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The Update Battle: Innovation vs legacy support

Posted: , by Michael H.

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Where companies draw the line

As we mentioned, each company has to choose where to draw the line on the continuum between innovation and supporting legacy devices, and for the most part it seems as though both Apple and Google have chosen well in where to draw that line, and how much to push forward without leaving too many devices behind. However, there are always times when a company needs to push forward a little bit harder than others, and maybe leave behind more users than people would like. Because of the 2-year contract cycle, the safest way to push forward seems to be in pushing a hardware update one generation, and pushing the big software bump in the next, even if that means leaving out 2-year old devices. At the speed which the mobile industry moves these days, companies don't have the luxury of boosting hardware too far in advance of a major software upgrade, because device turnover is so fast. 

The Update Battle: Innovation vs legacy support
For Apple, that line needed to be pushed forward a bit with the introduction of multitasking. Apple has always chosen when and where to introduce new features, and the timing of those iterations has often angered some, but multitasking was one of the few features that required a good amount of extra resources. Apple prepared its ecosystem with the iPhone 3GS, which boosted the RAM of the iPhone and allowed multitasking to be implemented in the next generation. So, we wouldn't be surprised if Apple pushed a feature in iOS 6 that really took advantage of the new dual-core processor found in the iPhone 4s, perhaps even true multitasking which used the power of a multi-core CPU to run intensive apps in tandem. Apple has also made a good choice in this regard to push the standard release window for the iPhone from June/July to October. Because, if it does make that push next year and leave out iPhone 4 users from the benefits, AT&T iPhone 4 users almost all be ready for, or past the time for, the upgrade, and Verizon users will be close enough. 

Google also tried to prepare its Android ecosystem with the Nexus S, which boosted the GPU and internal storage in preparation for the next generation bump in the OS requirements. In general, the Android ecosystem pushed itself forward through the competition between handset makers. The trouble there is that Google only suggests ways for handset makers to push forward hardware, which means there is a delay between the introduction of a Nexus device and any improvements the rest of the ecosystem decide to implement. And, manufacturers may not implement certain features at all, like NFC for which Google obviously has big plans, but not enough manufacturer support. 

GPUs and internal storage have been improved since the generation of the Nexus One, but the users with handsets similar to the Nexus One may not be near the end of their contract cycles just yet. In this regard, we might even say that the delay in Android manufacturers pushing OS updates may actually become a benefit, because by the time ICS is pushing towards being the dominant Android version on the market, and is shipping on a number of devices, those users may be in the market for new handsets. 

How to play the market

Of course, that argument doesn't completely work, because any delay between something being released and it being available to users causes is bound to cause an uproar with a smaller set of very vocal users. The majority of mobile users often don't know or care what version of the OS they have, and likely don't know that they are even missing any features. Unfortunately, we here at PhoneArena and all the communities around mobile tech news live in an echo chamber filled with that vocal minority who understand exactly what is happening and get riled up with every perceived injustice. We here are burdened with knowledge. We know when there are features out there that we don't have, and because we choose to be here, we're also the type of people who need to have those new features.

The Update Battle: Innovation vs legacy support
The decision then becomes when exactly you need to have the new features. For both Android and iPhone, the fall seems to have become the time for the big updates. Apple has moved its iPhone release to October, and is likely to keep it there, and Google has targeted November for its Nexus releases, while other Android manufacturers in general tend to target the holiday season with big releases anyway. This means that buying a new iPhone in the summer is likely a bad idea. But, overall with Apple, it depends on which side of the iteration you want to be on. The best time for performance boost through hardware iteration has tended to be on the odd years (aka the 'S' years,) and the major software features come with the even years (aka the plain number years). Although, there are persisting rumors that the next iPhone will have a quad-core CPU, so Apple may be bucking that trend.

With Android, as usual, things are a bit messier, and therefore require more work on the part of the user. If you need to have the newest software features as soon as possible, you want to be in the Nexus lane and get the newest Google experience phone when it comes out during the holiday season. If you want the best hardware, that seems to hit the market in late spring to early summer each year, and often by then, those devices will come loaded with the newest OS, so you won't have to worry about waiting for an update. But, because of the makeup of the Android ecosystem, it's possible that the newest hardware won't be optimized with the software until later. For example, dual-core processors have been in devices since early 2011, but only the tablet OS Honeycomb has been optimized for those processors, and phone optimization is coming with ICS, which still has yet to be released. 

