173 days. That’s how long it’s been since Samsung first pledged to update it flagship Samsung Galaxy S2 phone to Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”, the latest and greatest version of Google’s mobile operating system.

It’s been almost six months, yet right now, some people are only just finding out when that juicy update will hit their devices. So what’s gone wrong? Allow us to examine a car crash of an example of corporate to customer communications.

Let’s be clear. The issue here is not that Samsung has taken too long to port Ice Cream Sandwich to the Galaxy S2. Apple’s iPhone has created an unfortunate benchmark to compare against, when the truth is comparing it with Android updates is not apples with apples.

Apple has just a few different devices to update when it pushes out new versions of iOS, and a unique position with the networks allowing it to send that device out at the same time globally.

Essential reading

Google can’t do this. As many manufacturers as there in the Open Handset Alliance, there are even more chipsets and screen resolutions a new release of Android has to be ported to. Google can’t cover them all, and it takes time for OEMs to make sure it’s running smoothly on their own hardware. That’s the cold, hard truth, and if you need proof of this, look no further than the team of devotees behind custom Android ROM CyanogenMod, who haven’t been able to get Android 4.0 on the Galaxy S2 any faster than Samsung itself.

No, that’s not the problem. The update rollout has been a disaster because nobody knows what the hell is going on – and all the while, Samsung is selling the wonderful Galaxy Nexus, rubbing it in the faces of millions.

For months, we waited. Then Samsung started teasing us with word of the update. But not in a polished press release with a definitive date. Nope, with drips and drabs. South Korean news reports, tweets from Samsung Israel. But not a global announcement, or even a pan-European one. Not a great start.

Then, eventually, on 13 March 2012 Samsung confirmed that the Galaxy S2 Ice Cream Sandwich update would be rolling out in the UK from 19 March, with the usual qualifier that “availability of software upgrades in the UK will be dependent upon each network’s own software approvals process”.

It was then that things started to go really wrong. O2, Three and Vodafone gave prompt timings on how long it would take to approve the update and push it out: O2 and Three delivered, while Vodafone, after a few stop starts, eventually began pushing it out to customers who bought a Galaxy S2 through them.

But the update for SIM-free phones not sold by an operator? Customers who bought those were left in limbo. The week of March 19th came and went. In a bizarre reversal, Samsung somehow took longer to test the update and roll it out than the networks did.

Only yesterday (17 April) did Samsung finally confirm that the SIM-free update was rolling out, and only then hours after it was denying it was (Credit has to go to CNET’s Natasha Lomas, who has pursued Samsung relentlessly on this). T-Mobile and Orange meanwhile have still to push out their updates for the Galaxy S2.

This is not the way things usually work – typically, SIM-free smartphones get updates first because the manufacturer does its own testing and that’s that – and inevitably it’s led to confused customers in forums, and even the comments section of our coverage of the debacle.

For one thing, customers who bought a Samsung Galaxy S2 through a retailer like Phones4U, but with a network contract, technically landed SIM-free devices. But they didn’t know that, Samsung didn’t tell them, and nor did their retailer.

And not all SIM-free devices are born equal, either. Some Carphone Warehouse Galaxy S2 phones are CPW branded and will require the retailer to push out its own update. “Since Carphone Warehouse never bothered releasing the 2.3.6 version of Gingerbread that was available for unbranded Samsung phone, I wouldn’t hold your breath about ICS,” says frustrated commenter Gtspaulding.

“Needless to say, I shan’t be buying a phone with a Carphone Warehouse brand again. They’re clearly unable to offer decent technical support.”

That’s as maybe, but the real culprit here is Samsung, which has failed to evolve its customer communications as the Galaxy S line has turned into a prestige brand second only to the iPhone. Why should any customers be left unclear as to what’s going on? Samsung shouldn’t have to wait for journalists to pester its PR agencies to tell people what’s going on. It should want to tell its valued customers what’s going on, especially after shafting original Galaxy S owners by not updating those phones likewise.

So what’s to be done? There’s probably no saving huge mega networks like Everything Everywhere dropping the ball. Let’s be honest, networks the size of T-Mobile and Orange will find a way to make a hash of things. But Samsung needs to look long and hard at how it treats its existing customers, as well as how it entices new ones with amazing new phones.

Samsung needs to get its act together when it comes to communicating the update. Have a consistent portal through which information is relayed. Do it for every country. Keep it updated. Motorola actually does this – it’s just usually incredibly grim reading.

There’s another solution to consider too. Post updates early, and make them available solely through a website. Before they’re finished, even. Give early adopters, loud-mouthed evangelists, early beta versions, and they’ll shut up. Sony and HTC have started doing this. Huawei has pledged to for its new Ascend G300 phone.

