Motorola exec's comments on Android updates don't jibe with reality
This seems like a strange claim, and we're not even sure that we believe what Motorola is saying, but it seems that Motorola executive Christy Wyatt believes that the Nexus hardware which is to blame for the slow updates from manufacturers.
Wyatt is the senior VP and general manager of Motorola's Business Enterprise Unit. According to Wyatt, "When Google does a release of the software ... they do a version of the software for whatever phone they just shipped. The rest of the ecosystem doesn't see it until you see it. Hardware is by far the long pole in the tent, with multiple chipsets and multiple radio bands for multiple countries. It's a big machine to churn." Wyatt says that once manufacturers get the Android code, the process is a long one to make sure the hardware is compatible, then layer on manufacturer specific customizations, and finally have the device re-certified by carriers before the update can be pushed out.
The comments don't really work with what we've seen and been told. First of all, Wyatt seems to be saying that Google creates the new version of the Android software to be optimized specifically with the hardware found in the Nexus device, which flatly goes against every design comment any Google employee has ever made about Android. Google has always asserted that the software has to be optimized to run on a huge variety of hardware. The comments also go against what we've seen with the first three devices to get the ICS update, which have not been TI OMAP devices (like the Galaxy Nexus), but rather the Nexus S (Samsung Hummingbird), Asus Transformer Prime (NVIDIA Tegra 3), and Motorola XOOM (NVIDIA Tegra 2). If it were really that difficult for manufacturers to re-optimize the code for other hardware, it would follow that TI OMAP devices would see the update first.
Second, Wyatt claims that manufacturers don't see the software until it is released as open source. However, we were told by Notion Ink CEO Rohan Shravan that Google seeds developers with early builds of updates in order to speed up the process. In fact, Notion Ink, which is a far smaller manufacturer than Motorola, had been working with the ICS code for "a long time" as of last September, a full two months before the ICS code was made open source. Sure, this wasn't final code, but it certainly must have been enough to begin work on an update.
We agree that the entire process could be streamlined and made faster, and Google definitely has a part to play in making that happen, but we can't really get behind Wyatt's comments. It's hard to believe that manufacturers have to do such a huge amount of work to make Android compatible with non-Nexus hardware, given how quickly ICS has made its way to Samsung and NVIDIA hardware. The major difference between the devices that have already seen the ICS update is not that they have the same hardware as the Galaxy Nexus, but in the fact that they are all running stock Android. So, it seems to us that the real slowdown is still in the manufacturer customizations and in the certification process by carriers, but we would love to hear from Google on this topic.