With Android, you always need to be aware of what devices are due out, and what the competition is, especially if you aren't buying a new device when it is launched. If you want the best features with Android, it takes a lot more research and due diligence to make sure you don't get burned. Luckily, as Google announced at I/O this year, there is a new clause in the Open Handset Alliance agreement which guarantees software updates to Android devices within 18 months. Unfortunately, 18 months is a really long time, and that clause has also just gone into effect, so the troubles with older handsets being updated will continue at the mercy of your manufacturer. The best guarantees for software updates are either being in the Nexus lane, buying in the spring or summer when the new OS begins to be shipped on new devices, or to be part of the root crew and put your faith in Team Douche and the Cyanogen ROMs. 


No matter what your choice, it helps to understand the realities of the market, the major point of which is the 2-year contract cycle. As annoying as it may be, especially if you live somewhere that doesn't actually use this system, the phone in your hand has a set life engrained in it. It has at most a year of being on the top level, and one year sliding through the middle. After those two years, if you choose to hold on, you need to understand that your device will be falling into the bottom level. The support structure for both Apple and Google is like this: support 2 year old top end devices, 1 year old mid-range devices, and current low-end phones. Everyone else needs to upgrade if they're that desperate to get new features. 

Both Apple and Google have been good about keeping devices compatible with software updates for upwards of 3 years, but there will be times when the software needs to push forward a little harder than older devices can handle. Because of the closed and controlled ecosystem, Apple can be better about this, but that assurance comes with all of the other issues in the iOS ecosystem that may not work for your needs or desires. Google has a much more difficult job, because of the makeup of the Android ecosystem, and there is far more work required of users to make sure you don't get left in the lurch, or buy in at the wrong time. But, each has proven that it chooses well in the timing to push. Apple was in desperate need of a multitasking solution, and pushed to add it. Google was in desperate need of a UI overhaul and has pushed forward to add that. All of these innovations, especially in the Android ecosystem, are for the benefit of the top level users first and foremost, because if you buy the best on the market, you're more likely to get the upgrades faster. Also, updates will tend to go to the most engaged users, who tend to be those who buy top of the line, rather than those who just grab whatever is cheapest. It's not enough to know about the new features and devices coming out, you have to be very careful with your choices unless you go with Nexus devices and stick to the 2 year plan. 

These times of a harder push forward may leave those with 2 year old phones behind, but we're of the mind that these companies have more of a responsibility to innovate and push their systems forward than to hold back for the benefit of those with older handsets. As soon as companies start to slow down their rate of innovation in favor of supporting older hardware, something new is more likely to come along and push that entire platform towards obsolescence. We would rather see platform wide evolution, rather than platform wide obsolescence. 

  • Options

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 10:59 18

1. AdamW33 (Posts: 39; Member since: 25 Aug 2011)

I feel like the vast majority of cell phone users don't care where their phone lies in the spectrum. In fact, I know many smartphone users that have ignored every software update available simply because they don't want to take the time and are happy the way it is.

Most people don't need the best thing on the market. They just want something that is easy to use and has the features they need. Hence the iPhone domination.

Me personally? I'd rather a top-of-the-line Android device.

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 11:00 4

3. Alantef (Posts: 288; Member since: 14 Sep 2011)

word for word...totally agree!...wonderful post!

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 14:29 6

43. Retro-touch (Posts: 279; Member since: 24 Oct 2011)

This reflects the vast majority of people I come across. They don't even know updates exist, they're too busy living to worry about having the best tech on their phone. The phone is mainly for communication, somewhere along the line we outgrew that and people saw the need to have an all-in-one device hence the smartphones today. The majority of people are blissfully ignorant and I can't blame them, it doesn't benefit anyone knowing excessive info about phones unless your in the business of selling phones, although I'd rather be in the minority that's in the know and glad sites like PA exist.

