Android L is hot as hell – but you can’t have it
Android L is the working title for Google’s next version of the Android operating system. It was announced at the end of June, 2014, and entered a developer preview that has seen two releases thus far. All signs point to Android L being released within the next few months, but what does that mean for you?
Android L is full of new improvements and eye candy all over the place. It’s beautiful, fluid, and has consistent animations and transitions that help convey how parts of an app are interrelated (not just for fluff). In no uncertain terms, as Michael Fisher puts it: “Android L is hot as hell!”
When Android L is released, if the pattern holds, we’ll see it first on new hardware. Whether that’s the Nexus 6, Nexus X, Nexus 9, or some other hardware, we’ve generally seen the new versions of Android released on new hardware. Shortly thereafter Google typically releases factory images for recent Nexus devices – in this case we suspect the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 will both get updated to Android L.
That’s where things start to fall apart. Google typically provides updates to its devices which have been released within the previous 18 months. This will likely leave the original Nexus 7, Nexus 4, Galaxy Nexus, and other Nexus devices out of luck – even though the hardware should be capable of running the new OS. That will undoubtedly frustrate some, but what’s going to be even more frustrating is OEM support.
Recently we saw what looks like Samsung’s take on a mashup of Android L and TouchWiz running on the Galaxy S5. We don’t know exactly how “early” this release is (or how much work Samsung has put into it since the build in the video was released), but for now, it’s reportedly “so slow and bug-ridden that SamMobile decided against publicly releasing the firmware”. When it does, Samsung will undoubtedly release a very polished product, but only when it’s ready to do so. Therein lies the problem.
Other than goodwill, OEMs don’t have much incentive to invest time and effort into updating the operating system running on their old hardware. Every hour spent toward putting a new version onto an old phone is an hour that isn’t being applied to new products. New products which they could sell, adding more money to their bottom line.
Of course we’re glad that OEMs don’t do this. The latest flagships from all OEMs will likely see an update to Android L (or whatever it’s going to be officially called) sooner or later, but it’s that “later” that’s frustrating.
OEM updates aren’t great. Not only does an OEM have to shoehorn all its “customizations” into the new OS, it’s got to make sure all the pre-packaged apps (read: bloatware) are updated to the new Material Design. Then carriers get in the way requiring testing and sign-off of the update before it’s pushed on their networks. Add any carrier bloatware or “custom features” (tethering apps, WiFi calling, etc.) that have to be updated, baked in, approved, and pushed with the update, and the timeline grows even longer. All that makes my head hurt – and makes the Android update process a horrible experience.
Many OEMs are getting smart and disconnecting their apps from their ROMs. This lets apps be updated through the mechanism already in place in the Play Store and bypasses a lot of the red tape, but carriers are still the draconian gatekeepers that delay operating system updates the most.
Google has a new initiative for emerging markets called Android One. Put simply, Google is helping out carriers by creating a reference platform for hardware, and taking care of the operating system and all future updates to it.
This is basically a budget-Nexus and could serve as a roadmap for OEMs who continue to bake their own versions of Android, and end up putting all their users at a disadvantage when the next version of Android is released.
Although Android L is “hot as hell”, if you’re using an older device or aren’t using a flagship device, chances are that when it comes to Android L, you can’t have it.