Don’t blame manufacturers’ software customizations for holding up mobile phone upgrades to the new version of Google’s mobile operating system, Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” (ICS), a top executive at Motorola said Wednesday.
It’s the hardware, said Christy Wyatt, senior vice president and general manager of Motorola’s Enterprise Business Unit. The issue at hand, according to Wyatt, is that writing code to support hardware other than Google’s Nexus model has proven to be a tall order for smartphone makers.
“When Google does a release of the software … they do a version of the software for whatever phone they just shipped,” she said. “The rest of the ecosystem doesn’t see it until you see it. Hardware is by far the long pole in the tent, with multiple chipsets and multiple radio bands for multiple countries. It’s a big machine to churn.”
Motorola understands that consumers want their Android upgrades sooner, but the process is complicated, she said. First there’s hardware support, then the layering in of custom software from manufacturers like Motorola, and finally, phones must be re-certified by carriers, taking more time.
The company can’t give more assurances of upgrade timing, Wyatt said, explaining: “I would have to know that every single operator I have is going to want to upgrade every single product, and sometimes they’ll want to control the timing … it’s just not easy to make that blanket statement.”
Windows Phone only supports one chipset, making upgrades easier, she said. But Motorola has no plans to support Windows Phone; it’s an Android-only shop. Sony, meanwhile, has said it will upgrade a wide range of phones to Android 4.0, but it has fewer chipsets and carriers to deal with than Motorola doesand even Sony hasn’t delivered its promised ICS upgrade yet.
At any rate, Motorola has been quicker than most at provisioning users with new versions of Android, Wyatt contended.
“More than once we’ve come out as the fastest to get to market with an upgrade,” she said.
How ICS Changes Motorola’s Strategy
Motorola doesn’t run stock Android. Wyatt talked at length about the company’s 3LM device-management software and enterprise security options, pointing them out as differentiators for the company. They just prepare a lot of that code in advance so it doesn’t slow down the upgrade process, she said.
And it sounded like Wyatt, and Motorola, are really looking forward to ICS. By offering users and developers a single UI for phones and tablets, Wyatt said Ice Cream Sandwich will help improve the appeal of Android tablets like Motorola’s Xoom and Xyboard.
“That has to be one of the promises of Ice Cream Sandwich,” she said. “By bringing these UIs together, you solve the experience gaps and the ecosystem gaps between [phones and tablets].”
The switch to Android 4.0 is changing thinking around Webtop, Motorola’s very unusual mode which turns a phone into a mini-laptop running a desktop version of Linux. The desktop-Linux version may not be needed post-ICS, Wyatt mused.
“With ICS it’s more interesting because it starts to have some of the full, desktop-like features,” she said. Chrome for Android may make Webtop’s desktop version of Firefox less necessary, for instance.
But ICS still needs work to operate well in laptop modefor instance, a way to handle the phone app so it operates in a window, and both keyboard and mouse support throughout the system. Motorola is currently looking at how to change Webtop for the post-ICS world, Wyatt said.
“We pick the best of both worlds … we’re not giving up any functionality that we’ve already given out to our customers,” she said.
For the top stories in tech, follow us on Twitter at @PCMag.
Article source: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2400023,00.asp