.

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  • Eric McBride Mar 14, 2012 Link

    WOW. Thats a HELL of an idea Craig! Do you have a link to that article by any chance?

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  • Craig Webster Mar 14, 2012 Link

    I really hope Google takes that idea into consideration. Think about it, we'd get updates as quickly as iPhone users. Quicker maybe, since we wouldn't have to deal with the MASSIVE server lag as Apple's servers get hit by millions of users at once.

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  • Eric McBride Mar 14, 2012 Link

    This is really interesting. I might do a write up on this in the near future. Thank you very much for sharing this! I really wonder whats stopping Google from moving on things like this?

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  • Cam charles Mar 14, 2012 Link

    It wouldn't change a thing really, especially not in Australia, the hold up here is the service carriers not the phone oems, there are multiple phones that globally have updates but the carriers here haven't or worse won't update their customers, which is ridiculous because carriers have way more incentive to do it, direct customer contact

    I think a viable solution is a crack down from the top, if you want to use Android as your os you must push updates within a set time frame from their release, and then somehow forward that crack down to carriers who if they want to stock Android phones must push the oem updates in a set time period too, now this sounds like a big grumpy over Lord company kinda thing to do that would scatter it's adopters to the wind but I don't think it would, Motorola, Samsung, htc and many others were sinking fast b4 Android and each now has made billions thanks to what Google has allowed them to do so I don't think it's un fair for Google to enforce some time structures that would help solidify Android and boost the adoption levels and there for profits of the brand

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  • Eric McBride Mar 14, 2012 Link

    I agree Cam. Google really saved HTC and Motorola, and gave Samsung the chance to actually rival the iphone in terms of sales. I think its time to start cracking down on these guys. In all honesty, they have made ENOUGH money from Android.

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  • Chris Mar 15, 2012 Link

    I am SOOO sick to death of people whining about fragmentation. I'm a mobile developer and I used to code for J2ME phones, now THAT was fragmentation. Any developer who complains about Android being difficult due to fragmentation simply doesn't understand how to code correctly, and the issue is virtually non-existent for games except for the fact that there are different screen sizes and resolutions, which is what consumers have demanded.

    As for the users, keep in mind that iOS developers had access to iOS 5 more than 4 months before it was released to the public, compared to less than 2 months for Android 4, so of course 3rd party manufacturers are going to take some time to adapt it to their devices. And lets face it, not every device CAN run the latest OS, and that's just the price you pay for having an older phone. Even old iPhones can't run all the features of iOS 5, even though they say they're running iOS 5.

    I think the problem is too many developers got into the industry when Apple made a big splash and they got used to developing for a single device. Now that they're required to adjust to different screen sizes those developers whine and complain about fragmentation when they could hit 95% of the devices with 3-4 different variations (or less) and conditional code that only uses features when they're supported by the OS (yes, you can check this at runtime, so only a single build is needed). I understand change is difficult, and I always complained about the stupid choice of using a 30 year old antiquated programming language for a modern device (Cocoa Touch - iOS - is VERY different from EVERY other modern language), but I don't go telling people the device sucks just because I'm not comfortable with coding for it.

    When I got into mobile we were forced to support builds (even games!) as small as 64K with 128MB Heap on screens as small as 64x64, and ranging up in size and capacity as much as the original iPhone, so forgive me if I have no sympathy for people who complain about Android fragmentation - you don't know the origins of mobile fragmentation! When Android was announced Google said they wanted to end fragmentation, and we all laughed because they were trying to end fragmentation by adding another platform, so they could only do it by taking over the industry, but damned if they didn't do it. I could go on about what a God send Android is compared to J2ME if anyone cares to hear, but suffice it to say you should be happy Google jumped into the mix.

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  • Jeremiah Mar 15, 2012 Link

    Have to agree with Chris here, I also used to develop for J2ME and that was real fragmentation. I develop android now and can make one .apk of my games that will run on almost every android phone.

    As far as the question goes, I think it's a bad idea. Carriers and oem's are known for gouging their customers and still providing poor support. I think it wouldn't speed up the process any, it would just give them another way to take another dollar from us. Besides Google gives them android for free, so should they give to us and in a timely manner. They could really do a better job if they wanted to, but I don't think money would give them the incentive to do it.

