Google's Ice Cream Sandwich software update is just around the corner, and it's promised to offer huge improvements that will make Android phones easier to use. But what if you've already got an Android phone? Will you be left out?
In this edition of Ask Maggie, I try to answer that question. First, I explain which phones I expect the different manufacturers to update first with Ice Cream Sandwich. And in the second question, I offer some alternatives to another reader who likely won't get the benefits of Ice Cream Sandwich.
Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.
Will my Android smartphone ever get Ice Cream Sandwich?
What are the chances of my new LG Revolution getting the Ice Cream Sandwich update? I just sold my old iPhone 4 32GB to buy this phone and hate to think I will be stuck with an OS that is three generations old. Also, if not, if this a major problem; I am very happy with my phone as it is.
It's really difficult to say for certain which phones will get Android's Ice Cream Sandwich software and which will not. So far the only phone announced that will have the software at launch is the Samsung Galaxy Nexus that's expected to be sold on Verizon Wireless in the U.S.
But other phones will eventually get the update, just as Android manufacturers have been updating devices to the Gingerbread software.
I asked a Google representative if he could offer any ideas regarding which devices might be supported or if there were any hard and fast hardware requirements that would exclude certain devices. He said there are not specific hardware requirements for Ice Cream Sandwich, but he said it's unlikely that Android devices that are a couple of years old would get the update. For example, if there's anyone who still has a T-Mobile G1, the first Android device on the market back in 2008, don't expect to be get the Ice Cream Sandwich update.
If the hardware isn't a limitation per se, how will consumers know if their Android phone will get the update? My rule of thumb would be that the most recent and most heavily marketed devices by the main manufacturers are likely to be first in line when it comes to the new software update.
So what does this mean for you and your LG Revolution? I asked an LG representative for some insight, but she wasn't able to get back to me in time for this story. But considering that the LG Revolution still hasn't gotten the Gingerbread update, I don't expect LG to push the Ice Cream Sandwich to the LG Revolution.
Unfortunately, LG hasn't had the best track record for updating its Android phones in a timely fashion. To be honest, neither have Motorola, Samsung, or HTC. But in general the Android manufacturers are getting better at rolling out updates more frequently and the hope is that Ice Cream Sandwich updates will come out more quickly than previous updates.
Part of the problem is that some of the manufactures layer on their own software "skins" to customize the devices. For instance, Motorola has MotoBlur and HTC has Sense. As a result, when new updates are introduced from Google, the manufacturers have to figure out how to make those updates work with their software.
"Generally speaking, the more handset maker influence a company puts into the interface, the longer it takes for development and update cycles," Scott Webster, a blogger for CNET's Android Atlas and an expert in all things Android wrote in a recent post.
Here's a quick synopsis of how I think the major Android manufacturers will handle the Ice Cream Sandwich update:
SamsungGiven that the first phone to be released with Ice Cream Sandwich is the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, my guess is that several of the more recently launched Samsung phones will also get the Ice Cream Sandwich update, including the entire line of Nexus S phones on AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile USA. I also think the Samsung Galaxy S II phones that were just released this fall will also get the Ice Cream Sandwich update.
At the launch of the Motorola Droid Razr last week, which happened hours before the Galaxy Nexus was released, Alain Mutricy, senior vice president of portfolio and product management for Motorola, told me that the Droid Razr would likely get the Ice Cream Sandwich update in the first half of 2012. He said that the Droid Bionic was also in line for the Ice Cream sandwich update. I also expect other newer Motorola devices, such as the Droid 3 or Atrix 2, to get the update. After all, the specifications and processing capability in the Droid 3 is comparable to the Droid Bionic and Droid Razr.
HTC issued a statement last week after Ice Cream Sandwich was introduced saying that it's currently looking at which phones it will update with the latest version of the Google software.
"We are excited about the latest update for Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, and are currently reviewing its features and functionality to determine our upgrade plans," the statement said. "Our goal for Android updates is to give every customer an improved user experience, which means balancing each phone's unique hardware, HTC Sense experience and the Android kernel. While our goal is to upgrade as many of our recent devices as possible, we are committed to maintaining every phone's performance and usability first."
Scott Webster of Android Atlas thinks that HTC will likely upgrade its latest devices first with the Ice Cream Sandwich update. These newer devices include, the Sensation 4G, Evo 3D, and Amaze 4G. He said that slightly older but popular devices, such as the Evo 4G and G2, could see Android 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich. But he said it's unlikely that HTC will support older devices like the Droid Incredible or Aria. "Those models may just be a little too old," he said.
Sony Ericsson has also said that it plans all of its most recent phones released in 2011 will get the Ice Cream Sandwich software. This means that the Xperia line of devices will likely be Ice Cream Sandwich-compatible sometime next year.
