Android phone users have been conditioned over the years not to expect timely software updates, so Motorola’s rollout of Android 4.4 is a pleasant surprise.
On Thursday, Verizon began updating Motorola’s Droid Ultra, Droid Maxx and Droid Mini to the latest version of Android. Motorola is also pushing out an Android 4.4 update for the Moto G, after originally planning to update the phone early next year. It’s a rare instance where an Android update has arrived ahead of schedule.
Motorola has been just as prompt with its flagship Moto X. Users on Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T all began receiving the update a month ago. Sprint and U.S. Cellular customers started getting their updates last week.
Now, let’s briefly survey the scene of other phone makers and their flagship handsets:
- HTC is promising an update to Android 4.4 for the HTC One by the end of January, according to Engadget. Update timing for the HTC One Max and One Mini is still undetermined.
- According to a wireless carrier in France, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 will get updates to Android 4.4 next month, but there’s no official word from Samsung or U.S. carriers.
- LG says its flagship G2 will get Android 4.4 by the end of this month, but only in Korea. LG Canada says it will update the phone by March of next year. The update schedule for everywhere else is a mystery.
- Sony has vowed to update a bunch of its phones to Android 4.4, but is staying quiet on timing.
From everyone but Motorola, it’s the usual mess of vague promises and non-committals.
By updating its phones to Android 4.4 already, Motorola is embarrassing its rival phone makers. It’s now clearer than ever that other companies either aren’t dedicating enough resources to updating their phones, or need more time because their modifications to Android require more work.
Most major phone makers tweak the Android source code on their handsets, changing the visual aesthetic and modifying core apps such as the dialer, contacts, photo gallery and web browser. Some of the modifications are beneficial, but others feel like change for change’s sake.
Motorola proved that a there’s a better way. Aesthetically, its phones are similar to stock Android, but Motorola has added a few useful features on top, such as always-on voice commands and notifications that appear as you’re taking the phone out of your pocket. Presumably these additions aren’t as difficult to work around when updating the Android software.
You might suspect that Motorola, as a subsidiary of Google, has some kind of advantage when it comes to delivering software updates, but both Google and Motorola have repeatedly said that there’s no special treatment going on. Google obviously influenced the design of Motorola’s newer phones, but Motorola doesn’t get to start updating its phones faster than anyone else.
If there’s a silver lining for owners of non-Motorola phones, it’s that Google has been updating various Android components independently of major software releases. Core Android functions such as Search, Maps, Google Keyboard, and the Chrome browser all stay fresh even if your phone maker leaves you behind. But maybe it wouldn’t have to be that way if the update situation wasn’t so bad.
I’ve written before that the Moto X is iPhone-like, because of its pure, well-thought-out software. Now we can add timely updates as another reason.