Are Android customers left to rot the moment we walk out of the store?

I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for over ten years, back when it was Voicestream. I had used the G1 for a bit, but then needed to test things on the iPhone, and until late August of this year I was using a jailbroken iPhone. I have to admit, I liked the interface a lot, but disliked the fact that I was responsible for updating the OS myself when a new version came out. I’m a highly technical person but iPhone jailbreaking seems like black magic, and I always worried about turning my phone into a bricked toad.

So, I elected to purchase the latest Android. I wanted the freedom that comes with an open OS. I wanted to have options for moving my data around (I say Google does this better than any other provider), and I am betting that the long term trend is that Android will be a much bigger platform than iOS, so it benefits me to be familiar with it as an entrepreneur in the technology space.

My brother wanted to take my iPhone, so I went into system settings, and clicked the button to remove all data, with the intention to give it to him. If you have a jailbroken iPhone, don’t do this. Doing this bricked my iPhone, and it will brick yours. The iPhone kept telling me to activate it with a SIM; I tried several different SIM cards from T-Mobile, and several from AT&T, even an international SIM from Portugal, and none of them worked. I went into the Apple store (avoided telling them that it was jailbroken of course), and they tried to unlock it, but could not help me. I went to AT&T and they could not unlock it. I figured I was doomed, but fortunately a guy on Craigslist was able to unlock it, and we’ll wait until a jailbreak for iOS 4.0.2 comes out. A bit of confirmation that jailbreaking is a handful of hassle.

This forced my hand, and I chose to buy the Samsung Galaxy. This phone seemed to have everything I wanted, front facing camera, bigger screen than the iPhone, Android 2.1 OS.

And, I have to say I am frustrated now having had this phone for over three months. I keep checking to see when the phone will be upgraded to the 2.2 OS, which has WiFi hotspots, notifications, and Flash support. I absolutely require tethering of some sort as I telecommute often, and my old G1 and my iPhone all supported that (after jailbreaking). I was really looking forward to doing this legally.

The Android 2.2 release date was apparently June 2010. I continue to check the web to see when this release will be made for my phone. There are reports of it appearing on devices in the UK, and then remarkably they pulled those updates down for some unknown reason.

I have a theory on why there is this long delay.

There is no market reason for Samsung (or T-Mobile) to care about upgrading my device.

And, this is a fundamental difference between the Android OS and the iPhone OS.

Apple is responsible for delivering iOS updates to all their customers on behalf of AT&T. Apple does this gladly because when they release a new version of the iOS, they also enable developers of apps in their marketplace to utilize new features found in the latest iOS. This has a direct impact on Apple’s bottom line because it means they sell more apps which were tuned for these new features, and they sell more services which utilize the new features, like iAD. There is a clear market incentive for Apple to update devices which are capable of supporting the latest OS.

This is not the case with Android. There is no economic incentive for Samsung to update Android to 2.2. As far as I can tell, Samsung makes zero dollars when a new Android OS comes out. It costs them money to deliver upgrades to these phones. If I were the person internally at Samsung responsible for choosing whether to go to the trouble of upgrading a whole bunch of phones out in the wild, I would make the decision to not upgrade them. I think the same goes for T-Mobile.

I have long speculated that one interesting opportunity for Android developers will be that there will be many app marketplaces, each curated independently by carriers or the phone manufacturers. If you can find some marketing money from one of these independent app store divisions inside a carrier or device manufacturer, it could be an interesting way to bootstrap a business. If this were actually the case in the reality we live in, I would change my opinion about the lack of incentive for updating these devices. Let’s look: it does seem like Samsung is thinking along these lines, as they have their own app store. If you look closely, you’ll see the apps here are almost all free (a negative drain on Samsung when you factor in hosting and management of the marketplace), and attempting installation of any of the apps launches some strange Windows program which does not work on my Mac PowerBook. This is a complete dead-end. Zero economic incentive here to upgrade my phone. T-Mobile apparently had plans two years ago to manage their own app store, but I see nothing now.

I say this is a big problem for Google and Android because fragmentation is one of the biggest criticisms of Android. I say this is a concrete example of how this will get worse, not better, over time. There simply is no economic incentive for manufacturers or carriers to upgrade phones once they have left the store.

One option for Google is to provide white-labeled app stores for companies like Samsung. If they could create new revenue streams for companies, then those companies would have an economic reason to schedule upgrades. However, Google is having enough trouble just keeping up with the problems on their own store, so I doubt this will happen in the short term.

Sad and mad. Disappointing to see a fine platform rotting like this. And, mad I now stuck with a phone for two years that I doubt will ever see Android 2.2.