That approach also solves another problem: the massive user interface change Ice Cream Sandwich brings. The Galaxy S2 update has been criticised for stripping out much of what Google added in Android 4.0, but as blogger John Gruber has pointed out, such a change would be baffling to many customers. But if the update is one you have to actively seek out on Samsung’s website, well, that changes the audience entirely.

It’s too late for the Samsung Galaxy S2, but something Samsung needs to consider for its next flagship, whenever Jellybean comes along. As Nokia’s Stephen Elop says, it’s a “war of ecosystems” nows, and Samsung needs to do all it can to keep people in its side as future customers.

Samsung was contacted for comment for this article, and issued the following boiler plate statement:

“Samsung UK has been working as hard as possible over the last few weeks to get Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) rolled out to all our Galaxy S II customers. We can confirm that ‘Open Market’ and all network upgrades are now complete except for Orange and T-Mobile which will follow as soon as possible, pending software testing and approvals. Thanks again for your patience.”

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

    you say samsung are bad, try being an LG optimus 2X owner.  They said “we’ll update it” and that’s the last we heard officially.  Their regional facebook pages all seem to have different dates being spewed out across the internet, it did take them almost a year to finally get gingerbread out though, all I can say is that companies like LG should either sort their development team out and make the phone work and update it faster or embrace the likes of the CM team, I wouldn’t have bought the phone if it wasn’t for them and it definitely wouldn’t be much use to me without them.  Send them the odd beta version or just some of the drivers they need to make the phone work properly instead of them having to reverse engineer everything.  With LG’s help on this front I think we would have a stable release of CM9 on my phone by now but as it is here’s still big gaps they are trying to fill.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, LG are by far the worst offenders, I’m sorry to say. But they also don’t have a prestige phone that’s sold more than 10 million like the GS2, which is why SAmsung’s approach has been so appalling.

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

    you say samsung are bad, try being an LG optimus 2X owner.  They said “we’ll update it” and that’s the last we heard officially.  Their regional facebook pages all seem to have different dates being spewed out across the internet, it did take them almost a year to finally get gingerbread out though, all I can say is that companies like LG should either sort their development team out and make the phone work and update it faster or embrace the likes of the CM team, I wouldn’t have bought the phone if it wasn’t for them and it definitely wouldn’t be much use to me without them.  Send them the odd beta version or just some of the drivers they need to make the phone work properly instead of them having to reverse engineer everything.  With LG’s help on this front I think we would have a stable release of CM9 on my phone by now but as it is here’s still big gaps they are trying to fill.

  • The Swiss Guy

    I was a Nokia user and left because (except for their switching to Windows) of their lousy customer support. Even they treated loyal customers lousy – especially the ones who bought their flagships like N96. I bought a SGS2 and I’m confident with it. Nonetheless I would like to have an upgrade to ICS (since it seems to be even better than the my old system 2.3.4). However, waiting so long makes everyone sad. In the nearby future I’ll switch probably to the Nexus-line (I like the Samsung hardware). Since it’s pure Google (software), upgrades should come faster….

  • The Swiss Guy

    I was a Nokia user and left because (except for their switching to Windows) of their lousy customer support. Even they treated loyal customers lousy – especially the ones who bought their flagships like N96. I bought a SGS2 and I’m confident with it. Nonetheless I would like to have an upgrade to ICS (since it seems to be even better than the my old system 2.3.4). However, waiting so long makes everyone sad. In the nearby future I’ll switch probably to the Nexus-line (I like the Samsung hardware). Since it’s pure Google (software), upgrades should come faster….

    • Anonymous

      Just be sure to buy SIM-free as Vodafone’s Nexus S ICS update arrived months later.

  • Anonymous

     All of this post sums up why Apple wins with its updates, why should consumers wait all this time for Sammy to roll out the update. If you look at the original galaxy, we got the updates here in uk and europe but my american friends got really shafted by a non update. Now sammy are doing the same to us here.  Even the Galaxy Nexus is not immune to the update issue, if you have a “yakju” phone thats great as this is updated by goog direct, if you have a different variant, “yakjuxxxx”  then this is updated by sammy which doesnt happen for ages. So people have to unlock the bootloader, root and flash a yakju. now this is ok for someone like me, but not everyone wants or knows how to do this.  Why shouldnt consumers get the update at the same time as everyone else.  i love android phones but you can understand why many of my friends are getting fed up with this update debacle and go back to ios.

    Oh by the way, give serious props to HTC for unlocking bootloader and getting ICS updates to the sensation and XE line very quickly.  

