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If you don’t like Windows Phone 8 upgrade plans, look at Android

July 1, 2012

A Microsoftie friend of mine suggested that I was being a bit unfair only comparing WP8 to iPhone; basically Apple is doing a great job on managing customers’ upgrade expectations but they can do that because they control the hardware and the software.  So I took at the Android market — since both Microsoft and Google make mobile O/Ss that other OEMs use, the comparison seems apt.  And the reality is that Android upgrades are a mater of luck and market demand, making the Windows Phone upgrades seem generous by comparison.

The Android fragmentation issue is well-documented; since Android is open-source, OEMs differentiate their products through different form factors, screen sizes, and add-on software (HTC Sense, etc) and this creates a very large testing matrix for 3rd-party developers.  But the bigger problem is Android upgrades (or the lack of them).  Over 3/4 of all Android devices are running on Android 2.2 or 2.3.3+ (18-30 months old).

Why are so few Android devices running current software?  Partly because some users don’t understand the upgrade process or can’t be bothered.  But mainly because upgrades are not typically available on a timely basis.  Users buying an Android device today don’t necessarily know which version it’s running, and get no guarantees as to when or if they’ll get software upgrades.  The more popular devices eventually get upgrades but it’s typically 6-18 months after the software is released — Ice Cream Sandwich upgrades only started coming out last month, 6 months after release.  By the time the upgrade is available, there’s already a new version of Android out (versions come out every 4-8 months).  And if you choose device that turns out not to be popular, you may be on your own — the manufacturer may never release an upgrade.

Of course, phandroids will point out that anyone can root their device and install any version but this is an activity that is really reserved for enthusiasts.  And Google is now releasing their Platform Dev Kits to OEMs 2 months before SDK release, to give OEMs a jump on upgrades.  But the problem is still motivation.  And because of the open-source nature of Android, there’s no guarantee that whatever hardware you buy today will work with the release coming tomorow. As a recent ZDNet article stated:

“No one has an incentive to deliver that upgrade to you. Google is interested in new handset activation, the handset makers have sold you a phone and hope to never hear from you again, and the carriers have you hooked up to a multi-year ball-and-chain.”

In contrast, the Windows Phone 8 “No you can’t get an upgrade” statement is at least clear and unambiguous.  It’s painful, and I stand behind my contention that the Lumia 900 issue shouldn’t have happened, but at least users know where they stand.  And they also have a history of Microsoft (not the OEMs) providing updates to all hardware models.

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