As I mentioned above, LG doesn't have a great track record when it comes to updates. So while I don't expect your LG Revolution to get Ice Cream Sandwich, I think it's more likely that the LG Optimus 3D, which was released this summer, might get it. But even that is not guaranteed.
If you happen to have a phone that doesn't get the upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich or it's taking too long for the manufacturer to make that upgrade, you can always root your phone and use what's called a custom ROM. When you "root" the phone, you basically strip it of all the extra software. This can be done because the Android platform is open source. Then you can reinstall a modified version of Android called a ROM.
But rooting your phone and installing a new modified version of the operating system is not for everyone. Average wireless subscribes may not want to be bothered.
So to answer the second part of your question about whether you need Ice Cream Sandwich, I don't think that you do. For you, it would be great if you can get Gingerbread. And that upgrade I do think is coming. If you're happy with your phone, I wouldn't worry too much about all these updates. While the new Ice Cream Sandwich software will make Android phones more user-friendly, it doesn't mean that previous versions of the phone don't work at all.
So my advice is wait to see what happens with the update. If it doesn't come to your phone, and you really want the update, you can always root and install a ROM that will support the latest software available. If you're happy with whatever software you're using, sit tight. By the time your contract ends, Google will probably have moved on to the next yummy-sounding version of its Android software called Jellybean Android 5.0 or some such.
I'm already salivating just thinking of it.
I hate my Droid
I have the Motorola Droid 2 from Verizon and I hate it. I confess that I am not tech savvy at all. And I am sure there are lots of things that this phone can do that I don't even realize. But I hate it. The only reason I got the Droid in the first place was because Verizon wasn't offering the iPhone. I know that Google has come out with a new software upgrade that's supposed to make it more user-friendly. Can I get this on my phone? Or am I stuck with what I have until I can upgrade to the iPhone 4S when my contract ends on this piece of crap Droid?
Eileen from the Jersey Shore
Dear Eileen from the Jersey Shore,
I'm sorry that you are not a fan of the Droid 2. My colleague Stephen Shankland recently wrote a very interesting story on CNET describing how Android smartphones appeal more to nerds while the Apple iPhone fits the lifestyle and personality more of average consumers.
Given that you're more of a mass-market customer rather than a techie-nerd, I'd agree that the iPhone may be a better fit for you. But you are right that Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is supposed to make Android smartphones a lot more user friendly. No longer will there be layers of menus and clicks on the home screen. You'll be able to jump much more quickly to the tasks and apps you want. And there are loads of other enhancements too that improve the camera and make Web surfing easier.
So I wouldn't completely rule out future Android smartphones for you or other less-tech savvy non-nerds.
Unfortunately for you, I doubt that Motorola will make an Ice Cream Sandwich update for the Droid 2 a high priority. As I mentioned in my previous answer, Motorola will probably concentrate its efforts on pushing out Ice Cream Sandwich updates to the Droid Razr, Droid Bionic and Droid 3 and other newer devices. The Droid 2 is more than a year old. By the time Motorola gets around to releasing the Ice Cream Sandwich update, it will be 2012 and your Droid 2 phone will be nearly two years old. In smartphone years, your phone will be a senior citizen and will be ready for retirement by then. So I wouldn't hold my breath for Motorola to issue an update for that device.
That said, you could root your phone and upgrade it with a modified version of the Ice Cream Sandwich software when it's available. But given that you have described yourself as not very tech savvy, I wouldn't recommend it.
So what should you do? I'd say sit tight and upgrade to the iPhone 4S as soon as your contract allows. Clearly you aren't happy with the Android experience, so it doesn't make sense to buy another one even though many new Android smartphones next year will have the new Ice Cream Sandwich software installed.
But just in case you are willing to look at other options, keep in mind that Microsoft will be introducing more of its Windows Phone smartphones later this year and next year. In fact, it is expected to be announcing the first Nokia Windows Phone devices later this week in London. (In fact, I'm in London this week to cover the news, so stay tuned for more information on these new devices.) I know Microsoft's Windows Phone doesn't sound nearly as cool as Apple's iPhone, but the software is intuitive and easy to use. And you might like it.
The interface on Windows Phone devices is easier to use than Android. And many apps, like Facebook, come pre-installed on the device. So keep that in mind when you shop next year for a new phone. Verizon already has the HTC Trophy, which now runs Microsoft's latest version of its Windows Phone software. And it's likely to get more of these devices.
A lot can change in this market in six months. And even though you may have your heart set on the iPhone 4S today, something better may come along in the next few months to change your mind. So keep your eyes and ears open and spend this time looking for a phone you really want.