  • Anonymous

    Correction: it takes time for the “OEM’s” to load the update with tons of “Bloatware”.
    I would bet that if T-Mobile wouldn’t load up ICS with its 10 or 12 useless apps
    we would have seen ICS already. I wish they would offer a clean vanilla rom for those of us who don’t want or need the junk they include. Also, if what I’ve seen so far is any indicator I’m finding the need to reconsider my options, to insure that I’m not stuck doing this again when “Jelly Bean” is released. So far it looks like Samsung is out & I’ll need to move to Asus hardware, since they’re the only one that seemed to take seriously the testing & releasing of updates. Plus, they’re offering a new phone that really looks interesting.

    • Anonymous

      Valid point, although most carriers have been getting about this. Except Orange, for some reason. I don’t know why they’re so reckless. You’re right that Asus has been very swift, although it’s worth pointing out that with a Wi-Fi tablet there’s no potential baseband issues to deal with, so it’s probably quicker.

    • Anonymous

      Valid point, although most carriers have been getting about this. Except Orange, for some reason. I don’t know why they’re so reckless. You’re right that Asus has been very swift, although it’s worth pointing out that with a Wi-Fi tablet there’s no potential baseband issues to deal with, so it’s probably quicker.

    • Anonymous

      Valid point, although most carriers have been getting about this. Except Orange, for some reason. I don’t know why they’re so reckless. You’re right that Asus has been very swift, although it’s worth pointing out that with a Wi-Fi tablet there’s no potential baseband issues to deal with, so it’s probably quicker.

  • Micro

    Got the update to my Galaxy S2 today, via Samsung Kies. Update ran without a hitch and I like the upgrade. My contract is with T-mobile, but the phone was obtained from Tesco, so effectively SIM free (I checked before taking out the contract) - and I’m really glad!  If I’d had to wait any longer, then I wouldn’t have used T mobile again – lucky for them, I’ve only had to wait for Samsung to get their act together.  Even with the delay (almost exactly one month since I was originally expecting it) I’d still prefer Samsung to Apple and my Galaxy S2 over the iphone, so while I hope Samsung improve support in future I’m still a happy bunny! :)

  • Micro

    Got the update to my Galaxy S2 today, via Samsung Kies. Update ran without a hitch and I like the upgrade. My contract is with T-mobile, but the phone was obtained from Tesco, so effectively SIM free (I checked before taking out the contract) - and I’m really glad!  If I’d had to wait any longer, then I wouldn’t have used T mobile again – lucky for them, I’ve only had to wait for Samsung to get their act together.  Even with the delay (almost exactly one month since I was originally expecting it) I’d still prefer Samsung to Apple and my Galaxy S2 over the iphone, so while I hope Samsung improve support in future I’m still a happy bunny! :)

  • Guinness Copley

    Every OEM that fails to provide a good update plan for it’s customers pushes us one more step to installing custom ROMs or buying only a google ‘Nexus’ device.

    • Anonymous

      Sadly, even Nexus updates can go wrong – Nexus S is a good example of this. Google put the kibosh on it for months – I was lucky I got mine, and only because I forced an install using a method on XDA Developers.

    • Anonymous

      Sadly, even Nexus updates can go wrong – Nexus S is a good example of this. Google put the kibosh on it for months – I was lucky I got mine, and only because I forced an install using a method on XDA Developers.

    • Anonymous

      Sadly, even Nexus updates can go wrong – Nexus S is a good example of this. Google put the kibosh on it for months – I was lucky I got mine, and only because I forced an install using a method on XDA Developers.

  • SamsungSucks

    LG being crap doesn’t make samsung’s utter incompetence ok. just makes LG worse.
    Samsung are a bunch of morons.
    after six months I upgraded yesterday and thedamn thing is a disaster. Crashes all the time, hangs, restarts, settings keep getting lost.
    I’d pay to get gingerbread back.
    Samsung should make hardware and leave everything else to someone who can find their own backside without assistance.

    Hope crApple and Samdung put each other out of business with litigation.
    Morons.

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

      You’re right, the problem is most are as bad as each other, as ben said, if you shift 10 million units you should be able to update all 10 million in a quick manor and know the update actually works when you push it out.  I know the LG’s incompetence to update the o2x is going to cost them a lot of customers, most people on modders forums have given up hope, personally i wouldn’t buy from them again.  As bad as the S2 update is I tried to sway my girlfriend away from samsung because they just don’t seem to care about anything less than the S2.  I think in future i’ll go to the budget modders favourites like the huawei G300 and update annually, at least i’ll get the thing update in a decent time frame.  It’s that or the asus padfone as they seem to be about the only manufacturer capable of updating android

  • Anonymous

    This would be my biggest concern if (when) I make the move from iOS to Android.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah. If you’re not hardcore, it’s a real concern. If you’re a tech obsessive, custom ROMs and so forth aren’t too tricky, and do alleviate the problem.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah. If you’re not hardcore, it’s a real concern. If you’re a tech obsessive, custom ROMs and so forth aren’t too tricky, and do alleviate the problem.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah. If you’re not hardcore, it’s a real concern. If you’re a tech obsessive, custom ROMs and so forth aren’t too tricky, and do alleviate the problem.

