About 2 years back, I read this article on Michael Degusta’s personal blog. It was a revelation. Michael ripped the Android ecosystem apart with a simple chart. The chart converted me from an Android user to an iPhone user. I hope this chart helps other folks make an informed decision when their next smartphone upgrade is due.
- The Android devices I’ve chosen are mostly premium Android devices from some of the better known device vendors (Excluded ZTE / Pantech / Kyocera / Huawei / Casio / Garmin etc). This will make the chart look better than it actually is. But even at its best, the chart continues to portray a sad story of Android device upgrades. Only phones that were released at least an year back have been included. The timelines for upgrades are for AT&T phones, unless they have been specifically marked as T-Mobile phones. It is impossible to include all the Android phones released in the US. A quick search on CNet will reveal that between 75-100 unique Android phone models approximately are available in the US since Jan 1, 2010.
- The task of finding discontinued dates (after which the devices are marked as End Of Life by carriers) of all Android phones except the Nexus phones was a pain in the back.
- The discontinued date for some devices were available as screenshots of inventories on Android blog sites.
- Some others were available from user posts on forums.
- For some of the phones, I could deduce from the various sources that it was discontinued in a specific date range in which case I chose a date in between.
If you have a more reliable way of finding out this data, please let me know (@krfraj).
- To simplify the chart, I have assumed that the major Android versions are 2.2.x, 2.3.x, 4.0.x, 4.1.x, 4.2.x, 4.3.x and 4.4.x. This isn’t the best way to categorize the major versions. For instance, Android 2.3 – 2.3.2 Gingerbread is API level 9, and 2.3.3 – 2.3.7 is API level 10, but I have clubbed them into a single group. For iOS, the major versions are 3.x, 4.x, 5.x, 6.x and 7.x.
- Data source: CNet, Wikipedia and Google search.
Some interesting figures about Android phones:
- 10 of the 16 devices were discontinued less than or equal to an year after release.
- 6 out of 16 devices never ran a current version of Android.
- 4 out of 16 devices stopped getting any updates less than an year after release.
- None of the 12 devices received updates for the entire duration of 2 years after release (excluding the first 4 devices in the chart which are scheduled to receive future updates).
- All 15 devices (Except the Nexus 4 which still has 11 months left for completion of 2 years from release date) were at least 1 major version behind within their two year contract period.
- 13 out of 15 devices were at least 2 major versions behind within their two year contract period.
- 8 out of 16 devices were at least 2 major version behind within one year of their contract period.
- Galaxy Nexus was on the current version of Android for the longest duration of 1 year and 10 months.
Some interesting figures about iPhones:
- iPhone 3GS was on the current version of iOS for the longest duration of 4 years and 3 months.
- iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 were discontinued 3 years and 4 months after release.
A flood of regular OS updates from Google.
Google comes up with a new OS update every 6 months, which is then picked up by device vendors to add their own customizations to differentiate in the crowding Android device market. This is then passed on to the carriers for testing. If the results of carrier testing are satisfactory, it is rolled out to the devices, if not, they are sent back to the manufacturers for revision. By the time the update is available to the end user, a new release from Google is out. Apple releases yearly updates, cuts out the middle man and provides updates to the customer directly.
The status of Motorola Atrix HD on AT&T is end of life. The last update that the device received was Android 4.1 on Dec 14 2012. The support page on the Motorola website says that “The device will be upgraded to Kitkat (Android 4.4)”. But going by the fact that this is a discontinued model, I see slim chances that the device would receive any upgrades at all. Motorola might release an upgrade and surprise us all but the fact is that promising upgrades to customers and not delivering them is common in Android land. It is hard to believe how Android device vendors get away with false promises. The iOS updates on the other hand have matured. It is safe to assume that iPhone 4S will be removed from the lineup next year and that it will receive its final upgrade to iOS 8 late next year. There is 2 years of historic data to back this assumption. Historic data about Android device upgrades is so messed up, that you should be surprised only if you receive good support for the duration of your contract.