Android: Eat Dessert Last

by Bob Schwartz


On October 29, Google will introduce a new mobile device based on Key Lime Pie, the latest and likely sweetest version of the Android operating system.

This is great news for some. But for many Android users, who are looking for a little more sugar, it is somewhat strange.

The strangeness is that a number of high-end and upgradable devices sold just within the past year are still waiting for the last two Android upgrades. Some running on Gingerbread have been waiting for much of this year for Ice Cream Sandwich (version 4.0). Ice Cream Sandwich devices have been waiting months for Jelly Bean (4.2). Before all that happens for many devices, Key Lime Pie (4.3) will be a delicious reality—for some, but hardly for all.

The cause of the backlog is what has come to be called Android fragmentation (there’s no cute dessert way of saying that). As an open OS, Android is adopted and overlaid by each device maker for selected devices, and the various providers also get involved in the Android experience for each device they choose to carry.

This three-way would be complicated enough if Android were a static OS. But Android won’t stand still—those robot legs may be stubby, but they sure can move. Android is less than five years old, a relatively low-maturity but quickly-developing OS. The striving of the developers is admirable, and they are in the process of evolving Android from good to very good to great.

But every upgrade demands that Android, the device makers and the providers essentially go back to square one, determining which devices are suitable, testing and tweaking so that users will have a positive experience that reflects well on all involved.

That’s the ideal. The reality is that Android and the other players hype the improvements, but then are forced by dreaded fragmentation, and whatever other interests are involved, to make users wait.

It’s not that a piece of Gingerbread isn’t sweet and satisfying; it’s actually a pretty solid OS. And for the luckier ones, they’ve been happy with an Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s just that standing in front of the Mobile Sweet Shoppe, nose pressed to the glass, it’s tough to watch the customers inside scooping out all those colorful Jelly Beans. And now, insult to injury, the shop is passing around slices of Key Lime Pie. Not even lemon meringue, for goodness sake, but Key Lime!

We know, or hope, that dessert is really on the way. It’s just a little frustrating watching someone else eat it.