Android 4.4.3 shows that Google still sucks at releasing platform updates

It’s been a week since Google started releasing Android 4.4.3. Many have reported getting the update delivered to their Nexus over-the-air, and others have impatiently taken it upon themselves to download and manually flash the entire factory image – myself included. However, many are still waiting for the update to arrive, and that’s where things start to get a little “weird”.

I’ve got a lot of Nexus devices in my household: two Galaxy Nexi running CyanogenMod, one 2012 Nexus 7 that’s still on Android 4.4.2, a Nexus 4 that got the 4.4.3 OTA a few days ago, my own Nexus 5 onto which I manually flashed the 4.4.3 factory image, and my 2013 Nexus 7 that’s still waiting for the OTA. The only thing consistent about which have gotten the update, is the inconsistency.

Best intentions

moto-x-data-usageThere are a few reasons why any developer doesn’t want to flood the latest software to every single device. Updates include new code. They’re tested on a limited number of devices, and may still contain unknown bugs. To ensure things go smoothly, developers will often stage the release of their updates in batches. This allows for a small group of users to receive the update and report any problems. It’s much easier to fix a problem when only 1,000 people have experienced it, than to compile a new update, and push it out to every user all over again.

Updates also take up bandwidth. A 100MB update pushed to 1 million users (for example) is a lot of data! Pushing that many bits to that many people all at once would fill the pipe and everyone would suffer. A staged rollout lets the data flow through the pipe quickly and smoothly, without blowing out the pump.

Although the reasoning behind staged rollouts makes sense, it’s still frustrating to have to wait your turn in a line that you can’t see, and don’t know how long it is.

The cake is a lie!

What if you want to check on your place in line, or even force the update? That’s simple, right? Go to Settings, About phone, System updates, and tap “Check now”. Nine times out of ten you’ll likely be told that “Your system is up to date”. That’s what my 2013 Nexus 7 says – and it’s running Android 4.4.2, which is obviously out-of-date!

Some people have joked that every time you tap the Check now button you get kicked to the end of the line. While we certainly hope that’s not true, it can sometimes feel that way.

Pressing “Check now” should do just that: check now. In our case we should be told that “An update to Android 4.4.3 is available for your device. You are scheduled to begin receiving it on such-and-such date”, or some other helpful message.

If that date comes and goes, and your device still hasn’t gotten the OTA update automatically, that “Check now” button should be replaced with a “Download and install now” button which will force the update to be downloaded, verified, and installed on your device.

Just the half of it

All of that only applies to recent Nexus and Google Play Edition devices. Updates for other “current” devices have to be readied and pushed out by whoever makes your phone. If it’s a carrier-branded phone or tablet, the update also has to go through their certification and sign-off, too. That can take months – if the update ever arrives at all.

verizon-galaxy-s-4-camera-3Some updates add features and benefits. Others are to patch bugs or plug security holes. It could be argued that the first type of update isn’t something the OEM or carrier is obligated to deliver. The latter two (bugs and security issues) should be very important for both OEM and carrier to deliver to your device as quickly as possible. One could make the argument that a known bug or security issue that is not remedied in a timely fashion puts their customer at risk, and therefore makes them liable for any and all damages incurred due to their failure to supply a timely patch.

Regardless, the updating mechanism in Android – even in Google’s own Nexus family of devices – is inherently flawed. It’s confusing. It’s frustrating. It needs to be improved – and soon!

What about you?

Have you had a poor experience updating your smartphone to the latest version of Android? We’d love to hear your tale of woe! Head down to the comments and share your story!

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.