Android 4.0 report card: Which manufacturers are failing?

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

Android 4.0 Report Card

Got Ice Cream Sandwich? If you're like many Android owners, the answer may be "not yet."

The Ice Cream Sandwich version of Google's Android OS -- also known as Android 4.0 -- has been rolling out to devices since December. But three months later, many phone and tablet owners are still waiting for a taste.

Given the breadth and diversity of the Android ecosystem, it's inevitable that upgrade availability and timing will vary to some extent from one device to the next. Manufacturers do, however, often provide us with insights into their plans for various phones and tablets -- and with the end of 2012's first quarter now upon us, I thought it'd be worth checking up on those promises to see who's followed through and who's let us down.*

Based on their own publicly shared plans, here's how the different Android manufacturers have performed in 2012 so far.

*The first quarter technically ends this Saturday, March 31. If by chance anything changes in the few days between now and then, I'll update this page accordingly.

Android 4.0 Report Card: Acer

Acer promised its entire Iconia Tab line would be upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich, starting with the A200 and moving from there to the A100 and A500 devices. Acer rolled out Android 4.0 for the Iconia Tab A200 in late February; with a stated upgrade window of "mid-April" for its A100 and A500 tablets, the company is thus far on track and keeping up with its word.


Android 4.0 Report Card: Archos

You may not think of Archos as being in the same league as other Android tablet manufacturers, but when it comes to software upgrades, the A-team is actually beating the big boys: The company said it'd bring Android 4.0 to its G9 tablet line in the first quarter, and sure enough, it delivered. Archos sent ICS to both its Archos 80 G9 and Archos 101 G9 in early March.


Android 4.0 Report Card: Asus

From the get-go, Asus said it would be fast with its Ice Cream Sandwich upgrades -- and boy, did the company come through. Asus made ICS available to its Transformer Prime on January 9, making the device the first Android tablet to receive ICS. It beat out even the Google-managed Motorola Xoom in the ICS upgrade race.

Asus said its original Transformer tablet, meanwhile, would see ICS soon after the Prime's rollout; true to its word, the company initiated that upgrade in late February. While some subsets of users have experienced issues following their devices' upgrades, Asus has continued to roll out update after update to address problems and improve performance.


Android 4.0 Report Card: HTC

HTC promised the Android 4.0 upgrade would roll out to its HTC Sensation, HTC Sensation XE, and HTC Sensation 4G "by the end of March." Upgrades did start trickling out to some models of the Sensation and Sensation XE earlier this month -- kudos to HTC on that -- but the Sensation 4G device has yet to see any signs of its ICS delivery.

HTC also promised "early 2012" upgrades for a handful of other phones, including the Amaze 4G, EVO 3D, EVO Design 4G, Rezound, and Sensation XL. No specific months were mentioned for those phones' upgrades -- and one can debate over semantics -- but I think it's fair to say that April is starting to push the boundaries for what most people would consider the "early" part of the year. We're definitely nearing the tail end of that window.

Back on the plus side, HTC did make Android 4.0 available to its AT&T-based HTC Vivid and the phone's Australian equivalent, the HTC Velocity 4G, in late March.


Android 4.0 Report Card: Huawei

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Huawei announced that existing versions of its MediaPad tablet would receive Ice Cream Sandwich "by the first quarter of 2012." Thus far, however, we've seen no signs of those rollouts beginning. When I contacted the company to check on the status of its process, a spokesperson declined to answer my questions directly and told me only that Huawei was "continuing to work with the carriers on this." My follow-up requests for more specific information have gone unanswered.


Android 4.0 Report Card: LG

LG has provided us with fairly specific details of its Android 4.0 upgrade plans, but all of its included devices are scheduled to get Ice Cream Sandwich in either the second or third quarter of the year. So while LG didn't technically fail on any promises this first quarter, it also didn't even play the game.


Android 4.0 Report Card: Lenovo

Lenovo says its ThinkPad Tablet will get Ice Cream Sandwich sometime in the second quarter. Like LG, the company is essentially sitting this first quarter out when it comes to ICS deliveries.


Android 4.0 Report Card: Motorola

Most of Motorola's ICS-eligible devices are slated to be upgraded in the second or third quarter of the year (or just scheduled vaguely for "sometime in 2012"). One notable exception is the company's flagship Droid Razr/Motorola Razr phone: Around the time of its release, Moto talked about the device getting ICS early in the year and even went on the record as saying the non-U.S. version of the phone would be upgraded at the "start of 2012." That's certainly no precise term -- and I'll cut Motorola a little bit of slack as a result -- but I think it's safe to say most people wouldn't think of April (or later) as being the "start" of the year. 

(Note: While some versions of the Motorola Xoom did receive Ice Cream Sandwich this quarter, that tablet is a "Google experience" device and consequently has its software upgrades managed directly by Google -- not Motorola. As such, I'm not factoring it into Motorola's final score. More on that in a bit.)


