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Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

The H reports on Google's plan to alleviate the OS upgrade struggles of Android device vendors. "To achieve this, Android executive Hugo Barra announced a 'Platform Development Kit' (PDK). Barra said that the kit contains the 'required source code' to allow manufacturers to port a forthcoming Android version to their hardware. He added that Google will make the PDK available to its partners two to three months before a new version is released. The executive didn't mention what criteria Google will use to select these partners." The PDK is intended to help vendors port newer Android releases to older hardware, then push the update out to end users.
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Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 29, 2012 16:44 UTC (Fri) by xav (subscriber, #18536) [Link]

Still, why would they do that ? I bet they prefer forced obsolescence and won't spend workforce crafting and pushing updates unless they have to.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 29, 2012 17:46 UTC (Fri) by bats999 (guest, #70285) [Link]

Indeed, it could be business as usual. However, the OEMs could use upgrades to highlight their commitment to customer support, a very marketable perception which a certain non-Android phone/tablet manufacturer seems to enjoy now without actually delivering much of substance IMO.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 29, 2012 18:19 UTC (Fri) by SEJeff (subscriber, #51588) [Link]

Right. IIRC, Google said pretty much the same thing at the ICS launch event. Something to the effect of, "All major carriers will update their devices to the latest android."

Thus far, Google has not delivered on that promise even remotely. I'm quite skeptical to see how this plays out.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 18:30 UTC (Sat) by bats999 (guest, #70285) [Link]

That's not Google's promise to make (even if they think it is). All I'm saying is this can be a business opportunity. Someone is going to deliver consistent updates, that someone should command a larger share of the market.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jul 6, 2012 9:40 UTC (Fri) by yaap (subscriber, #71398) [Link]

Just a personal anecdote: the upgrade is happening for me. I got an upgrade available notification and upgraded to ICS yesterday. It's on an HTC Incredible S, for which HTC announced the update a while ago but with no firm date. And the update arrived out of the blue for me, I wasn't expecting it now (there were rumors for Q3). My phone is not subsidized by the way, so expect more delay for operator controlled phones.

So it seems to happen, if slowly. I think it's important for handset makers to generate a positive customer perception. If HTC hadn't bothered to upgrade my phone to ICS, I would have looked elsewhere next time (Nexus most likely). As it is, I'll consider them again.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 29, 2012 17:55 UTC (Fri) by cmorgan (guest, #71980) [Link]

Until they can at least get close to matching the iOS update path the whole platform will keep suffering. I'm not sure that this PDK solves any issues. If instead they forced companies to get their code (drivers etc) merged upstream before shipping on devices then at least someone would be able to port things forward to new releases.

I wonder if they appreciate how crappy it is to develop for the latest release when most users are using releases more than a year old.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 29, 2012 20:09 UTC (Fri) by clump (subscriber, #27801) [Link]

Android is open source so there's nothing Google could do to stop the forced obsolescence treadmill if a carrier is determined enough. Google could enforce trademark and certification, however. You provided some good ideas for how a phone could be certified to be called Android, should such an idea be put in practice.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 29, 2012 21:12 UTC (Fri) by Kit (guest, #55925) [Link]

Google already has requirements in place to be able to call a device 'Android', in addition to further requirements to be able to use any of the Google apps (including the Play market). Apparently, none of those requirements have anything to do with providing any sort of updates at all.

It would seem that Apple got the right approach: Remove the carrier from the equation. Part of the problem is that, even if the manufacturer develops an update, the carriers will drag their feet with deploying it, sometimes taking the better part of a year before bothering to push it out (while other devices will immediately receive updates if they're the flagship device).

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jul 1, 2012 15:36 UTC (Sun) by forthy (guest, #1525) [Link]

The right approach for Google to solve the update problem would turn the current Android license philosophy completely around. The solution is to go GPL (optimally GPLv3), and be as pedantic as Debian is. No binary drivers allowed, no locked boot allowed, all updates including kernel updates go through a central repository.

Customization/branding *is* allowed. But this should go through well defined interfaces, and a branded distribution of Android (or any other Linux) must be created in such a way that "unbranding" is a piece of cake - just drop the brand-specific packets.

