Is Android's manufacturer-specific update process good or bad?

With reports that some LG and Samsung Android handsets might not get Gingerbread, one has to ask: is giving manufacturers so much control over updates a good idea?

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I've talked about the Android fragmentation issue a couple of times. Developers and users alike seem to disagree on whether so many variations of the Android OS on disparate hardware from many manufacturers creates a real problem. IT folks view fragmentation as a problem, largely because manufacturers and carriers determine when updates will become available to users (they also have the option of customizing Android so that users may have a different interface, access to different features, and a different set of pre-installed apps depending on their device and carrier).

The IT perspective is that a consistent version across devices makes security and management much simpler to maintain. Since it’s the job of IT folks to ensure all business and client information is secure, this is a big deal for them. But it generally isn't as big a deal to the average user.

Whether this manufacturer-based update system is ultimately good or bad has been running through my head ever since Google unveiled Gingerbread (Android version 2.3)on Monday. What's kept the thought going is reports that Samsung wouldn't support Gingerbread on its Galaxy S devices (a direct predecessor to the Nexus S, the premiere Gingerbread phone) and that LG might not support it on its recent Optimums line of Android phone (which remain very successful as a low-cost, entry-level smartphone – and which are now being offered by Verizon, albeit not as inexpensively as by other carriers).

Both reports have since been called into question by the respective manufacturers. That isn't surprising since Gingerbread offers better performance than Froyo, its immediate predecessor, due to enhanced application monitoring and control. Therefore any device capable of running Froyo ought to be pretty capable of running Gingerbread.

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