Why I’m Not Excited About Google’s Android M Update
In my opinion, although Android M brings new features, it is still mostly improvements. Some of the features like revamped app permissions, Google Now on Tap, Android Pay mobile payment system, new fingerprint APIs that developers can add to their apps, and a new battery saving feature called Doze, look promising.
(Also see: Android M: main new features of the next major version of Android)
Among the new features, my favorite is app permissions, which will give the user more control over the data available to apps. The feature was long overdue, given that several Android apps have been under the scanner to hide malware and adware. This feature will help users to control apps more easily.
While Android 4.4 KitKat and Android 5.0 Lollipop were huge updates, Android M seems like a progressive step at best. At the I/O conference, even Google pointed out that for Android M it was focused on improving the core Android experience, making fundamental changes to the platform, in addition to fixing several bugs.
(Also see: How to download and install Android M on Google Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 9 and Nexus Player)
We already know that last year’s Android Lollipop update was plagued with several bugs, perhaps the most serious being the memory leak bug that crashed apps. Google seems to have finally realized that releasing an Android OS update every year wouldn’t do any good. But no attempt has been made to fix one of the biggest problems that has plagued Android for years: timely OS updates.
The company was to introduce a theme engine for the OS, something it could have used to force manufacturers to limit their customizations, indirectly making it easier for OEMs to roll out OS updates faster. . It never happened. The thing is, many Android users won’t get the Android M update until next year, while the majority may never see Android M rolling out. Even though I am currently using a fairly high-end device, the HTC One (M8 Eye), there is not even any sign of Android 5.0 Lollipop update on my device.
To provide context, Android Lollipop was released in November and six months after launch only 12% of active devices are running the OS. Apple, on the other hand, with its control over the hardware of its devices, is far ahead of Google in this area. At its WWDC conference, Apple revealed that iOS 8, the latest publicly available mobile operating system powering iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices, works on 83% of active iOS devices. Even Windows Phone users start receiving an update soon after Microsoft and its (admittedly limited) partners start rolling it out to devices, and very few devices actually miss the update. In fact, almost every device running Windows Phone 8 should get the next Windows 10 update.
Unfortunately, despite being the most widely used operating system on smartphones, Google’s Android has the most problematic operating system update processes. Earlier this year, a report claimed that Android accounted for 81% of all smartphones shipped last year, followed by Apple with 15% and Microsoft with 3%. The OS update process on Android is much more complicated than Apple and Microsoft.
It all starts with Google releasing the final software to its Open Handset Alliance (OHA) OEM partners as well as the Android Open Source Project. After that, each Android handset maker starts customizing the final version of the operating system. This is necessary because of the “skins” that different brands use on Android, such as TouchWiz (Samsung), Sense UI (HTC) and LG UX (LG), among others. In some markets, the process is further delayed by various mobile carriers again adding slight software customizations to Android handsets and conducting their own tests. Sometimes Android updates are so late that by the time users receive an update, Google has already released the next major version.
For Google, the need to fix this problem has become more pressing than battery management or app permissions. It’s high time for Google to move things along quickly to ensure that the majority of devices – whether it’s a Nexus, Android One or any other brand’s Android phone – get the new operating system updates in time. Currently more than 85% of Android users have not even seen Android Lollipop while we already have Android M which will be released later this year.
So, is Android M exciting? It brings interesting features but nothing extraordinary. Only Nexus users, and those who intend to purchase the new Nexus device to be unveiled at the end of Q3, can really get excited about Android M at this point. The first third-party smartphones running Android M out of the box can only be expected in late 2015 or early 2016.
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