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  • Cam charles Mar 15, 2012 Link

    i dont think fragmentation of screen sizes and resolutions is the issue in this case, google have made it extremely easy to handle multiple sizes/res's, a fact you both agree on, the main issue is OS level fragmentation (and the underlying code libraries), the changes in the OS code libraries and access practices do create issues such as apps aimed at newer os bearing devices being unavailable for older ones, this has been less an issue in the gingerbread era but earlier and i rekon in the near future with ics it was a reall issue.

    this is a problem in all systems and generally the solution is for the customer to get the latest n greatest or be forgotten and indeed devices have set lifespans generally understood by the customer at purchase time, ie in the computer world you buy a GFX card with the full understanding it will be obsolete in a year and all but forgotten in two,

    the problem with android is that there are so many devices at so many OS levels that the lifespan of one particular device is unknown or an expected lifespan gets thrown out the window unexpectedly when a new device hits, and the problem is that for customers no one knows what devices are going to get upgraded and therefore keep there lifespan and which arent going to (the exception being lowend devices where upgrades arent possible) and from a carrier level they dont know which devices to push as going to recieve updates or when those updates will hit and the OEMs dont seem to care as they are selling phones like hotcakes with the current rubbish update system they all have (nothing basically) and google...

    well google have started caring with ICS they are setting down some design rules etc but its not enough to stop the real fragmentation issue, they must surely have something in the works though

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  • Brennan Yamamoto Mar 15, 2012 Link

    I do believe that this solution holds quite a lot of water, at the same time however, we do need to recognize that "fragmentation" is not the same thing is "carrier/manufacturer irresponsibility". I do feel that the issue is getting blown out of proportion. "Fragmentation", at least to me, deals with software incompatibilites between individual handset models due to hardware differentiation. People seem to think "oh, this phone runs 2.3, this one runs 4.0--FRAGMENTATION ANDROID SUCKS!" One handset running a different version of android from another is NOT fragmentation of the OS, it's simply due to the fact that the carrier and/or hardware manufacturer has failed to update the device to the newest version of the OS (for whatever reason)

    That being said, it's easy to recognize that this solution really isn't related to fragmentation AT ALL. Put it this way: if every single android handset in the world ran AOSP Android 4.0.3, there would STILL be fragmentation issues. It really is an unavoidable issue, but it really isn't as bad as people make it out to be, largely because they're labeling issues as fragmentation, that really are not.

    Now, on topic, this really does come down to an issue of supply and demand. Hypothetically, if a system of selling system updates were put into effect, the ones making a profit would be the hardware manufacturers (Sammy, HTC, LG, etc.), who sell their customized (or not) versions of android to the public. Should there be a large demand for the update (which I imagine there would be), as well as a profit to be made from it (which I expect there to be), the update process would surely be expedited. This is win-win situation in the eyes of the consumer, as well as the producer. It also comes with the side effect of making hardware manufacturers focus a lot more on their software development, instead of just cranking out 20+ handsets per year (*cough* HTC).

    However, what this system does screw up is the fact that (1) consumers would be PISSED to find that their next system update is going to cost them $xxx, and (2) this would positively kill the 3rd party android devlopment community. Essentially, ALL custom roms would need to be based on an AOSP version of android (which some really dont have a problem with), since any custom carrier branded version of the OS would be considered piracy. This really limits the scope of 3rd party development. Also, as a (3), I'm not even sure if its legal to sell a version of "Android", seeing as it is open sourced (I could be blatantly wrong, I have no clue). I suppose it comes down to the legal agreements behind it--at which point it's no longer considered android, and when it's simply some flavor of linux...none of this I understand.

    All that said, I do think this is a good idea. It will certainly have it's short-term drawbacks, but I think it'll be beneficial over the long run.

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  • Cam charles Mar 15, 2012 Link

    this is not a dig but a serious question, how would there still be fragmentation if all androids ran version 4.03 that would literally solve all fragmentation issues, as screen size and resolution aren't fragmentation they are product option choices and imo one of the great things android enables

    your right though the burden and blame doesn't fall squarely on carrier irresponsibility but it is a big factor atm

    also on topic i forgot to say, no i wouldn't pay for updates, for an oem to promise and then actually issue updates in a timely fashion to me is a selling point and reason to buy their phone and stick with their brand in the future and it is in fact a big reason i brought the galaxy nexus over some other phones out atm, if need be they should calculate the costs of doing the updates into the initial phone cost

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  • Brennan Yamamoto Mar 15, 2012 Link

    @Cam charles

    I believe your definition of "fragmentation" is whether or not all handsets running under the scope of the Android operating system are completely updated to the latest version of the OS. This is not the case. Fragmentation issues stem from hardware inconsistensies across each handset. By this logic, it's easy to understand the fragmentation issues that a closed system like Windows still has to face.

