Google To Manufacturers: 'Use A Recent Version Of Android, Or Else'
By Mike Schuster, Minyanville Staff Writer
To give you an idea of just how much power mobile carriers and manufacturers wield when it comes to releasing device updates, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) -- the top dog in global smartphone market share and activations -- is still grappling with fragmentation. Last week, the company announced that Android 4.4 KitKat, the latest version of its mobile OS, is only running on 1.8% of Android phones in the wild. This, despite the fact that 4.4 was released three and a half months ago.
Granted, the platform would have to be optimized for millions of phones of all shapes and sizes -- many of which were released years ago and aren't capable of running the latest version of Android. And to Google's credit, Jelly Bean -- which is an extremely solid version of Android in its own right -- is currently running on more than three out of five devices. But that still leaves millions of users who aren't experiencing the company's latest and greatest version of Android.
As such, Google has taken great pains to reclaim control from dawdling carriers and manufacturers with Android releases. The company has begun selling Google Play editions of Samsung's (OTC: SSNLF) Galaxy S4 and the HTC (TPE:2498) One running stock Android rather than the manufacturers' skins. Official apps have also made their way onto the Google Play Store, allowing for updates to come from Google individually rather than all at once in an infrequent Android OS update -- one that would likely be hampered with delays from indifferent carriers.
And now, according to a new rumor reported by Android Police, Google may be withholding its Google Apps if a manufacturer tries to certify a device that isn't running one of the latest versions of Android. At least one major Android manufacturer has allegedly received a memo from Google that lays out the deadlines that a device running an older version of Android must meet in order to receive Google Mobile Services (GMS) certification and approval.
For example, if a manufacturer submits a device for GMS approval, it now must be running Android 4.2 or higher in order for it to ship with Google Apps. After April 24, that version is bumped up to 4.3 or higher.
In the supposed memo, Google explains, "Starting February 2014, Google will no longer approve GMS distribution on new Android products that ship older platform releases. Each platform release will have a 'GMS approval window' that typically closes nine months after the next Android platform release is publicly available. (In other words, we all have nine months to get new products on the latest platform after its public release.)"
Although this could strike a blow against that pesky fragmentation issue, this policy only applies to GMS approval and not hardware release dates. So a device could potentially receive GMS certification in March, not be released until the fall, and still comply with Google's new guidelines. And unfortunately, there's nothing requiring manufacturers or carriers to release quick and frequent Android updates after a device is released.
Also, these new guidelines wouldn't necessarily affect major manufacturers like Samsung, HTC, LG, or Motorola, whose devices usually ship with a recent version of Android. It appears that Google is specifically targeting smaller companies on the lower end of the market that, as Android Police's David Ruddock explains, are guilty of "dumping Ice Cream Sandwich phones and tablets onto unsuspecting consumers well over two years after the OS was announced because they're too lazy/cheap to develop updated software." However, it may prove to be a disincentive for the larger players to slap more complex skins atop stock Android, which has the potential to be a lengthy process that pushes the company past a creeping approval deadline.
Still, if true, this rumor is yet another method in which Google is trying to reclaim control over Android and provide a better experience for users who continue to be at the mercy of all-too-powerful carriers and manufacturers.
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