About not getting Android 4.0

First off, the disclaimer: I’ve been using a Nexus S for quite some time now, after switching from an iPhone 3GS and switching back to it, after I got fed up with Android. I’m still using the Nexus S from time to time and plan on using it after it gets updated to 4.0.

With that out of the way, I have to say something about the recent news about the Nexus One, the one made by HTC for Google as their reference design, not getting Android 4.0 otherwise known as Ice Cream Sandwich. Some people are arguing that it’s almost ridiculous that Google won’t support their not-even-2-year-old-phone[1. Michael Stanclift at Applexec has a nice timeline of Android/iOS devices. Another great timeline, including specific iPhone/Android models can be found on Michael Degusta’s site.] anymore, pointing out that Apple’s 3GS – which is even older than the Nexus One – just recently got its ticket for iOS 5.0.

There’s a point to it, but the difference between Android and iOS is, that there’s almost certainly someone out there who can and will take the open sourced parts of Android 4.0 – for the sake of argument let’s say that Google will really release it to the public this time around – and make their own ROM for the device. There’s already some builds floating around xda-developers.net based on the SDK alone. With Android there’s still a good chance to get an update created by some gifted developer. If Apple decides to not support your device any longer, you’re SOL.

It’s your right to bash Google for this and I have to agree to a certain degree. But still it’s the easy way to look at this, the ROMs you can get at xda show that there’s a way around Google’s decision and most owners of the Nexus One probably bought it for the hackability anyway – at least everyone I know who bought it, bought it because of this. I have yet to see a port of iOS 5 for my 2nd gen iPod touch, which is now stuck at iOS 4.x.

The most insightful post I’ve seen so far comes from Marco Arment. He looks at the bigger picture of what it means when Google doesn’t want to support their hardware after less than 2 years. This sets a precedence for every other Android manufacturer out there, who now gets a clue and thinks “If Google can get away with it, why can’t we?”.

Most Android phones in the U.S., representing a huge chunk of Android’s total market share, were sold to Verizon customers on 2-year contracts. And among those, a very large portion were sold before there was a Verizon iPhone.

As these contracts come up for renewal over the next 1-2 years and these customers buy new phones, how many of them will stay with Android?

This reminds of the old days before the iPhone: you go out, buy a phone and there were no updates whatsoever after that. I especially disliked Microsoft and its partners for doing this pre-Windows Phone 7. Only a few nerds went to Nokia service centers or to conventions like CeBIT to stand in line and wait for some technician to update their phones.

Most manufacturers and network providers still don’t really care what happens to the phones once they are sold. Nowadays they should! People will hear about friends still getting updates for their rather old iPhones and will start to ask themselves “Why am I not getting any updates for my phone?”. That’s where Apple gets it: long-term satisfaction. Or as Arment puts it:

Long-term satisfaction might have a large effect on the Android retention rate and, therefore, its long-term market share. Cutting off software-update compatibility to so many phones while they’re still under contract isn’t going to do any favors for customer satisfaction.

It’s not about getting Android 4.0 for this specific phone, it’s about the message that Google is sending to other manufacturers: “Google doesn’t care, why should we?”