Samsung is taking an age to push out its Ice Cream Sandwich update for the Samsung Galaxy S2: bizarrely, several UK networks have beaten it to the punch, despite having to do more testing than Samsung itself.

That, in part, is why the Android numbers released this week are so miserable: Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”, the latest and greatest release of Google’s mobile OS, is only running on 2.9 percent of all devices, up from 1.6 percent last month.

That’s a poor showing given that Ice Cream Sandwich first launched on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus five months ago. And granted, the delay is inevitable as manufacturers modify Android to run on different chipsets and with different skins. But there’s something else at play here: Google, and many of the prestige names in Android, appear to have given up on the budget market with Ice Cream Sandwich.

It’s half a year since Android 4.0 was first unveiled to the world, and uptake has been slow. While Asus was commendably quick to update its Transformer Android tablets, Sony chose to ship its flagship phone for 2012, the Xperia S, with Android 2.3 “Gingerbread”, and has now pushed an upgrade to late Q2 – the end of June to you and me.

The first non-Nexus phones meanwhile have only just trickled onto the market in the UK: HTC’s stupendous One X and One S.

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This goes someway to explaining the miserable numbers for Ice Cream Sandwich, but there’s a problem awaiting down the line: without budget phones running Android 4.0 too, Google can’t hope to bring ICS to the majority of devices, as it has done with previous releases for mobiles (Android 2.3 “Gingerbread” accounts for 63.7 percent of all devices right now).

For all the Ice Cream Sandwich powered phones on show at Mobile World Congress a month ago, none of them were cheap Android phones. Not a single one. The lowest spec new Ice Cream Sandwich phone you’ll be able to buy is in fact the HTC One V – and that’ll still cost you £250.

Now, cheap Android phones might not grab headlines, but they are what made Android the most widely used smartphone OS today. If you don’t believe me, ask Strategy Analytics, which says that Samsung’s entry level Android 2.3 phone, the Galaxy Y, is selling at the same pace as the Galaxy S2. Factor in the equally cheap Galaxy Y Pro and you’re looking at a huge piece of the pie, by volume if not profits.

Windows Phone’s secret Android threat: How Microsoft can hold the budget market hostage

The problem with cheap Android phones was that until now, they were often too cheap, or simply borked by poor software skins (The Huawei Blaze, for instance, is a cracking little device, but comes loaded with a dreadful default keyboard – you can change this but many customers won’t realise it.)

Soon the problem will be that you just won’t be able to buy any – or ones at least running Android 4.0. But isn’t the point of a new software release that it gets used?

Waiting in the wings is Windows Phone: with the new release, Tango, Microsoft has given manufacturers the all clear to make Windows Phones with cheaper, less powerful components. Up first is the Nokia Lumia 610, which with an estimate SIM-free price of £160 could very quickly arrive at under £99 on Pay As You Go. And as I’ve said before, that could be an instant win for Microsoft and Nokia. Its large tiles, excellent (mandatory) keyboard and headache-free set up lend themselves perfectly to those not willing to invest money – or time – in their tech, even if Windows Phone is missing hundreds of thousands of apps.

The way things are going now, Google could very well completely cede the low-end smartphone market to Microsoft and Nokia – which, let’s not forget, ships phones on a scale that nobody else does. It’s the business equivalent of waving the white flag when the enemy hasn’t even appeared.

What’s so odd here is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There is no particular rule that Android Ice Cream Sandwich requires top end specs. It runs perfectly well on the Nexus S, a 2010 phone based on now-two year old hardware. Google itself is hazy about the minimum requirements for Ice Cream Sandwich, although its pioneers have gone so far as to say that it “theoretically should work for any 2.3 device.” Without pointless bloatware and the right keyboard by default – like, say, the stock one Google provides – that could still translate to a great experience.

But when Samsung, or even Chinese snake oil wunderkinds ZTE and Huawei don’t seem interested in using their huge economies of scale to capture this segment of the market, there’s a problem.

  • James

    It’s a good job the likes of the members/developers involved with Cyanogen Mod/MoDaCo/XDA developers are so willing to give thier free time to make things work.

