If it seems like every few months Google launches a new version of Android, thus rendering your 6-month old phone at least partially obsolete, that’s because that’s exactly what’s been happening since Android first hit the scene in late 2008. In less than 2 years, we’ve gone from Android 1.5 to 1.6 to 2.1, and Android 2.2 is just around the corner.
Of course, we’ve seen some pretty stellar improvements in that time. The newer versions of Android are prettier, faster, and more stable. New features like USB tethering and portable WiFi hotspot are coming in Android 2.2, and I wouldn’t really recommend we go backward. But it’s a bit tough to be happy with your purchase when you buy an Android handset only to find out that it will be months before it can run the latest updates — if your mobile phone company or hardware maker ever offers them.
Eventually Google hopes to do away with that pain. Andy Rubin is the Google vice president in charge of Android, and he recently told the folks at the Silicon Valley Mercury News that instead of releasing 2 major updates per year, Google eventually hopes to move to one major release per year.
That should cut back on the fragmented nature of the Android platform a bit. Right now you can walk into a store and buy a device running Android 1.5, 1.6, or 2.1 Hopefully moving updates to an annual schedule will result in older devices fading gracefully away and giving new ones time to shine in the spotlight without too many agitated users complaining that the latest software won’t run on the device they bought just this year.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll only get new features and apps from Google once a year. Google has already described plans to separate some core apps from the operating system so that you’ll be able to download updates to apps like the contact manager or gallery app from the Android Market as soon as they’re available.