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.
How Google plays hardball with Android
I wanted to link to this Ars Technica post on Google’s levers of control over the Android ecosystem by Ron Amadeo, mainly because it’s a really nice piece of reporting. He explains how Google has reduced the open source footprint of Android and migrated to closed source versions of many of the key applications and services that Android users expect. Google then uses bars Android handset makers from making non-approved Android devices in exchange for licensing these closed-source applications.
This answers the question of why there aren’t more Android forks floating around, and sheds an interesting light on the Kindle Fire:
I actually don’t think this is particularly evil, but I do think it gives lie to the claim that Android is really an open platform.