Leaf recently decided to enlighten us to their planned Android updates and it has left me quite disappointed. Meanwhile, HTC has decided to give some explanations as to their lengthy Android update schedules.
In this article, HTC explains that they take their time so that they can ensure that their Sense user experience is ported successfully to the new firmware version and that everything works properly between the device and the Operating System. While I understand the second reason – it’s obviously important that the device works properly, hopefully better than before, with the update – I’m rather skeptical of the first reason. Allow me to explain.
I’m not sure about the history of Sense and I certainly didn’t use any of its predecessors, but I do know, from personal experience, that it provides a skinned user interface as well as applications and widgets that have a very similar, very slick, look and feel. In my review of the HTC Tattoo I had only good things to say about Sense, that it integrated seamlessly with the device and that it turned a good experience into an even better one. I’m not questioning the usefulness of Sense, but I am wondering whether HTC is perhaps taking the wrong approach to its delivery.
If you browse a little on the Android Market, you’ll find quite a few applications that are deemed “Home Replacement” apps. These are basically skins for your home screen and sometimes they go as deep as your menu, making it look iPhone-esque or tweaking it in some other way. The point here, is that you can download these applications from the Market, where they can be updated as soon as the developer releases the updates. If the app isn’t compatible with a user’s device, then it won’t show up for that user. Similarly, you find “apps” that are actually just widgets that can be placed on your home screen or you find apps that have widgets bundled with them.
What I’m trying to show here, is that Sense doesn’t need to be baked into the ROM that HTC delivers. Home Replacement apps can be put on the Android Market and installed by users and similarly so with standard apps and widgets and updates can be pushed to the users once they are ready. Would it not behoove HTC to do something similar?
They could still limit it to HTC devices, but the important part here is that the firmware updates could be pushed out asynchronously from the updates to the SenseUI and the various Sense applications and widgets. Customers could then choose whether they’d like to update to the new ROM without Sense or rather wait until Sense is fixed up.
The reason I get all fired up about this, is because I’m sitting here with my officially un-updated HTC Tattoo (officially running 1.6; unofficially running 2.1) and as far as I can see, it’s not ever going to get an update to anything more recent(well…Officially, that is). I also know for a fact that 2.1 is more than capable of running on it, but possibly without the inclusion of Sense(I’m pretty sure that Sense is a bit of a resource hog). I also see that while the Nexus One has been given the official nod for Android 2.2, other HTC devices like the EVO, Desire and Legend(that get their updates from HTC and not the big G) will have to wait a while, while Sense gets updated to its latest incarnation. The Nexus One and Desire are very similar devices so, in my mind, the only thing holding the update up, is Sense.
An added benefit to this is that Sense could be ported to non-HTC devices giving them a larger client base. If Motorola then decided to follow suit with their MotoBlur then we could end up with a Slur(Yeah, I had to) phone.