    Lets take an example here:
    Lets look at my HTC Sensation 4G, running a custom version of Android 4.0.3, and contrast that the the Samsung Galaxy Nexus running stock Android 4.0.3. Are there fragmentation problems here? Hell yes, and it's not just because of different screen sizes and resolutions. The SGN runs a Texas Instruments OMAP4460 chipset, utilizing two stock ARM Cortex A9 central processing cores with a Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX 540 GPU. My HTC Sensation 4G runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 86xx chipset, utilizing two, highly modified ARM Cortex A8 central processing cores, with a Qualcomm Adreno 220 GPU. Both of these chipsets require highly specific kernel drivers, which interact differently with the platform. Ofc, Android is HIGHLY modular--it is MEANT to cope with hardware inconsistencies such as these, but alas, software issues stemming from these differences still exist. The COMPLETE elimination of these issues is virtually impossible, outside of brute forcing the whole thing, but that's impractical due to the sheer number of devices, and against the philosophy of the platform (aka. that's how iOS does it)...and remember, this is ONLY the chipset we're talking about here. There is the antenna (RIL), camera, speaker, bluetooth, wi-fi, etc. etc. (go look at any android device AOSP WIP development, and you'll see this pattern repeated over and over and over...and over).

    THIS is fragmentation. Yes, updating all handsets to the latest version of android will have an indirect impact on the fragmentation issue (newer versions of the OS have better methods of handling fragmentation issues), but it really is another issue altogether...

    To put it simply:
    Fragmentation = Google's problem
    Updating handsets = OEM/Carrier problem

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  • Cam charles Mar 15, 2012 Link

    good point i completely forgot about hardware differences, i wasnt aware it was that big of an issue software wise, ive only noted that their are games made specifically for tegra devices, i wasnt aware there were other hardware specific apps and coding necessities , but i see your point if software developers are having to code to handle all the many different hardwares out there or choose certain ones to support that is an issue

    ive only done basic app dev so i dont know how prevelent an issue it is?

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  • Brennan Yamamoto Mar 15, 2012 Link

    Well, as a basic app dev, I'm sure you've done far more coding in the realm of android than I personally have. Fragmentation, in general, really stems from low level operations in the OS, the modular nature of android is really irrelevant to the fact that it is open source. The open source designation simply means that it's distribution is "free of charge", the modular nature of it's code is really what allows it's propagation across such a vast number of devices. As an app dev, you still need to focus on some fragmentation issues, the most prominent amongst them, screen sizes and resolution scaling. However, just as you said yourself, newer versions of android address these issues, offering a universal scaling solution, rather than just +30px this and that way (the type of thing you'd expect to see in iOS). These types of fragmentation enhancements to the Android platform are absolutely great towards the development of the platform, but at the end of the day, these benefit the app developers like yourself, and hardware manufacturers, not the end user.

    What really kills the end user are slow system and OS updates. This, Google has, essentially, zero control over, as these updates are completely up to the discresion of the hardware manufacturer and the carrier. It's the type of thing that makes people shout "FRAGMENTATION", even if the problem stems from something else entirely.

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  • Cam charles Mar 15, 2012 Link

    id be interested to hear just how much hardware differences make to coding for highend apps

    and yep your last point is my point exactly

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  • Eric McBride Mar 15, 2012 Link

    This has turned into a really nice discussion. Keep the great comments coming guys!

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  • Jeremiah Mar 16, 2012 Link

    If you wanna see one case of how fragmented devices are hardware wise, try looking up how you would turn the LED Flash on. Try googleing solutions to Turning on Torch Mode LED Flash. Almost every manufacturer did his own way of turning on the LED Flash in their inteface between android and their hardware. For a programmer there is tons of hoops to jump through just to do this, and almost no documentation. And then you may only figure it out for 50% of devices.

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  • Ilgaz Mar 18, 2012 Link

    My cheap Huawei u8650 released in summer 2011 has decent reviews from sites and users and even iphone owner fanatics around me. It must be selling in amazing numbers and google obviously knows about this device.
    Here is why it will never get ics: it has only 256m of RAM. Your flow chart on cm9 says it will never support 256m RAM.
    Google could say these huge vendors not to use less than 512m at least in 2011. By letting 256m devices (which are cheap), they guaranteed a huge, millions sized block stuck in 2.3
    Being Apple desktop user and Microsoft corporate user, I fail to understand this old fashion double the specs for new OS. If you look closely, windows 7 performs far better than vista on lower end hardware. Same goes for every OS X major version.

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