Google keeps improving Android. Android version 2.2 is one of the most important releases ever – it speeds up the whole phone (every game, every app, runs noticeably faster), along with bugfixes and new features.
Sony Ericsson has caused much hate among consumers by shipping their flagship phones with OS 1.6, even when 2.1 was already available, and then being very, very slow to “allow” their customers to upgrade (the upgrade is essentially free, Google doesn’t charge for it).
So far, no news at all.
But this week, Sony’s official Twitter account posted this, along with possibly the world’s worst excuse from a mobile company:
There will be further system updates for the X10 handsets however there will not be any more updates to the Android platform.
We believe the features included in the Android 2.1 phone are on par with, and in many cases better than, a vanilla installation of 2.2 #X10
i.e. “that expensive phone you bought in the last 9 months will never run many of the new apps on the Android marketplace. We believe you should be grateful because it’s a really pretty phone, and who cares about apps / games / etc anyway? iPhone? What the hell is an iPhone?”
The sweet stench of cow-manure
Let’s put this into perspective…
When you write apps for Android, before you even write the first line of code, you have to choose the minimum OS version that your app will work with. The older the version, the fewer the features that you have access to. Also, the more bugs you’ll have to workaround (even Google has bugs :)).
So, you leave out some features, maybe. But there’s more: many of the features of newer versions are things that are invisible to the user, but which make development quicker, easier, or less error-prone.
i.e. going with an older OS means that the developer has to pay more, work harder, for less reward, producing an inferior product. It’s not very tempting!
And Google just released Android 2.3, so 2.2 isn’t even the “current” version any more, it’s the “old” version.
…net result: lots of developers will be making Android 2.2 the “minimum” version. Sony is actively “locking-out” their customers from using the phone they own to download and purchase (a percentage of) new apps. Today, that percentage is small – but it will get bigger every day, and Sony has declared they will “never” fix the problem.
2.2? Why not 2.1? Why not 2.0?
There’s lots of improvements in 2.2 that make developers lives easier or less expensive, but there’s a single “flagship” featuer that overules everything else. This one feature can easily cut 20% of the cost of development.
2.2 has improvements to the Java VM, that make *all* apps run faster. c.f. my own experiments, where my space-invaders game ran approx 20%-30% faster, just because I upgraded the OS.
That saved me possibly weeks or months of coding that I would otherwise have spent hand-tuning the code to increase performance. Performance isn’t everything, but … the wide variety of Android handsets means that even relatively simple apps may struggle to run at decent speed on some of the handsets out there.
Of course, if I don’t use *any* of the other features, I could still release this app on 2.1 … but all the people with 2.1 would be getting an inferior experience, and many would complain and rate the app down. It’s probably less damaging – and more profitable – for me to simply ban people with “old” versions of Android from using the app at all. That way, they don’t get disappointed, and won’t be able to down-rate it.