Linked by Thom Holwerda on Wed 15th Feb 2012 23:36 UTC
Google Forget patent trolling - Android's biggest weakness, and most daunting obstacle to overcome, is its complete and utter lack of updates. Motorola has detailed its upgrade plans for Ice Cream Sandwich - and it ain't good. If the company Google just bought can't even update its phones properly, what can we expect from the rest?
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ARM lock-in
by wigry on Thu 16th Feb 2012 07:06 UTC
wigry
Member since:
2008-10-09

There is a perfect explanation in the "Building Windows 8 blog" about ARM platform lock-in.

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The approach taken by ARM Holdings, the licensor of ARM products is, by design, not standardized in this manner—each device from each manufacturer is unique and the software that runs on that device is unique. There is of course a standard instruction set and CPU architecture, one that is always improving (for example, adding 64-bit support and multiple cores), but many of the connections between the CPU and other components are part of the innovation each licensee brings to the ARM platform. Commonality across devices can occur under the hood, but is not applicable or significant to consumers. End-users are technically restricted from installing a different OS (or OS version) on a device or extending the OS, so this is generally not possible, and rarely supported by the device maker. Device makers work with ARM partners to create a device that is strictly paired with a specific set of software (and sometimes vice versa), and consumers purchase this complete package, which is then serviced and updated through a single pipeline. The cross-partner, integrated engineering of these embedded devices is significant. In these ways, this is all quite different than the Windows on x86/64 world.
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Ofcourse WP7 and iOS devices are also ARM based but probably the OS architecture is good enough that versions do not differ from each other that much and as the hardware is controlled by single/small group of companies, the devices look to the software similar enough to allow new OS versions to run on older hardware.

Reply Score: 1

RE: ARM lock-in
by Neolander on Thu 16th Feb 2012 08:05 in reply to "ARM lock-in"
Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

It's even more stupid than that actually : to get a consistent hardware architecture, Microsoft mandate that all devices running Windows Phone 7 use a single family of SoCs from a single manufacturer (source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_phone_7#System_requirements )

On their side, Apple partially design their SoCs and support an extremely small number of phones, so they are also able to keep a good level of hardware consistency.

No matter how much Microsoft try to make this mess look like innovation in their blog post (they probably don't want to piss off their hardware partners too much), the success of ARM is the worst thing that ever happened to OS manufacturers. I'm surprised that this exercise in postmodern hardware design still features standard instructions to access RAM.

If Google really wanted to improve the Android update situation, they should probably choose one of the following paths :

* Mandate use of a specific family of SoCs, like everyone else. Ideally those from Ti, since their specs are publicly known and can be supported by the AOSP code itself. But it pisses off hardware manufacturer in the short run, and puts Android in a dependence situation with respect to the chosen hardware manufacturer in the long run.

* Develop Android in the open. Makes Google lose a major part of its leverage on hardware manufacturers, may mean total loss of application compatibility between devices in the long run. Not necessarily such a good idea.

* Work on the new driver-OS interface first and publicly release the specs as early as possible. Google keep maximal control on the OS itself while giving hardware manufacturers more time to work on updates. But it requires some amount of developer discipline that Google employees may not have ("Stable driver ABI in an unreleased version of a Linux-based OS ??? Shocking !"). Nevertheless, I think that this is what they should do.

Edited 2012-02-16 08:46 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: ARM lock-in
by dsmogor on Thu 16th Feb 2012 10:33 in reply to "RE: ARM lock-in"
dsmogor Member since:
2005-09-01

Mandating one SOC is one of major reasons why WP7 gets half hearthed support from manufacturers and is loosing in the market. What interest does Samsung has supporting system that forces it to buy components at competitor (Quallcomm) while having better and definitely cheaper equivalents?

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: ARM lock-in
by Tony Swash on Thu 16th Feb 2012 12:50 in reply to "RE: ARM lock-in"
Tony Swash Member since:
2009-08-22

"People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware."
Alan Kay 1982

It may be that the old PC model - one OS and many OEMs - is simply no longer viable in the post-PC world of computer devices. In the entire phone and tablet market only two companies are making any real money and only two look like long term sustainable businesses, which are Apple and Samsung and the latter's financial performance is quite a bit weaker than the former. Maybe Nokia can come back from the brink with WP7 but I wouldn't bet on it, a Microsoft takeover of Nokia is still likely I think.

Android does not look like a very healthy ecosystem for OEMs or developers, it's primary impact has been to prop up the power of the carries (which iOS may have been able to kill) and it is ironically the power of the carriers that leads to the OS update fiasco.

Structurally there is no reason for any of this to get better unless Google does something spectacular with Motorola and if they go the route of making their own hardware the marginal OEMs may all jump ship.

One option for Googlerola would be to focus on cheap (free?) feature phones running a cut down Android OS and with Google services baked in and pushed out in the hundreds of millions to the developing world markets. Google need to do something about their long term mobile strategy soon as the one they have is not working (from Google's business point of view) and their primary source of income (advertising served via the PC) could be under real threat as the PC appears to be entering a secular decline.

Reply Parent Score: 0