The ironic thing is that while Google has an Android branding program, the only way to get plain vanilla Android (other than Nexus) with a high likelyhood of updates is to buy some cheap white-box stuff from China. They use the test-keys to compile Android (i.e. no release-keys from Google, i.e. completely uncontrolled), they use CPUs like Allwinner A10, which have GPL compatible drivers for everything, and there, it just works. There is a bit of lag, because they don't have many resources allocated to software and testing - probably just one lonely guy or so, but it's not nearly as much as with the branded parts.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 29, 2012 18:56 UTC (Fri) by karim (subscriber, #114) [Link]

All I want to know is where I can download it from.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 29, 2012 20:23 UTC (Fri) by pboddie (guest, #50784) [Link]

This is presumably the carrot, whereas Google's recent hardware announcements are presumably the corresponding stick: if vendors can't be bothered to keep pace with Android releases then Google will show them how it's done.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 2:05 UTC (Sat) by rich0 (guest, #55509) [Link]

What new hardware announcements? As far as I can tell Google hasn't announced any new phones - they have a total of one phone that they're still selling, it is almost a year old now, and it isn't subsidized (at least not on my carrier). It is also oversized and lacks a keyboard.

Sure, they just announced a tablet and a set-top box, but it isn't like they have a variety of hardware options.

I was pleasantly surprised to see them announce an update for the Nexus S - I've never seen them actually support their phones more than about a year after release. Granted, they were still selling those less than a year ago. The Nexus one was still being sold less than two years ago and didn't even get the last release. Apple usually releases iPhone updates for upwards of 3 years.

I couldn't see myself ever buying anything but Android, but their lack of updates really annoy me. The huge hardware diversity has made even the open source firmwares pretty limited - Cyanogen owns my phone and yet hasn't released CM9 for it.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 29, 2012 23:17 UTC (Fri) by jhoblitt (subscriber, #77733) [Link]

I'm really hoping that with the motorola mobility acquisition Google will be able to completely cut the carriers out of the equation for updates (just for motorola devices). Hopefully, that will apply market pressure on the carriers and competitive handset makers to "update or die".

(I'm also hoping the motoblur crap will die a silent death too...)

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jul 2, 2012 14:01 UTC (Mon) by markhb (guest, #1003) [Link]

I just upgraded my Motorola CLIQ to an HTC One S, and I find that I genuinely miss Motoblur. Did it have some bugs, particularly in the early versions that I had? Yes. But I have yet to find anything in the Play Store that integrates all my messages (email, text, Twitter and Facebook PMs) into one widget like Blur did.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 0:05 UTC (Sat) by liam (subscriber, #84133) [Link]

Does anyone know why Android isn't developed in the open?
Simply moving to such a model seems as though it would immediately fix these problems, or at least give oems less of an excuse.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 0:12 UTC (Sat) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

It's speculated that developing Android that way prevents certain fruity companies from ripping off new features and presenting them as their innovations.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 6:06 UTC (Sat) by liam (subscriber, #84133) [Link]

Assuming you're serious, commits make that a bit difficult for said fructose and pectin laden company to assert.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 8:26 UTC (Sat) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

Commits != publicity.

Quite a few newspapers say things like 'Apple invented multitouch', for example.

Marketing and development

Posted Jun 30, 2012 21:44 UTC (Sat) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

They also routinely say that Einstein invented the atomic bomb, that Gates invented the personal computer and that Jobs walked on water. Keeping a closed development tree is not going to improve newspaper accuracy.

Marketing and development

Posted Jun 30, 2012 21:59 UTC (Sat) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

Ok. Imagine this:

Apple makes a big presentation during the WWDC showing their all-new FFC (Far Field Communication) functionality (gleaned from Android commits), capable of broadcasting your credit card numbers at range of 10 kilometers. Press is wowed by this invention and everyone talks how cool it is.

Then 2 months later Google shows their own implementation of FFC that they've added back in December last year and that was sitting in the development branch. I kinda doubt that people would care about that.

Marketing and development

Posted Jun 30, 2012 22:08 UTC (Sat) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

Fair enough. Now imagine both events reversed: first Google makes the announcement for FFC, later Apple claims to have invented something similar, but instead of FFC it is called "WonderWave". Would anything change? Remember Firewire, Bonjour, AirPort and so many others.

I think the question hinges on how much Google values open development (very little) versus helping the competition (complete disaster). Remember the Honeycomb fiasco, which would have not been possible with an open development model.

Marketing and development

Posted Jun 30, 2012 22:56 UTC (Sat) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

If Apple does this later then that won't be a problem. People are not that stupid to be confused just by name.

