The clamor in forums and irc across the web that demands stock Android can seem a bit silly at times. True, stock Android would hopefully allow for quicker device updates, a more uniform experience across the ecosystem and for simpler device testing for app developers but I don’t believe it’s needed. What I see when I read these complaints are users that want update and maintenance support for their devices, the ability to modify their device as they please (without roadblocks) and a more attractive device ecosystem for developers.
Well stock Android or not, there isn’t any guarantee that your manufacturer is going to upgrade your handset to the next major Android operating system release unless you’re using a Nexus device. Asus and a few others have shown some amount of agile support after release but as it stands now it hasn’t been consistent often enough to trust yet. The issue itself isn’t an operating system issue but an operating system management issue.
With Windows you get free and consistent updates because the sole developer and owner provides them directly. With Mac OS X the issue is the same except you’re also charged yearly for major upgrades. For the linux desktop, an update is always made available for you by the distribution’s development team. In Android, the burden of updates should theoretically fall upon the oem (original equipment manufacturers, the hardware company).
Yes, it is true that Google develops Android and provides updates openly and quickly but the infrastructure and distribution are different from what the average user has available to them elsewhere. Anyone can modify and distribute the source code of android and deploy it in almost any way that they would like. This would mean that every fix and update provided by Google may not be easily usable for every device. Even if they all ran stock Android the drivers and a few other variables would still cause delays in the pipeline.
That pipeline is the entire issue with updating Android. In other operating systems, the developer/maintainer usually has a vested interest or some baseline level of control that would allow for them to update everything themselves. Google just demands that apk and api compatibility (standards for running apps) not be broken along with a few other pieces of uniformity if the vendor wants to use their services. The Open Handset Alliance places similar demands on its’ members but has no say over Google services and Google’s own personal standards.
That means that people can place their hands in the cookie jar, the oven, the batter, the dip as long as their hands are kept sanitized and they don’t "double-dip" (make Android unpalatable by breaking the agreement that all members take). The oems also need to be incentivized somehow to keep their devices up to date. They view their products as a marriage of hardware and software that do not need to change. To them they aren’t selling smart phones running Android, they are selling their own branded devices that are powered by Android. If you want an update then you spend more money on newer hardware or find some way to do so yourself. There’s also another roadblock in this great mess – carriers.
The network operators provide and maintain the cellular networks, much of their advertising and many shops that are the first point of interest for many cell phone buyers. They control so much of the stack of simply accessing information and hardware about Android phones that they have a ridiculous amount of control over what can be released. People often make fun of those ridiculously long cell phone names but they’re the reason for it, they don’t want to simply be an access point. In what some may consider an ideal world the network carriers would let any device run on their network that meets the standards of it while offering it in their stores in an unchanged light as the product developer intended.
Ever heard of the Asus Padfone 2? You didn’t even know there was a 1 reader? Well there you go, that’s just one recent example of a device that has a hard time getting attention. It’s partly due to uncertainty about the market also but if it was an open market it could be tossed onto the shelf with store employees guiding you to it if they determined that it would be the best device to meet your needs.
Google wants to get your information to make money off of selling you to advertisers, oem’s want to sell you hardware directly and via carrier’s to make their split and the carriers want you constantly upgrading your phone and renewing your contract to keep making money off of the cycle of upgrading and upselling newer services. What is beneficial for one group may not benefit another (at least not in a way that they may care for). Because of this, we have todays crazy market of portable mini-computers that people call smart phones that can’t do what your old Pentium II machine with Windows 95 can do – update to receive more features and increase efficiency.
If you update your phone and are satisfied with it then you won’t lock yourself into a very lucrative contract upgrade which takes away money from the oem who sells the upgrade devices which causes them to not need to license Google’s services as much as Google would want them to (license fee’s are nice money too, combine that with newer software and you have more advertising abilities.). It may be arguable that everyone benefits with proper device support but every entity in this equation profits significantly with your upgrades somehow. Google is usually the only entity that can make a similar amount of money no matter what happens since as long as you’re using, they aren’t losing.
Google offers the Nexus devices for those that truly want the updates but they are not the most desirable devices on the market. Consumers should demand fair and open support for their devices along with true freedom. Every entity in the product stack profits from you buying newer hardware instead of providing support to what you currently own. Instead of demanding a change that may only superficially affect the symptoms of the real problem and give oem’s less of a reason to invest in the platform, let’s tell them to cure the dang disease. T-Mobile is making moves to try to win our hearts as customers but I’d love it if they all respected and courted us in a similar, competitive fashion.