Strong opinions, weakly held

Something iPhone users take for granted

When Apple entered the mobile handset business, one of the biggest breaks they made with tradition is that they retained control of the software update process for the iPhone. Regardless of your carrier, which software runs on your phone is between you and Apple, and Apple does a very good job of maintaining support for old handsets with their software updates.

In many cases, with Android, it’s up to the carriers when your phone gets new software, and they have not broken with their long tradition of being very conservative when it comes to distributing software updates. A couple of weeks ago, I was able to update my 27 month old iPhone 3GS to iOS 5 the day it was released. Many people buy Android handsets and never get to run the most recent software, as shown on this chart.

For many customers, this is probably not a big deal. They’re fine with running the software that shipped with their phone as long as they own it, but I find it strange that enthusiasts are OK with it.


  1. …I find it strange that enthusiasts are OK with it

    I think the subset of Android users who really care that much about having the latest features/software and who keep up with android release history is probably pretty small.

    Something iPhone users take for granted

    As for iphone, I’d be interested to see the stats on the percentages of users who keep up with updates.

  2. This article says iOS 5 was installed on 1/3 of capable devices a week after it was released:


  3. For most Android users who care about the version of the OS they run, rooting and upgrading on their own, outside of a carrier’s control, is a very normal task.

  4. And yet, if you had simply a 3G, which is only a few months older, you’d be SOL.

    I think, like anything, the people that really care make the tradeoff that works for them. With careful wrangling, you can squeeze almost the very latest Android on the T-Mobile G1. Or you could count your time as billable hours and simply buy a new phone like the iPhone guys.

    Blackberry, FWIW, does the exact same thing the iPhone does in terms of OS updates.

  5. While I agree with the overall premise of your post, I would have thought Android enthusiasts would be rooting their phones to get around carrier blocks.

  6. I had an iPhone 3G, and should never have updated to iOS 4. So, yeah, this seems like one of those things that might be an issue in theory, but in practice the operating system will evolve to consume so many more system resources that it just isn’t worth trying to run it on the old hardware.

  7. I heard that about the 3G and iOS 4, but found it not to be the case with the 3GS and iOS 5.

  8. A few points here:

    1. That chart is a difficult to follow.

    2. Here’s a better chart: http://developer.android.com/resources/dashboard/platform-versions.html. It shows that 40% of android phones are one the newest major version, 45% are one major version behind, and 10% are two major versions behind.

    3. The reason for this is that almost all those phones in that original linked chart were not sold in great numbers.

    4. This is a big part of the reason why those phones are not updated. With the iPhone there is only one new phone at any given time and only one new version every year so supporting it is much easier.

    5. While all the points made in the original link about why phones aren’t updated more often are true, they aren’t really that big a deal for reasons that are well documented in the previous comments and elsewhere.

    6. Hey you know what? Siri is only available on the newest iPhone running the newest version while Google Voice works now on the first Android phone, the G1 released in 2008.

  9. That chart seems more than a little biased and ridiculous

    It seems like the iPhones are all solid green because of the somewhat arbitrary and convenient definition of major OS release.

    The chart doesn’t include the Verizon iPhone 4 on that list which didn’t have the latest OS release almost as soon as it was released and for about the next 8 months. But that would have still been shown as green because they were still on the same “major OS release” even though it was completely incompatible with the current platform.

  10. I’m not really that big on software upgrades. Android updated on me a few days ago, but I’m not sure what I got out of it, I should have probably skipped it, as there aren’t any bugs that were bothering me.

    If this release is stable I’ll probably disable automatic updates of the OS, in fact, as long as it’s stable and the web browser works, upgrading my OS doesn’t appeal that much to me.

    I approach my home linux like that too, unless there’s a compelling reason to upgrade. I might update packages for security, but rolling out a whole new OS all the time when what I have is stable doesn’t make that much sense to me.

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