Let’s say you want to buy a phone. And let’s say that, since Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) has been “available” for six months now, you want to buy a phone that has it pre-loaded.
ICS generally feels faster and more responsive, it offers sync with desktop Google Chrome, it has better contact and data management, and it’s just more well-rounded and useful. It also ensures whatever apps you download will work as well as possible down the road, as developers patch their apps and target ICS for compatibility purposes.
So Ice Cream Sandwich is a fairly reasonable thing to want. And since it’s been out for six months, having it pre-loaded on your brand-new Android phone is a reasonable expectation.
With that, here is your list of possible phones.
Phones With ICS Now:
HTC One S (T-Mobile)
HTC One X (ATT)
HTC EVO 4G LTE (Sprint)
HTC Vivid (ATT)
HTC Amaze 4G (T-Mobile)
HTC Sensation 4G (T-Mobile)
Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Verizon, Sprint)
Samsung Nexus S 4G (ATT)
That’s it—eight. Of these phones, two of them—the HTC One X and the HTC EVO 4G LTE—are currently “contraband,” as veteran technology reporter Rob Pegoraro wonderfully put it, thanks to a ridiculous patent dispute between Apple and HTC involving U.S. Customs. Of the remaining six, a few of them (namely, the Vivid, the Sensation 4G, and the Amaze 4G) may or may not have it loaded in the box, although the OTA update should be ready to go when you first power up the phone. One of them, the Nexus S, is no longer available at retail.
So including the above qualifiers, and assuming HTC works out the patent situation, there are seven new phones you can buy with ICS. That’s terrible.
Over at Google’s developer.android.com site, the latest share numbers show ICS is running on just 4.9 percent of devices out there at the time of this writing. That even includes tablets, which I didn’t include here, mainly because tablets are usually Wi-Fi-only, and therefore something you can easily buy or sell without contract restrictions or massive cancellation fees.
But a lot more phones, including plenty of already existing models, will be getting Ice Cream Sandwich sometime soon! Or rather, at least we were told they are. Here’s that list as promised by U.S. wireless carriers, at least as best I could tell with a few hours of research this morning. Most still don’t have firm dates, although a few are rumored to be within the next few weeks. Feel free to add a phone in the comments if you see one I missed.
Phones Slated to Get ICS, Someday:
HTC Droid Incredible 2 (Verizon)
HTC EVO Design 4G (Sprint)
HTC EVO 3D (Sprint)
HTC Rezound (Verizon)
HTC Rhyme (Verizon)
HTC Sensation 4G (T-Mobile)
HTC Thunderbolt (Verizon)
LG Lucid (Verizon)
LG Spectrum (Verizon)
Motorola Droid Razr (Verizon)
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx (Verizon)
Motorola Droid 4 (Verizon)
Motorola Droid Bionic (Verizon)
Samsung Captivate Glide (ATT)
Samsung Galaxy Note (ATT)
Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket (ATT)
Samsung Galaxy S II (ATT, T-Mobile)
Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch (Sprint)
Samsung Galaxy S Blaze 4G (T-Mobile)
Sony Xperia Play 4G (ATT, Verizon)
That’s a sizable “slated to get ICS” list, right? The thing about it is that, until each phone actually has ICS, it doesn’t have it. In other words, while some updates may roll in within the next few weeks or months, there’s nothing preventing these manufacturers from changing their mind and never releasing it entirely.
In a few cases, carriers have made explicit promises at the time of purchase. We’ve seen the stickers on the boxes. So those updates will largely have to go through, or else that carrier has broken an agreement with the customer.
But for the rest, despite them all going on stage last year to promise updates for the first 18 months of any Android phone as part of the then-new Google Android Update Alliance—owners of these phones are still left wondering.
What does this mean? It’s not that manufacturers are busy working on brand-new phones with ICS, because brand-new phones are hitting the market even now with Gingerbread. And it’s not that they’re busy working on upgrades for existing ICS phones, because we still don’t have those yet, either. What gives?
It’s Not Just About Having the Newest Version
One reasonable tack here is to decide that whatever phone you’re buying has to satisfy you now. In other words, and this has always been great advice with tech purchases, buy a phone that makes you happy today, and never buy one based on promised features that may or may not appear. But in a world of 4G LTE connected devices and hundreds of thousands of smartphone apps, that’s an annoying restriction, given that these phones are computers, and that their key task for many people is to run apps.
Developers are already focusing on ICS compatibility now. There’s going to be a point fairly soon in the future where apps won’t work correctly unless you’re running ICS, as per the stated minimum requirements. And as long as such fragmentation exists, it will be that much harder for developers to QA apps, widgets, and UI skins, and that much more likely you’ll run into bugs and other unexplained behaviors.
In the end, this isn’t about Android not being any good because of the lack of OS updates. It’s really more of a question of what’s important to you, and whether you think the manufacturer owes you updates, the way Apple provides automatically for all iPhones (hardware permitting—the earliest few are excluded from some features now).
We’re of the opinion that Android users deserve free OS updates, at least while the phone is reasonably current. And a stable, consistent version of the OS across as many phones possible—even despite hardware differences, the diversity of which being one of the things that make Android so great—would help consumers and developers alike. And that’s on top of all the new features ICS brings to the table. Google is also of this opinion, by the way, as it has demonstrated quite clearly. It’s a shame the wireless carriers and phone vendors aren’t being honest with us.
For more, see Hey Google: Here’s What Fragmentation Means.
Update: I added the Sensation 4G and pulled the Galaxy Note off of the current ICS list, since the latter seems to have begun rolling out overseas a few weeks ago, but isn’t here in the U.S. on ATT yet. I also added the Sony Xperia Play 4G to the “slated to get ICS” list.
For more from Jamie, follow him on Twitter @jlendino.
Article source: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2404669,00.asp