The Lollipop Rush
Google released the Samsung-made Nexus S at the end of 2010, heralding Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The Nexus S was a very close cousin of the Samsung Galaxy S, based around a similar screen (albeit curved in the Nexus S), processor, RAM and camera. Samsung released Android 2.3 Gingerbread in April 2011 in some markets but in the United Kingdom, we had to wait until November 2011 before it was available for the Galaxy S.
This is an extreme example, but not so long ago, manufacturers adopted a “we'll release it when it's ready” attitude to new versions of Android. And although I need to say that we should never buy a device – any device – based on what it might do going forwards, delays to software updates is a sore subject around the world.
We've seen some changes at Google and part of these has been to encourage manufacturers to keep their devices up to date. One is that manufacturers need to launch a device on a current or nearly-current version of Android. Another is that devices must be updated to the latest version of Android that's released for 18 months. In other words, the 2013 HTC One is going to get Android Lollipop and depending on the next update from Google, it will be receiving this update too.
But what we have seen with the arrival of Android 5.0 Lollipop is some (not all) manufacturers clamoring to release the update faster and faster. Motorola, as a great example, take pride in releasing Android Lollipop quicker than the Google Nexus devices receive the update. We've also seen LG, HTC and Sony announce that they're working on updates. Samsung have been quieter; an early pre-release version of Android Lollipop has been leaked for the Galaxy S flagship devices.
This is a good thing for a number of structural reasons: Android 5.0 Lollipop brings the operating system that much closer to the applications running on it. It also brings performance, battery life and security improvements and these are good for the industry. It's good for Google as it pulls the Android devices that bit closer to mother Google and it's good for the manufacturers because it improves the customer experience.
It took six years to reach this point and not all manufacturers are joining in on the rush. Huawei recently announced that their Mate 2 smartphone will get Android Lollipop “in the first half of 2015,” but we've made massive strides in the last twelve months. Long may it continue!