Android 4.0 Report Card: Notion Ink

Notion Ink actually told its customers to expect a November 2011 ICS upgrade for its Notion Ink Adam tablet (yes, seriously). That obviously didn't happen. Since that wildly ambitious estimate, the company has released alpha and beta builds but made no further mention of when its official final version will become available.


Android 4.0 Report Card: Samsung

In December, Samsung promised a first-quarter Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade for its Galaxy Note and Galaxy S II devices. Sammy just started sending Ice Cream Sandwich to some of its Galaxy S II phones -- a Gingerbread-flavored version of Ice Cream Sandwich, anyway -- but the company coyly reneged on its promise to push ICS to the heavily marketed Note before the end of Q1, telling customers last week that it was "proud to announce" a second-quarter ICS rollout for the device.

Samsung has given no specific time estimates for any of its other ICS-confirmed devices, including the Galaxy R, Galaxy S II Skyrocket, and various Galaxy Tab models.


Android 4.0 Report Card: Sony

Sony has released boatloads of information about its seemingly endless line of confusingly named Android devices (Xperia Active, Xperia Arc, Xperia Arc S, Xperia Mini, Xperia Mini Pro, Xperia Pro -- you get the picture), but all the info points to ICS upgrade windows that extend well past the first quarter of the year. Most of the devices are slated for upgrades in a late-April-to-early-May time frame.

A few Sony phones -- the Xperia Arc S, Xperia Neo V, and Xperia Ray -- are down to be upgraded in "late March or early April," so while they should be seeing ICS very soon, Sony still has a bit more time to fulfill its promise and consequently gets a not-yet-in-the-game grade for Q1.


Android 4.0 Report Card: Toshiba

Toshiba has said it's targeting the "end of spring" to upgrade its Toshiba Thrive tablet; it's provided a similar "spring 2012" time frame for its new Excite 10 LE tablet as well. Spring officially runs through June 19 this year, so the big T has plenty of time remaining. That gives the company another one of our not-in-the-game-this-quarter grades.


Android 4.0 Report Card: And Then There's Google...

We can't play the Android upgrade blame game without giving Google its own fair share of grief. Google's Nexus devices, by definition, are meant to get Android upgrades first, by virtue of the fact that their updates are sent directly from the Android team with no manufacturer or carrier intrusions. While many of Google's Nexus S phones were among the first devices to receive Ice Cream Sandwich over the air last December, some versions of the phone -- including the CDMA model, known as the Nexus S 4G on Sprint -- are still waiting for any ICS love. Worse yet, Google has stayed silent on the matter and given users no update on what's going on.

The Motorola Xoom, meanwhile, doesn't bear the Nexus branding but is considered a "Google experience" device. As such, its upgrades are handled directly by Google, with the implication that it'll be at the front of the line. That's why it's particularly surprising that as of today, the U.S. Wi-Fi edition of the Xoom is the only version of the tablet that's gotten its ICS serving. The 3G/4G model is still stuck on Honeycomb -- a bit of a slap to early Android tablet adopters, especially considering that other non-"Google experience" tablets have already been upgraded.

While Google doesn't tend to promise explicit upgrade dates for its devices, the company has trained us to know that its Nexus and "Google experience" labels come with certain benefits, and early-and-often upgrades are at the top of that list. On the one hand, the number of devices Google directly supports has grown considerably over the last year, particularly when you factor in all the unique region/carrier-based variants. On the other hand, it's still Google's job to support those devices -- regardless of what it takes. When it comes to ICS rollouts this quarter, there's no question Google has left a lot of people feeling let down.


[UPDATE: Google: ICS reaching more devices 'in the coming weeks'

Android 4.0 Report Card: Final Notes and Future Steps

In talking about Android upgrades, it's important to note that carriers frequently play a pivotal role in the process. With a phone like Samsung's Galaxy S II, for example, Samsung will create the initial Android 4.0 build and then work with carriers to test and tweak it as needed for their networks. Meeting the carriers' requirements can tack a good amount of extra time onto the upgrade process, which is why some carriers' phones may get upgrades before others. In the case of a device like the Galaxy S II, the diverse hardware and software variations seen in the multiple U.S. models can make the effect even more pronounced.

So where do we go from here? In the big picture, with Android 4.0, we're still relatively early in the upgrade process. We should see numerous upgrades in the next few months as manufacturers start to catch up and make their way down their lists of eligible devices. There are literally dozens of phones and tablets

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scheduled to be upgraded in the second quarter of the year and even more scheduled for third-quarter or vague "sometime in 2012" upgrades. The coming months will be anything but quiet, and you can rest assured I'll be tracking every twist and turn along the way.

Remember, you can find the latest upgrade status for any device in my Android 4.0 upgrade list. It's always kept up to date with the most current info available for all phones and tablets. 

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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