Android's patching disaster -- as art

Blogger shows that more than half of Android phones fall two versions behind the current operating system during their two-year support lifetime

While Google patches the code base to the Android operating system rather quickly, manufacturers and carriers do not push out their patches often enough. The number of groups responsible for some part of the mobile operating system make patching the system software a laborious process.

As I pointed out in an article earlier this month, the slow response to security holes in the open source Android operating system means that widely publicized vulnerabilities are usually still present in end-user devices. The situation leaves end-users and their companies at risk.

Android's patching disaster -- as art
Click for full chart.

On Wednesday, Michael DeGusta, a blogger with an interest in data, published a beautiful visualization of the information showing that major Android phones are far behind the latest versions of the operating system. The illustration brings together a massive amount of information, showing that 11 of 18 Android phones no longer were supported by their manufacturers within a year of their release.

The chart spotlights an embarrassing situation for the mobile platform. While Apple has fully supported and updated all of its iPhone models over the same time period, the vast majority of the current Android phones on the market will never see the coming version of the operating system, code-named "Ice Cream Sandwich." Developers have high hopes that version 4 of the Android OS will help harmonize the platform and reduce the need to write code specifically for different versions.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out. An open source software ecosystem helps spur innovation in terms of device design and software features, but Apple has shown that a laser focus on creating a slick consumer product can be a similar wellspring of innovation. Where Apple succeeds -- and the Open Handset Alliance arguably fails -- is in taming complexity. The hurdles to software agility introduced by having a host of vendors responsible for fixes to a phone's operating system makes it less likely that end-users' devices will be updated with the patches needed to close publicly known security holes.

DeGusta plans to update his chart periodically. If Google and the OHA do not tackle the issue of patching, he will be able to highlight it in all its graphic glory.

This article, "Android's patching disaster -- as art," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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