    As a result, I have been running ICS on my ZTE Blade (Orange SanFrancisco) which runs far better than the stock 2.1 ROM (due to overclocking the GPU and enabled hardware acceleration)!!!! and my colleagues winmo HTC HD2 (which admittedly, still has a slight video playback issue, but otherwise works flawlessly!) for months now.  The actual owner of the HD2 (who leant me the phone to play with, when thier Galaxy S2 arrived) has been somewhat envious until last friday, that his “old” phone is running the new software admirably!

    • James

      unfortunately, that doesn’t help the majority of consumers out there, without the technical knowledge to root and flash etc.
      I have said for a while that, if one of the manufacturers like Huawei or ZTE, put a bit of effort in and had got it running on thier current hardware early on (like the ZTE Skate/Orange MonteCarlo) they would have generated MASSIVE interest and sales.

    • James

      unfortunately, that doesn’t help the majority of consumers out there, without the technical knowledge to root and flash etc.
      I have said for a while that, if one of the manufacturers like Huawei or ZTE, put a bit of effort in and had got it running on thier current hardware early on (like the ZTE Skate/Orange MonteCarlo) they would have generated MASSIVE interest and sales.

      • Anonymous

        Spot on.

  • http://twitter.com/dave_everett Dave Everett

    If a blade can run ICS almost anything out there should.  We’ve had a real hard time buying a phone that will be updated to ICS that isn’t a dual core monster, other than the new HTC series and sony ericsson (if they ever actually get the update out) you’re struggling to get ICS from a manufacturer on a sub 4 inch handset.  Even the samsung galaxy w that’s more than powerful enough isn’t getting it.  It does seem the alliance formed by google and the manufacturers to support handsets for 18 months has gone out the window especially in the age of 2 year contracts.

    • Anonymous

      Yup, it’s a crying shame. And you’re right: Sony is the only company promising ICS on a phone with a resolution/screen smaller than 800×480 atm (Xperia Mini Pro). Will be interesting to see if it keeps to its word on that – I have my doubts.

  • http://profiles.google.com/tran.mikey Mike Tran

     The Nexus S isn’t exactly low end gear when it was released in Dec 2010 , Infact it was classed as highest with the SGS at the time. More low budget devices would get ICS if they bump the cpu to a ARMv7 and give the devices more then 130megs of internal storage and a minimal of 512megs of ram. ZTE and Huewei did the 512meg ram with some of their devices which I commend them for (Even decent WVGA screens too) but they still used ARMv6 and minimal amounts of  internal storage. I’m sure the next gen of low end stuff will all have 1ghz ARMv7′s , 512meg ram, decent amount of internal storage/ROM, basically a SGS without the internal sd. If not then there’s no way you could fit ICS into them devices and have your custom oem skins that the makers so enjoy (sigh). One of the major points of ICS was that it needed a GPU with Open GL ES 2.0, Most of these low end devices don’t have a decent GPU that can run it so that pretty much rules them out. Why blame Google? Blame the OEMS for making shitty low end stuff.

    WP7 phones ain’t exactly low end when they first appeared on the market with lowest spec device having a ARMv7 SoC @ 1ghz (Snapdragon S2′s). Android current low end stuff can run as low as a ARMv6 600mhz. WP7 phones can be considered cheap now because consumers just don’t want them so it drove prices down.

    • Anonymous

      Well put. I’d argue Google needs to do a better job steering the ship though. Why not lay out that argument to an upstart: an Alcatel or ZTE, and get them to make a skinless budget ICS phone? Could be the perfect complement to the Galaxy Nexus.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/E4OUMEYQYKNWKDJ36BDBX5SKOM Lordkiwi

        You think th OEM’s would listen to Google. When there realizing in droves they can create there own app stores and leave google out of it all togather.

    • Anonymous

      Well put. I’d argue Google needs to do a better job steering the ship though. Why not lay out that argument to an upstart: an Alcatel or ZTE, and get them to make a skinless budget ICS phone? Could be the perfect complement to the Galaxy Nexus.

