Another developer, who uses the screen name "attn1," agrees that companies' modifications to Android can lead to more bugs. Phone makers are under pressure to develop and update their software quickly, says attn1 (who answered questions by email but declined to give a real name), and as a result the companies may take shortcuts, such as using deprecated APIs or performing inadequate testing.
Fared Adib, Sprint's vice president of product development--and the only wireless carrier executive who agreed to an interview for this article--defended his company's testing process for Android phones. Each new software update is tested in a lab, and then it goes out for field testing by about 1000 employees, Adib says. Sprint also rolls its updates out slowly, starting with about 10,000 users at a time, so that the carrier can put the brakes on an update if users report critical bugs.
Adib says that the number of Android devices on the market can lead to a perception of more problems with software updates, but he acknowledges that the carrier can't stop every bug from getting through. "It's almost impossible for a carrier or for an OEM ... to 100% test every use case of what we think the device will see once it receives that update out in the field," Adib says.
Undo the Damage
Getting a bad update might not be so tragic if wireless carriers fixed problems quickly; but as many Android enthusiasts know, waiting for new software releases can be a test of patience.
That's why Jimmy Bellerose of Kissimmee, Florida, wasted no time replacing his Samsung Fascinate on Verizon Wireless after a disastrous update to Android 2.3 last December. "Battery life dropped, and the phone would lock up, so I would have to reset it," Bellerose says. "It would vibrate in my pocket, and I would think I had a message, but when I pulled it out, it turned out it was resetting itself."
He assumed that either Verizon's bloatware or Samsung's TouchWiz interface was to blame. Bellerose then bought a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. He says he has had no problems with that handset so far.
In many cases users can resist updating their phones, but at a price: The phone may pester the user with notifications and reminders to download the latest software. Besides, refusing an update means missing out on new features--or, perhaps, other bug fixes--so staying with an old version of Android isn't necessarily the best option.