Lollipop Update Status: Who’s In, Who’s Out
Lollipop was probably one of the most awaited iterations Android has seen. While I remember everyone being crazy about KitKat and how it promised to finally optimize Android to the level we deserved, Lollipop’s enticing redesign sparked even more intense furor in enthusiasts. Developers too saw a great deal of novelty that would allow them to explore new possibilities, while users could thrive in the new options that the newer applications could explore – and it would all be wrapped in pretty Material Design language, that would result in a consistent, appealing and unobtrusive user experience. All of it was promising, and we were all left looking forward to having not just the pretty UI, but under-the-hood changes that would allow for a better app ecosystem from our developers as well. It all looked perfect, a little bit too perfect if you ask me.
The problem was that all of these changes were too much for most developers to push out in time. The thousands of new APIs, the innovative features, and the new design guidelines meant a lot of work for the engineers working for OEMs. And now we see the results of that complexity. Many companies vowed to provide quick updates: some like Motorola did so way before Lollipop, once they pushed out their almost-pure KitKat for their Moto G and Moto X devices in record time. Others simply promised deadlines that proved very hard to meet. And then for some markets it didn’t matter much if they did all of it in time, because carriers always get in the way.
So the official Android version distribution report that Google put out last month tells the story in simple terms, with the most efficient visual (on the right) cue you can have to understand just how little impact Lollipop had on the common Joe’s handset: Lollipop is not even there. This means that by the time this report came out, close to a couple of months after Lollipop was featured in the Nexus 9, less than 0.1% of the android user base was running Lollipop. The graph does show us some hope, though, given that the previous update to 4.4 is now on around 39.7% of Android handsets. But history is not always something to go by, not when the current adoption rates are so slow. Luckily, after all the waves of updates that we’ve been slowing receiving that number was pushed to 1.6% in yesterday’s report, while KitKat stayed strong at 39.7%. But this is 3 months after the original release. So what has taken OEMs this long, and what happened in-between?
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the Lollipop updates status of well-known manufacturers, to see who beat who in this race, and who kept up with their promises.
HTC had a noble promise for all of their users: they told the world that their M7 and M8 devices would both support Lollipop within 90 days of their November 3rd announcement. This mark meant a lot of time for users to speculate and impatiently await the update. Sense 6 would be brought up to speed with the cutting-edge software of devices like the Nexus 6, but not much was told about its optimizations and functionality. As the days went by, the Lollipop deadline was inching closer and closer and much digital ink was spilled on this tension, but luckily HTC was quite transparent about the process with a simple tracker of the updating progress. Soon enough, the Google Play Edition variants saw Lollipop for those stock-lovers. Other regions like the UK saw it released less than a week ago, and yesterday roll-out began in India. But North American carrier variants were told to wait as some complications have delayed the process.
Following their one-off tradition of fast upgrades with the KitKat cycle, Motorola promised a quick update for Lollipop as well. They gave us a catalog of the devices that would be getting it and this showed they’d be the ones with the most devices in line for candy. While this list of 9 devices was an ambitious task, it didn’t prove to be an easy one. The first soak test OTA was captured for the Moto X 2014 before the official system-wide OTA rollout for Nexus devices, though, so in this regard Motorola beat even Google itself in their own game. On November 12th Motorola had already began rolling out Lollipop for their latest phones in the US, with Pure Edition owners being the first of the bunch. But Moto devices were no exception to slow Lollipop rollout phases – first and second generation Moto G’s got updates in India and Brazil (arguably two of the biggest markets for the budget phone), but the rest of the world saw a delay. They tried to explain why in a blog post, stating that it is a complicated process and that they wanted to ensure a quality upgrade.
In an interesting turn of events, Samsung was actually very fast in their updating process. We actually received reports of the updating process, as well as previews. Samsung teased lollipop as early as October 21st, and we also got full blown-out previews of the test builds in action around the same time. But what was definitely a surprise – and one full of goodies for XDA users – was that there were numerous Lollipop test build leaks that one could flash on their devices, and they were surprisingly stable and we analyzed their performance at the time. Eventually reports said that Lollipop would be available by January. But users in Poland had already seen the Lollipop update for the S5, and Spain saw it shortly after. By January 5th, the rollout was reportedly complete in a number of countries and all of Europe. The S4 GPE saw Lollipop early as well, and the Note 3 had its official OTA delivered in Russia less than a week ago. As for the beloved Galaxy Note 4, that one is not coming out soon, supposedly due to the changes needed to be worked upon the Gear VR functionality. This last bit is a sad note on an otherwise excellent procedure, as the latest and greatest Samsung has put out has to wait further than other older, weaker devices. But cheerful news came today, as we learned typically-slow Verizon began the update procedure for their S5 variant.