    • http://twitter.com/dave_everett Dave Everett

      in my eyes this is one area apple does do well, when they launch the new iphone they keep the old one on sale for a year and support it until then.  Admittedly they only deal with one phone and if samsung had left the galaxy s as it was it would now be nearing the end of it’s days, if you bought it this time last year you would expect it to be at 2 years old, it’s the fact they revamped and made the galaxy S plus and galaxy W and 6 months later said that’s you’re lot for this phone, why bother with the revamp if you’re still killing it off at the same time as the old one?  

      I do see a need for the low end market and there’s no doubt android has the market share it does because you can get a phone that does all this for £10 a month, but you’re right that they shouldn’t expect the latest software on those handsets and those people who want those phones probably wont notice or care about it.  It’s the fact that we went out looking for a new phone and brand new ones still aren’t coming with gingerbread and a massive selection of phones aren’t getting ICS at all, we wasn’t after the big screens or quad core level phones, just a newish, sub 4 inch screen with modest performance and that sector has been overlooked.  I wouldn’t object to having the option of skinless android if it meant i actually got an update in a decent time frame, launcher pro gets installed over the top anyway.

  • Josefd8

    By last year, around the
    same time, Froyo was still too ahead of Gingerbread, but, things have
    turned around and now Gingerbread represent more than 60%, while the
    other android versions are quickly shrinking. I just said: be
    patience and stop comparing the adoption of the new android releases
    with other mobile OS’s, it’s like trying to compare the way open
    source OS and closed source OS works (debian-windows). My real worry
    is not actually about the end user, because most of the lest geeky,
    tech-savvy users will really don’t care the android version their
    phone is running, but with the developers. Trying to maintain the
    same app for different android versions can be frustrating, and could
    cause then to abandon the platform.

    • Anonymous

      True true. My concern however is that we’re not going to see the same shift this time. With budget phones still coming out on 2.3, ICS will struggle to make a dint in that pie chart.

  • Karen-s

    Rubbish! I bought my husband a cheap android and I hate it. I have no idea how to update it and every time I read about something I have on my iPhone ‘now on android’ it isn’t available in the market. I’m bored with my iPhone too. Roll on windows phone 8…

  • Chris Nutt

    I don’t think it is impossible, but you have to remember that Android and in fact all the other OSs don’t have an UEFI or BIOS to fall back on. It’s not like installing Linux or Windows. You need to write firmware like drivers for each and every SOC and the rest of the phone.

    Most of the phones out there have to be in development for at 12 months before launch. 
    Hence the lack of phones. 

    Budget devices can run ICS just fine. Look at Archos’s G9 series Tablets and Ainol’s Novo7 range. I am getting an Ainol Novo7 ELF for £90!

    Good cheaper chipsets like Ti’s 4 series and even cheaper Allwiner’s A10 that costs $7 for a SOC with 1GB of ram clocked at 1ghz!

    However right now ICS is such a big jump and the certification process so long that even major players like Nexus S and Transformer Prime are struggling for bug free ICS.

    Also please bare in mind ZTE and Huawei want to move up a rung at the moment, so their focus on their cheaper models been lost. This is probably more coincidence than due to ICS.

  • A A

    Most smartphone users – especially budget users – don’t care about latest software – they want a phone that does the basics – web browsing, social media, email, calls, sms. In terms of apps, a lot of apps out there still offer support for android 2.1, so there’s really no question of a 2.3 or even a 2.2 handset not being up to date.

    • Anonymous

      No, of course. But when ICS gives a much better experience, it’s a bit of a pity. Thankfully we’re starting to see the first few cheap Android 4.0 phones debuting at CTIA this week.

    • Anonymous

      No, of course. But when ICS gives a much better experience, it’s a bit of a pity. Thankfully we’re starting to see the first few cheap Android 4.0 phones debuting at CTIA this week.

  • Matthew N

    huawei ascend g300 or U8815. 100 pound and ICS has been officially released for it in China with a UK release coming soon. Great phone and it runs well on ics

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