Honeycomb was indeed a complete disaster (and Google admitted that). But I'm not entirely sure if secret development is pointless. After all, Apple is also very secretive.

Marketing and development

Posted Jun 30, 2012 23:10 UTC (Sat) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

People are not that stupid to be confused just by name.
Thanks, but you overestimate us greatly.

I don't know what advantages secret development brings to Android; probably a lot. But we are here on LWN, we value free software, we value open source, and we like development made in the open. Google wants to benefit from that momentum by making periodic code drops; I greatly appreciate their openness (especially compared with the likes of Apple), but we can ask for a little bit more.

I personally think that the virtues of open development greatly compensate for not having those little secrets. Just as Apache has trounced IIS, GNU/Linux has butchered all the proprietary Unices, Firefox has slaughtered IE -- there is value in doing things in the open. If announcements are all that is at stake then Google may develop a few selected secret features while the main tree remains public.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 22:38 UTC (Sat) by liam (subscriber, #84133) [Link]

I cant't against the general stupidity of the media, but letting that concern dictate policy, especially in an area where Google would see a definite improvement with both oem relations and time to market, seems like weak management.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 1:30 UTC (Sat) by cesarb (subscriber, #6266) [Link]

> Does anyone know why Android isn't developed in the open?

My guess is that it is to avoid the Osborne effect.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 6:22 UTC (Sat) by emichan (guest, #78123) [Link]

Although you might well be correct, it strikes me as an odd concern for an open source project.
The reason I had supposed for the code dumps was that Google wanted to get the "free" publicity twice a year. That seems an even poorer reason than the Osborne Effect.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jul 1, 2012 15:45 UTC (Sun) by forthy (guest, #1525) [Link]

The Osborne effect happens only when you know that the phone you'll buy now will not get that update. So in order to make pressure to handset makers to actually update, open development and the Osborne effect are Google's friends.

Once Google added a cool feature to the development branch, which is not really ready to use now, but people want it, only those phones will continue to sell where the update is possible. Goal reached.

Anyways, Linux distributions go to "rolling releases" or have been doing that for very long (Debian "testing"), and Google could have the same model with Android. Whoever wants the newest feature now, switches to "Android beta(tm)", and there they go. Any handset maker who wants to have the Android brand must either commit to take the vanilla Google source (and if some Chinese company does so, they should get the release-keys for free), or timely contribute their stuff to "Beta".

If they fail so, no Android brand. Google and the handset makers need to understand that a phone is now a PC, and the operating system is a separate product.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jul 2, 2012 21:18 UTC (Mon) by daniel (guest, #3181) [Link]

Does anyone know why Android isn't developed in the open?

The word that best describes Google's approach to corporate governance is "hubris" and the word that least describes it is "humility".

According to the Google spin on reality, only those smart people who were able to pass through Google's incredibly finely tuned smart person filter (three months of phone screens and 6 hours of on site attack interviews) are properly qualified to know what is right and what is wrong in computer software development. There are flaws in this reasoning. For one thing, Google's smart person filter is imperfect. It sometimes rejects smart people and sometimes accepts stupid people. (By way of example, I was able to pass through it undetected.) The result is, Google does not in fact employ every smart person, and some of those they do employ are lazy and stupid just like those of us not employed by Google. However, Google coders do all share one common attribute: they do what they feel is best to advance their career. And that does not necessarily including putting a lot of energy into improving the Android code in areas that Google does not monetize.

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jul 17, 2012 15:59 UTC (Tue) by TRauMa (guest, #16483) [Link]

So you passed the filter and then declined?

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 3:02 UTC (Sat) by slashdot (guest, #22014) [Link]

Well, if the device vendors pushed their changes to Google, they could just use the new version as-is with no porting needed...

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 8:51 UTC (Sat) by neilbrown (subscriber, #359) [Link]

You seem to be assuming that no new bugs will be introduced - which is not my experience.
A phone vendor would certainly need to do a substantial amount of testing before releasing a new image to their customers. I suspect that could be where a good chunk of where the "2 to 3 months" goes. Or am I optimistic?

Google plans to ease the Android update problem (The H)

Posted Jun 30, 2012 18:53 UTC (Sat) by Kit (guest, #55925) [Link]

I think you're being too optimistic.

On the Fascinate, for example, the carrier pushed out an update that _completely broken_ the 'emergency call' lock screen button, which is one of the few things the carrier would actually get in trouble for if it was broken! It took them a while to notice, and once it gained a bit of publicity, they had were able to produce and release an update to fix the problem in only a matter of a couple days.

