Earlier today, Apple released the iOS update that resolves the location tracking issues that had the press in a tizzy over for the past couple of weeks. For those keeping score at home, it took Apple exactly one week from when they first addressed the problem to ship a solution to every affected iOS user. Yes, just one week later, the situation is resolved (well, aside from a smaller encryption issue which will be fixed in the next major iOS update). Regardless of your stance on the issue at hand, that turnaround time is impressive anyway you slice it. And it’s especially impressive when you consider the alternative.
The Android alternative.
This Is My Next’s Nilay Patel (formerly of Engadget) drove this point home with a tweet today. “It took Apple just a week to deploy this update to all iPhone users, while Android makers are still shipping 2.2, and WP7 is a mess,” he wrote.
The Windows Phone 7 update situation has been a nightmare from the start. And Microsoft knows it and claims to be working on the process — though it still doesn’t appear to be going smoothly. But they’re also a new OS and a relatively small one. So let’s focus on the mature massive one.
Let’s say there was some big OS issue with Android that Google wanted to resolve and get to users as quickly as possible. How long would it take? As Patel alludes to, looking at the Android OS distribution numbers, it doesn’t look good.
The most recent major version of Android, 2.3 (if we don’t include the tablet-only 3.0), has been out for about 5 months now. On what percentage of Android devices is it installed on? 4 percent, according to Google’s numbers.
Four percent. After five months.
While the holdup isn’t entirely Google’s fault, it is their fault by proxy. By allowing the OEMs and carriers to set their own schedules for OS releases, they ensure these insanely slow roll-outs (and sometimes the carriers choose not to roll out the updates at all). “I don’t blame Google for Android update problems — the blame there is squarely on the OEMs and carriers. They have to match Apple,” Patel writes in a follow-up Tweet. Okay, but they never will unless Google applies that pressure.
But isn’t that type of pressure against Android’s core principle of open? Oh, you mean “open”? “Open” as in, Google is complying with carrier requests to remove tethering apps from the Market? Don’t be fooled by the marketing bullshit. Google could apply more pressure if they wanted to to get the carriers in line. And they should have no problem doing that if the carriers are forcing their hand on things. It should work both ways. And the same goes for the OEMs. We’ve been hearing for years now that Google would do more in this regard. So far, nada.
Currently, this issue has only led to annoyed customers who buy new Android phones and expect updates, only to have to sit on the sidelines for months. But this could become a major problem if Google ever has to push an update quickly.
Instead, Google’s only option now is to release backdoor fixes through their own Market — which is hilarious. They had to utilize this method this past March when a bunch of malicious apps were published into the Market and were affecting users’ devices.
But what if the problem was more of a core OS problem? Or what if the malicious app disabled or removed the Market? Google would have to push an update through the carriers. For Apple, this process is instantaneous because they’re in control. For Google… well…