Are Mobile Operating Systems Changing Too Fast?

How fast is too fast? It feels as though just as soon as you get a new device with a new version of a mobile operating system, either Microsoft or Google have already released a new version. Change is good only if there is an easy way for users to quickly get updates. Its not good when users have to wait for months to get an update.

I use a T-Mobile myTouch 3G that currently runs Android 1.6, which replaced the T-Mobile G1, the first Android device that I bought in October, 2008. The T-Mobile G1 was announced in September 2008, and eight months later the myTouch was announced in June 2009. Four months later the Verizon Droid was announced and along with it came Android 2.0, which is a significant upgrade of Android from the version currently on my phone. Just three months after the Droid announcement in October 2009, Google announced the Nexus One with Android 2.1. Today you can find mobile phones being sold with versions 1.5, 1.6, 2.0, and 2.1 of the Android operating system. The number of different versions of Android on the market has some wondering whether Android as a whole can actually survive.

A similar situation is happening with Windows Mobile. In October 2009 the first devices running Windows Mobile 6.5 began to ship, and just this week, only four months later, the first device running Windows Mobile 6.5.3 was announced. Mobile carriers are still selling devices with Windows Mobile 6.0, two newer versions of Windows Mobile have shipped, and Windows Mobile 7 may be announced very soon.

I am excited by these rapid improvements, but find it frustrating because the operating system upgrades are not being made available for all devices in the market that could run them. As a long-time Windows Mobile user I had grown accustomed to major upgrades not being available for all phones, but its one thing to not get upgrades for phones a year or more old, its an entire other thing to not get an upgrade for a phone only four months old. For me, the issue of getting the latest and greatest version of Android might be a key selling point for buying the Nexus One directly from Google rather than buying the T-Mobile version of the Nexus One. What I think will be interesting to see is whether Google will directly sell a Verizon or Sprint version of the Nexus One that they will then release updates of Android to at the same time as they make an update available for the T-Mobile version.