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 10:59

2. Alantef (Posts: 288; Member since: 14 Sep 2011)

for android is that a jelly bean??

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 11:17 14

5. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2720; Member since: 26 May 2011)

Yeah, the next version is rumored to be Jelly Bean. I'm hoping for Key Lime Pie after that.

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 14:15 1

38. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)

darn it.. ur making me hungry.. lol

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 14:20 1

42. remixfa (Posts: 14605; Member since: 19 Dec 2008)

good job on the article. :)

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 20:28 1

65. RORYREVOLUTION (Posts: 3117; Member since: 12 Jan 2010)

The thing is, Android is completely advancing over IOS and quickly. IOS has a 2 year lead on Android but look how advanced Android has become already. IOS has made improvements and some changes but for the most part they are slight and don't impact the device it's running on nearly as much as Android.

The Nexus One was a super phone when it first launched nearly 2 years ago but just about a year ago we got the first dual core phone with 1GB of RAM and a much superior graphics processor.

Android phones become outdated very quickly due to the fast and powerful advancing of their own OS. ICS is going to require a lot of horsepower and rightfully so. We all want change, we all want advancement, we don't want the same Gingerbread all over again.

Put a 1.5ghz dual core processor with 1GB of RAM and only give it 2.0 and can you imagine how blazing fast it would be? It would be complete overkill just like the dual core processor is on the iPhone 4S. In the past, android devices have not been able to meet the system requires it's own OS has required.

But they have quickly made those changes with overclocking their dual core processors and giving them nearly double the RAM. Not only that but ICS is made for dual core processors as it is off of Honeycomb and no longer running from Gingerbread.

So yes I predict that the Galaxy Nexus will get android 5.0 but after that it will be too outdated. That's just the way it goes and rightfully so.

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 21:06

67. taco50 (banned) (Posts: 5506; Member since: 08 Oct 2009)

they become outdated due to a poor os that can't manage resources

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 21:16 1

68. RORYREVOLUTION (Posts: 3117; Member since: 12 Jan 2010)

Now taco, that isn't true. Every update that Android has had has required much more processor power and RAM and devices couldn't hold up.

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 21:31 8

70. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2720; Member since: 26 May 2011)

I wondered when you'd show up with something that makes no sense. The problem is that Google never mandated minimum internal storage and older phones don't have the space to store ICS. It has nothing to do with resource management.

P.S. Taco, not even a mention of the incredibly fair treatment of iOS in the article? No credit at all?

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 21:59 1

72. RORYREVOLUTION (Posts: 3117; Member since: 12 Jan 2010)

Agreed Michael. To truely understand both OS's you'd actually have to use one. I assume Taco has either never actually used an android device or looked at one of the cheap low end devices.

You can't expect to put ICS on a phone with a 600mph processor and only 200 some mbs of ram and then expect it to run smooth and fast. JUST not going to happen, that's not googles fault and it sure isnt android's.

The device was designed for certain versions of android.

OG Droid was designed for android 2.0, Droid X 2.1, etc etc etc. Two factors come in to play to affect how well or poorly an update does to the device. How powerful is the processor and ram? And if the OS is running on a different UI(Motoblur, Sense, Touchwiz, etc)

That's not android's fault if the update screws up the device and makes it buggy and laggy. It's who made the device and uses a different UI on top of it.

Basically if Google forced everyone to use thesame specs and did not allow any kind of customer user interface then a lot of these problems wouldnt exist.

HOWEVER, Android is and has always been an open source system and it's worth these problems old devices had to begin with. It seems like they will at least make a requirement for ICS and hopefully limit the custom ui on future devices to prevent bugs and prevent slow updates. But still in the end remain as a open os.

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 22:07 3

74. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

i never had any problems with my X until Gingerbread. i guess i've had much better luck with Motorola. i'm like Motorola's chosen one. xD

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 22:17

75. RORYREVOLUTION (Posts: 3117; Member since: 12 Jan 2010)

I had the OG Droid when it first came out. Loved it on 2.0, works flawlessly. 2.1 came and it went to hell, no different from 2.2

Droid X the same thing. It was AMAZING on 2.1, then 2.2 came and it went to hell. 2.3 helped make it less laggy but the bugs remained.