This company was also one of the bunch that jumped on the Lollipop Announcement wagon right before it set off. The G3’s Lollipop update was revealed in October 27th. On November 9th there were reports that the G3 would get Lollipop that same month, and on that same day we covered the leak of the 5.0 update courtesy of XDA Senior Member timmytim. The Polish G3 saw Lollipop in this time frame as well. Now, if LG would have stuck to that route plan, they would have beat Google at their own game in their own turf just like Motorola did. But for some reason, this was not the case. South Korean users got the treat early as expected, given they are LG’s own home territory. While the G3 reportedly saw Lollipop in Europe on December 15th, American users were left out of the update procedure and in the end, the general consensus pointed towards disappointment and frustration for those in the US. The LG G2 saw no Lollipop love either, despite fans getting screenshots and videos of the update on that phone as early as October. Luckily, LG Mobile USA tweeted last week that the G3 would be seeing Lollipop very soon. Let’s see how that goes.
Sony is typically considered a very reserved company, and because of this they haven’t seen nearly as much buzz and controversy on the rollout as other manufacturers have. But an interesting turn of events for the Japanese giant is that they were adopting not one, but two Lollipop build models for their phones. Sony announced rather early that they’d be bringing Lollipop to their entire series of Xperia Z flagship devices, including the January 2013 Xperia Z, on the first months of 2015. On November 7th we heard about beta tests for the Z1, Z2 and Z3 under Swedish carrier 3’s users, and we had also learned about Sony’s effort to bring AOSP to Xperia devices through Sony Developer World. In January we got some more details about the Lollipop update procedure and release plans, as Sony had mentioned at CES of this year that the update would come in February of 2015. Sony’s helpful developer relationships mean great collaboration with XDA, and they even instruct you on how to build your own Xperia Lollipop if you so choose, which is handy if you are one of those that don’t want the Xperia UI on their phones and want to contribute towards a better custom ROM community. It’s either that or the misaligned buttons that the Sony Lollipop update supposedly features, which we still haven’t gotten either.
We only covered the biggest and latest devices from the main OEMs out there, but obviously every (good) manufacturer has it in its best interest to bring Lollipop to their latest phones and their upcoming devices. Devices like OnePlus One has now entered testing, for example. But what you should strongly consider if your device hasn’t gotten Lollipop and will not get Lollipop (either any time soon or at all), is looking at your device’s sub-forum here on XDA and looking in the Development pages for Custom ROMs you can install yourself. While they typically aren’t as polished as an OEM official firmware build, they can breathe some life back onto your devices. ROMs like CyanogenMod 12 are being widely ported to many handsets from all manufacturers, so for that alone it is worth a look. I personally did this with my oldest functional phone and it was resurrected.
I wouldn’t say there’s a clear winner here. Most manufacturers have faced struggles getting their candy out into the world, and understandably so. While it might be easy to sit and pout ranting about how this or that phone didn’t get Lollipop, the biggest players seem to be having a real effort this time towards supporting devices. The S4, for example, was barely in-line for an update and it got a very nice ROM that seemingly fixed all the TouchWiz performance nuisances. And Motorola had the ambitious plan of supporting close to ten devices for a single update rollout. Others like HTC only had a couple that they adamantly promised would put out and they only succeeded partially, as their biggest market was left without the goods. Meanwhile, LG also failed in the same territory. Sony stayed humble and didn’t necessarily over-promise, which is good, but their build doesn’t leave high hopes either.
All in all, it has been a hard season for those who want to stay updated, and the statistics are a crystal clear reflection of all the stories we just recapped for each manufacturer. Lollipop is definitely a great update with some much-needed improvements, but the fact that Google itself released it in such a buggy state that had to be repeatedly addressed with updates meant that developers had extra work put towards fixing or mitigating many of the problems that weren’t fixed in the original build. So while it is frustrating that Lollipop has had such a slow roll-out, it is justified as such a big update came with inevitably big problems. But the wait is worth it, and those that taste this Lollipop are sure to find out just how sweet Android can get.
Did you get Android 5.0 running on your device yet? Tell us in the comments!