Google has some major potential to force other manufacturers to update older Android devices. But, Motorola Mobility’s latest device update list leaves many questions as to if they’ll use this option.
Google’s announced KitKat leaves some people scratching their heads… as Google-owned Motorola Mobility leaves people in limbo about if their device will be updated or not.
You’ve been through this before – Google issues updates, and device makers try to not update them. It’s an antagonistic relationship – device makers want to sell more devices, so updating older ones is only essential to the point that people won’t get aggravated.
Indeed, Google’s own efforts to press the matter have failed miserably. The company’s media relations team won’t even acknowledge to PhoneNews.com that the Android Update Alliance even ever existed, at one point a highlight of a Google I/O keynote.
But this is the first major Android update since Google acquired Motorola Mobility – so the fact that there’s a limbo list to begin with is not something to ignore. Add in the fact that Android 4.4, Kit Kat, is supposed to expand support for slower, older, lower-requirement devices, and the fact there’s any devices at all in this list really stands out. Read more at the end of this article for why.
Specifically, Motorola has said that the following devices are in officially in limbo for future updates:
- Sprint – Photon Q
- Verizon – DROID RAZR, DROID RAZR MAXX, DROID RAZR M, DROID RAZR HD, and even the DROID RAZR MAXX HD
Why – Motorola has (some) explaining, and some explanations
Devices like the Photon Q and RAZR HD, powered by the Snapdragon S4 / S4 Plus, are almost identical in terms of silicon to the S4 Pro inside the Nexus 4. The Nexus 4 is expected to receive KitKat in the next week or two. It’s a bit surprising to see the Photon Q not get the KitKat nod initially. Scratch that, it gets scorn in our eyes. It should be updated, there’s no technical why.
As to the Droid RAZR and Droid RAZR MAXX, they’re unlikely to be updated. In fact, we’re surprised they’re even listed as being officially in limbo. These devices are powered by the TI OMAP 4430, which TI has abandoned. Google leadership has stated that the abandoned OMAP 4430 is the reason the Galaxy Nexus can’t be updated to Kit Kat. Some hackers have managed to update Galaxy Nexus, and are working on the situation – it is possible Motorola (and Google) are trying to force TI to honor contracts behind the scenes… we just aren’t betting on it.
In Europe, Motorola has confirmed that the GSM version of the Droid RAZR will remain on Jelly Bean. The domestic “developer edition” GSM RAZR was stuck behind at Android 4.0. We think the (Verizon) Droid RAZR and RAZR MAXX are likely to get Android 4.3, and that’s what is still being negotiated.
The Droid RAZR M and its HD offshoots however, that’s something we’re equally surprised by. Similar to Photon Q, there’s no publcily-known reason they can’t run Kit Kat, and no reason Google-owned Motorola shouldn’t be ardently updating them.
Tablets? We sold tablets?
Additionally, the stillborn XYBOARD family appears to be end-of-roaded at Jelly Bean, Motorola just shipped Android 4.1 for the devices which were finally clearanced out for pennies on the dollar at Verizon corporate stores. Similar to the XOOM family, Motorola isn’t even bothering to issue Jelly Bean updates for the international and Wi-Fi variants of these tablets, so Kit Kat isn’t going to happen on any of them… despite the fact all that XOOM 2 and XYBOARD could, and should benefit from Kit Kat.
One big X factor is if the original XOOM family could/would benefit from Kit Kat. We suspect that it’s in a similar situation to the OMAP 4430, and that NVIDIA is unlikely to go back and patch the Tegra 2 to handle SurfaceFlinger improvements on Kit Kat, which more heavily hooks into the OpenGL ES driver stack. SurfaceFlinger handles window drawing, and Kit Kat passes more screen draws to the OpenGL subsystem, a process started with Project Butter in Jelly Bean.
Clarification/Correction (November 12): Motorola has updated the status of the XYBOARD 8.2 and 10.1 to clarify that the Jelly Bean update has not been released. We originally reported this based on the incorrect information posted on their web site. Motorola Mobility confirmed that the Jelly Bean 4.1.2 update for XYBOARD is now slated for release by the end of the year. While the company has not provided any response to our article, we still believe that the XYBOARD line will not see KitKat, as it shares the same SGX540 GPU that other KitKat-bared devices share.
Also unclear is the fate of the Motorola RAZR i – Motorola’s first (and only) Intel-powered smartphone. Unlike tablets, Motorola has acknowledged the RAZR i situation, and similarly to domestic devices says a “future plan is coming soon”. Rival Intel Atom “Medfield” smartphones like the Lenovo K900 have been at least updated to Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.
The RAZR i was not sold domestically, but is a popular import because of its low cost (under $150 on eBay), strong real-world performance and tiny size, combined with GSM unlocked hardware. While it was sold in Puerto Rico, it also is HSPA+ compatible with AT&T, and also with the new “iPhone/iPad” HSPA+ 850/1900 MHz coverage on T-Mobile.
No Intel Atom Medfield phone saw Android 4.3, likely because Medfield phones would not have gained new features from it. Medfield phones do not have hardware support for OpenGL ES 3, though they may have been able to add Bluetooth LE. Considering the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1, Dell Venue 8, and other Intel Atom “Cedar Trail” tablets use a PowerVR graphics array, it is possible Intel will provide to Motorola and others the drivers needed to make a Kit Kat release. The question is, will Motorola take the effort to ship the update by then?
For those really tech savvy, you may have figured out that the RAZR i and Galaxy Nexus have the same GPU, thus giving hope for KitKat – but here’s the bad news. Even if Intel gets PowerVR to cough up an updated SGX540 GPU driver, it will be Intel-architecture only, so it won’t help those with TI OMAP4430 devices like Galaxy Nexus.
Also helping the RAZR i – it’s still for sale in the United Kingdom.
Why KitKat Matters
KitKat would roll up these devices adding features that Android 4.2 and 4.3 would have provided. Features like Bluetooth LE and OpenGL ES 3 would have been added to capable devices – the vast majority of above devices would have at least benefitted from Bluetooth LE, and Bluetooth LE devices will finally start getting traction this Christmas season.
Furthermore, KitKat adds experimental Android Runtime (ART) support – which is the successor Java-bytecode-based VM to Dalvik. The new VM adds huge performance improvements and memory savings on low energy devices. This is largely being done for Google Glass, which must use very low powered hardware to fit inside the slim profile – but also benefits Android smartwatches and (would benefit) older devices like the ones above.
Motorola’s pared-down existence under Google has certainly been more focused, and by aligning around Nexus-alike hardware, Motorola was able to knee-jerk support newer Android releases on newer devices, like Motorola X. The ability to at least acknowledge the status (even in limbo) of older devices, is certainly an improvement.
But, we still aren’t at the point that device manufacturers will commit to updating Android for every device that can handle them. If Google wants to effect change in the Android ecosystem, having Motorola be the first to update every older device which can handle it to Kit Kat, would be the most important thing they could do.
Google has said they won’t give Motorola any preferential treatment. That doesn’t mean Google can’t direct Motorola to give their devices preferential treatment to Android updates. If they do, all consumers will benefit, as other manufacturers will be driven to answer Motorola’s call.
Motorola declined to respond to multiple requests for comment prior to the publishing of this article.