Jean-Baptiste Queru, or JBQ to the affectionate, is the guy who runs the Android Open Source Project. He’s the guy who usually sets off a stream of media commentary that goes something like, “Yes! ____ device is going to be updated to Android ____ soon!” Except that, unfortunately, doesn’t usually happen the way most people want. In fact, he says that it usually takes around eight months from the time the source code is released until new devices ship with that version. In the case of Android 4.0.4, it is an iterative upgrade and most users will have received Android 4.0.3 beforehand. Nevertheless, his commentary on Google+ is valuable insight into the world of software updates, and a primer on why our impatient selves are going to keep on waiting.
Now starts another 8-month waiting game. In over 10 years working on the software side of the cell phone industry, I’ve learned that it takes about 8 months between getting the software ready and seeing it widely deployed. Edit: Meaning, deployed on new devices.
Why 8 months? It’s about the time it takes for the software to get ported to the chips that get used in a new phone, then to get it to run on the actual phone, then to have features added to it by the manufacturer, then to have it customized for the specific phone and for the specific operator, then to have it tested by the device manufacturer, then to have it certified and approved by the operator that will sell and support the device, then to have the actual devices manufactured, distributed to the stores and put on the shelves.
Now, 8 months is just an average, a rule of thumb. The real development schedules can vary by a large amount in both directions. As a rule of thumb, though, it does tell me that 4.0.4 will be quite widely available on new retail phones 8 months from now, i.e. for the 2012 holiday shopping season. 4.0.4 is a solid release, so I already anticipate that 2012 is going to be yet another great year with plenty of exciting new Android devices.
He’s saying that by Christmas of this year, new devices will likely ship with Android 4.0.4 (unless of course, there is a 4.0.5 or 4.0.6. If you’ll recall, Gingerbread went up to 2.3.7 before Google stopped adding to it in favour of Ice Cream Sandwich).
I’d argue that Android 4.0 is one of the most feature-filled mobile operating systems out there. It supports hardware acceleration, a number of advanced APIs for developers, and is much more attractive and usable than Gingerbread. This is the first time I’ve used an Android phone and I don’t feel like, “Damn, there’s so much potential here, but it’s missing something.” So I won’t mind waiting for Jellybean the way I did for ICS.
After using Android 4.0.4 for a few hours, nothing seems all that different to the previous version. This is fine — iOS 5.1 looked the same as 5.0.1 — because I immediately felt like the OS was more stable. Android has reached a maturity level that begs to be used; just over 1% of devices are currently running Android 4.0+, so it pains me to think that many users won’t get a chance to try it for months yet.
As Bell revealed today, many of its top-tier devices are going to receive Ice Cream Sandwich at some point this in the first half of the year: the Galaxy S II first, followed by the Galaxy Note in April, HTC’s Sensation and Raider in June, and then finally, in the boilerplate month of July, the LG Optimus LTE. That’s seven months after its November launch, and a long while after it was originally promised. All these devices, however, are receiving Ice Cream Sandwich around eight months after their release (some less, some more).
I’m not passing judgement on the carriers, or Google, or any of the manufacturers who push out updates later than originally intended, but it’s a necessary part of releasing an Android device these days, and the clamour is getting louder every year.