Last Thursday, I called on Android manufacturers to promise a full two years of upgrades for their flagship phones. Then a crazy thing happened:
One of them actually did it.
Late in the day on Friday, after most of us had tuned out for the long weekend, HTC held an "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit. Among other odds and ends, the company announced the following:
We don’t have a perfect track record regarding updates along with almost every phone manufacturer, but we’re dedicated to bring more transparency to the process and doing our best to deliver updates as quickly as we can. Given the immense resource requirements for updates we can’t solve all our past issues, but today we are making a commitment to support all new North America flagship devices going forward with all major Android updates for 2 years after their release date.
Well, well. How 'bout that? HTC also reaffirmed the commitment as part of its new HTC Advantage program this morning.
Funny thing is that following my story, "It's time to rethink the Android upgrade standard," several people commented that the notion of a two-year upgrade guarantee seemed like a lovely but idealistic dream that'd never actually happen.
As I told them at the time, my tendency would be to agree -- but that's also what I thought countless times over the years while calling for pretty much everything Motorola's doing now. The notion of a non-Nexus device getting an upgrade quickly after its release long seemed idealistic and implausible, as did the concept of a manufacturer creating an Android phone with smart software additions instead of arbitrary UI modifications. Last year, both those hopes became realities.
And now here we are, a short time later, with a major manufacturer officially offering a guarantee to keep its flagship phones up to date for a full two years after their release. Another seemingly crazy user-centric dream that's actually coming true.
To be sure, this is only a start: HTC is limiting its promise to its North American devices for now, and only time will tell how well its words translate into actions. Even so, this start marks a significant step for the greater Android ecosystem.
By its very nature, Android is never going to provide the same kind of locked down and uniform experience an operating system like iOS provides. In many ways, that's a great thing: Without that open nature, we wouldn't have the level of choice and diversity that's available to us on the platform today. And you really have to think about upgrades within that same framework: All phones are not created equal. In addition to choosing what shape, size, and flavor of phone you prefer, it's up to you to choose what kind of upgrade experience you want to have on your device.
HTC's promise of longevity adds a new option onto an evolving list of upgrade-friendly possibilities. Google's Nexus and Google Play Experience devices already provide a variety of choices with speedy-upgrade guarantees. Motorola's made it clear that it's making fast upgrades a priorities, too, particularly with its flagship phones (though we'll have to see what happens when Lenovo takes the reins).
Other phones have their share of appealing qualities, but a guarantee of fast and/or ongoing upgrades is not automatically among them. So upgrade timeliness and longevity are essentially features on a product's checklist: If the latest and greatest software is what you want, you can absolutely have it; you just have to pick a phone that provides that type of experience.
I'm still optimistic that other players will follow suit and the number of upgrade-friendly choices will continue to expand over time. The ball is rolling; as I've said before, all it takes is one company to do things right for a new standard to be established. From that point on, that's the standard by which every manufacturer will be measured.
Call it unrealistic. Call me crazy. You're probably right on both counts. But as we've seen over these past several months, when the competition heats up and companies decide they're ready to start fighting, crazy things can happen -- and that's when the customer finally becomes the priority.
Welcome to the club, HTC. It's gonna be an interesting year.