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Android 'orphans' point to possible browser stagnation

Michael DeGusta's article Android Orphans: Visualizing a Sad History of Support showcases problems with the Android ecosystem. It follows reports that the Nexus One, Google's 'flagship' Android device, will not be getting Android 4.0. According to Google, the device is simply "too old".

On his blog, Instapaper creator Marco Arment argued that this "sends a message to the other manufacturers that it's acceptable not to care about the long-term usage of Android devices," which may impact on the long-term satisfaction of users and retention rates.

Certainly, the former point appears to be backed up by DeGusta's research, which shows the majority of still under-contract Android devices in the US shipped without the latest version of Android, and have no means of upgrading, without rooting the device. This is, guesses DeGusta, in part down to a lack of incentive: hardware manufacturers want you to keep buying new devices, not stick with your existing one. By contrast, iOS devices always ship with the latest OS, and Apple's two-year-old iPhone 3GS supports iOS 5, albeit minus a few of its features.

However, while Arment notes upgrade issues may affect user satisfaction and retention, web designers have another headache to deal with: the increasing popularity of Android for mobile web browsing. With Android devices far less likely to be current, that means the built-in browser will lag, potentially causing the kind of fragmentation in the mobile space that developers have long hated on the desktop. We at .net hope Google gets a handle on this situation soon, and becomes rather more gung-ho at enforcing rapid OS updates for manufacturers using its OS, in order to make for a superior mobile web.