Seems like you should ONLY use the phone you have with the current version it runs to avoid problems lol.

posted on 28 Oct 2011, 07:20

86. ayephoner (Posts: 850; Member since: 09 Jun 2009)

guys, i have an X that i want to sell soon.

i'd like to get the official GB update, but it wont show up on my phone. i have it rooted, but no roms. did the update not roll out 100%? is there something i can do to get the official update?

posted on 28 Oct 2011, 10:01

93. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

go to Swappa.com. best place to sell Android devices.

posted on 28 Oct 2011, 10:07

94. ayephoner (Posts: 850; Member since: 09 Jun 2009)

im going to sell locally on craigslist. i would like to have gb as a selling point though.

posted on 28 Oct 2011, 10:47 1

96. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

you can get that sold for a much better price on Swappa. i sold my Droid X with a car mount for 400 something dollars in August.

posted on 28 Oct 2011, 20:35

98. protozeloz (Posts: 5396; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)

if your phone is rooted you wont see ota, but the good old cable might help out, otherwise just remove root

posted on 31 Oct 2011, 07:44

101. ayephoner (Posts: 850; Member since: 09 Jun 2009)

removed the root, rebooted, still wont recognize the need to update (says OS is up to date).

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 23:09

79. RORYREVOLUTION (Posts: 3117; Member since: 12 Jan 2010)

Nailed it. I don't have a problem with Taco, I respect his loyalty to Apple but some of the others I really can't stand.

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 23:41

81. RORYREVOLUTION (Posts: 3117; Member since: 12 Jan 2010)

You are either pro apple with these guys or you are against them. There's no middle ground, in between. You can't like both, you can only love apple and never question or discredit apple.

posted on 28 Oct 2011, 08:55

88. Dark4o90 (Posts: 205; Member since: 20 Feb 2011)

sooooo blinded in every article hahahaha :D:D:D

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 11:10 3

4. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

"We here are burdened with knowledge."
omg i know just what you mean. xD

good article Michael.
something else i noticed with Android updates is that sales are a factor too. i mean why devote time and resources to a small group of buyers? that's a lesson i unfortunately had to learn the hard way with the Motorola Devour. when i was in the market for my first smartphone i really wanted one with a good keyboard because of the Touchscreen woes i had with the LG Dare and so it ultimately came down between the Droid and the Devour and i decided on the Devour because it had a much better build quality, (damn thing was a tank) a better keyboard plus i thought it looked better and being that they both had the same processor clock speed, same amount of RAM and Internal Storage (i had limited knowledge of mobile SoCs then) i thought the Devour was sure to get the Eclair update. wrong! it was to be left on Android 1.6 for the rest of it's life. it was a good phone, i liked it a lot but i couldn't deal with being stuck on Cupcake so i was able to get a Droid 2 warranty replacement. moral of the story: always go for high-end, vastly marketed phones.

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 11:18 2

6. MichaelHeller (Posts: 2720; Member since: 26 May 2011)

That's another big reason why the Nexus One isn't being updated. It never had that many users to begin with, and most who own it are the people who update either every year, or every two years on a strict schedule.

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 12:17 2

14. snowgator (Posts: 3604; Member since: 19 Jan 2011)

Very good post King- as usual. I am really starting to look for your name when I read the comments section.

Excellent and detailed article, Mr. Heller - as usual. I forgot to give you props when I posted. Phone Arena is lucky to have you. A slight bonus should be awarded for your abilities, I think....

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 12:38 2

19. protozeloz (Posts: 5396; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)

don't know if you know but KingKurogiii is trump3r
*plays the cue music*

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 13:28

25. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

xD Trump3r? lol it was Thump3r. you know the Rabbit from Bambi.

posted on 27 Oct 2011, 13:51 2

31. protozeloz (Posts: 5396; Member since: 16 Sep 2010)


posted on 27 Oct 2011, 13:27

24. KingKurogiii (Posts: 5713; Member since: 23 Oct 2011)

thanks snowgator. i appreciate your posts too. (:
it's true. you've known me all along. i'm Thump3r. i decided to make a new account.

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