While I'm sure there is some time added to allow the carrier to some work to ensure nothing vital is broken, I imagine that most carriers only employ enough people to really do the necessary work for whatever is their flagship phone... letting all others just sit until they have nothing better to do (and then drop working on a phone immediately if there's a new update for the flagship that needs to be worked on).

emergency call

Posted Jul 1, 2012 9:47 UTC (Sun) by tialaramex (subscriber, #21167) [Link]

I'd be totally unsurprised if the "emergency call" functionality, despite its life-saving importance and thus the necessity of testing it does not actually have any formal test systems in most or perhaps all countries. That is, you can "just" take a phone you're testing out to the real world, dial 112 and then apologise when you get through, but there's no way to test without wasting critical resources in this way.

This was certainly true for COSPAS/SARSAT's distress beacons until relatively late in their history. The best you could do was inform the SAR resources in your country of your intention to test, tell them you don't need rescuing, then activate the beacon. Most likely they would ask you not to, and often it was technically illegal, regardless of the necessity of running such tests during development and benchmarking.

emergency call

Posted Jul 1, 2012 19:29 UTC (Sun) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

>That is, you can "just" take a phone you're testing out to the real world, dial 112 and then apologise when you get through, but there's no way to test without wasting critical resources in this way.

That's not true. You can schedule a test call with your local emergency center. People developing Cyanogen Mod for Vibrant Galaxy S had to do this because of broken 911 functionality.

emergency call

Posted Jul 3, 2012 10:25 UTC (Tue) by rich0 (guest, #55509) [Link]

Yup, from what I read it isn't uncommon for PBX installers and such to plan test calls with 911. The 911 center understand that such testing is important for public safety and usually provides some way to handle it.

I'd think that a carrier would be able to implement such testing without even bothering the 911 center. Presumably they could redirect the call from a specific device/tower/etc to someplace else. They could even stick the phone in a Faraday cage with a microcell to test it.

emergency call

Posted Jul 4, 2012 0:19 UTC (Wed) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

That's more complex than you think. 911 calls are not processed like normal calls.

For example, 911 calls can automatically transmit GPS position and other information.

emergency call

Posted Jul 11, 2012 8:34 UTC (Wed) by tialaramex (subscriber, #21167) [Link]

I'm glad to know that arrangements to do real tests for emergency phone calls exist in the US at least, thanks.

emergency call

Posted Jul 13, 2012 0:46 UTC (Fri) by JanC_ (guest, #34940) [Link]

All calls can (and sometimes do) automatically transmit GPS information and such, that's not specific to 911 calls. (But I suppose you mean you would want to actually test that functionality for 911.)

emergency call

Posted Jul 13, 2012 1:01 UTC (Fri) by Fowl (subscriber, #65667) [Link]

That seems unlikely, as spinning up the GPS chip uses a substantial amount of power. Unless you mean "cell tower triangulation data" instead of "GPS"?

emergency call

Posted Jul 13, 2012 9:26 UTC (Fri) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

No. That means "GPS".

In Samsung Galaxy S, for example, there's a special protocol between radio interface layer and GPS daemon.

I don't really think people care much about shortened talk time due to GPS when calling 911.

emergency call

Posted Jul 13, 2012 18:58 UTC (Fri) by Fowl (subscriber, #65667) [Link]

I was referring to nonemergency calls.

Google should use more stick

Posted Jun 30, 2012 20:27 UTC (Sat) by Tester (guest, #40675) [Link]

One thing I heard (unconfirmed) is that Google shared some of the advertisement revenue with the OEMs and the carriers. Maybe they can use that stick to force them to upgrade. Lets say, "no more money for you if all of your phones that match the requirements aren't ported in 3 months" or something. Or maybe cut of Market access to new phones unless the old ones are ported.

Google should use more stick

Posted Jul 3, 2012 10:27 UTC (Tue) by rich0 (guest, #55509) [Link]

Or they could be even less onerous and just offer a higher reimbursement rate for newer phones. Movie studios do something like this with theaters to encourage keeping movies playing - the longer it plays the higher the cut for the theater. This would work the other way around - the newer the OS the better the cut. That encourages carriers to both sell newer phones and update older ones.

Maybe work out the change so that based on current numbers the carriers make the same amount of money so they won't complain, but they now have incentive to make even more.


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