  • Anonymous

    This would be my biggest concern if (when) I make the move from iOS to Android.

  • Peterh

    This article sums up the situation well for me, I didn’t mind having to wait, I just wanted to be kept informed of what was happening from an official source. Checking Kies daily for an update since the 19th March and scanning the web for information from various sources is not the way to keep customers happy. I gave up on Samsung a couple of weeks ago and bought a HTC One X.

  • Peterh

    This article sums up the situation well for me, I didn’t mind having to wait, I just wanted to be kept informed of what was happening from an official source. Checking Kies daily for an update since the 19th March and scanning the web for information from various sources is not the way to keep customers happy. I gave up on Samsung a couple of weeks ago and bought a HTC One X.

  • JamieDow

    Upgraded to ICS today on my S2 SIM free via Kies – FINALLY!!!

  • JamieDow

    Upgraded to ICS today on my S2 SIM free via Kies – FINALLY!!!

  • Rjay0810

    some orange customers already have ics through kies update yet others dont these are unconfirmed tweets but either way some clarity on the siuation would be helpful i am orange customer and am thougherly dissappointed with the ASAP attitude towards this

    • Anonymous

      They may have bought a SIM-free device with an Orange contract through a reseller.

    • Anonymous

      They may have bought a SIM-free device with an Orange contract through a reseller.

    • Anonymous

      They may have bought a SIM-free device with an Orange contract through a reseller.

  • Rjay0810

    Just had hard confirmation from orange on twitter ics rolls out tomorrow on kies about time for us all. It is unclear Whether it will be for contract our Sim free but at least its a date

  • Giorgio Suraci

    what about battery life? Is it true that ICS sucks battery juice even faster than the previous OS version? I am currently on 2.3.4 (yes, two-dot-three-dot-FOUR) and kies says there is not update available for me…well…at least till last time i tried (which is last week).

  • Giorgio Suraci

    what about battery life? Is it true that ICS sucks battery juice even faster than the previous OS version? I am currently on 2.3.4 (yes, two-dot-three-dot-FOUR) and kies says there is not update available for me…well…at least till last time i tried (which is last week).

    • Anonymous

      In general, it doesn’t. My Nexus also runs cooler than it did when it had Gingerbread on. I haven’t tested the GS2 version much however – since it’s been so hard to come by so far!

    • Anonymous

      In general, it doesn’t. My Nexus also runs cooler than it did when it had Gingerbread on. I haven’t tested the GS2 version much however – since it’s been so hard to come by so far!

    • Anonymous

      In general, it doesn’t. My Nexus also runs cooler than it did when it had Gingerbread on. I haven’t tested the GS2 version much however – since it’s been so hard to come by so far!

  • http://twitter.com/RevRogerPitman Rev. Roger T Pitman

    Just to clarify as I am one of those who shouted long and hard at Samsung about this.
    1 The firmware is network ready when sent to the networks so it can be used as is. There are set standards and tech specs that have to be followed by all manufacturers and Google from whom the original code comes. This is so any GSM phone with the correct hardware for the frequencies used can be used in any country that supports them. People actually take their phones with them when they travel.
    2. The networks put their branding/slash screen and apps on (Orange is an exception as they also have some compression tweeks) and this is why they take longer.
    3 Samsung do not need to do this so could have released first to sim free phones.
    4. Samsung said themselves that they would only roll out after all other networks had and then gave the excuse that “It had to be tested by the networks first” not true as above.  They proved this untrue by rolling out before all of them did and this due to the immense pressure from blogs/users/forums. So it was deliberate.
    5. Samsung will have to work really hard to regain the trust because worse of all…
    6. They DID NOT communicate very well and when they did they were caught out in an untruth.  They also had the gall to say they had to communicate better then diddn’t, not even with their own staff who were told about the rollout by us users and then continued to say there was no definite date available yet (read their Facebook page)

    • Anonymous

      Spot on. Samsung tied itself up in some bizarre double truths. It was ready – it was rolled out in other GSM countries SIM-free on time – and if it needed the networks to test it, why has it not waited for Orange and T-Mobile? Poorly handled, very poorly handled.

  • I Want DECT capability

    I was disappointed when Motorola kept missing their own release deadline for their froyo (as in flash) updates on the Milestone. And then guess what?? When my Milestone was running Froyo, it was buggy, slow and crashed so I wished I hadn’t updated! Since then I learned my lesson and do not by a phone on the strength of the promise that the manufacturer promises it will be kept up to date and work properly in the future. I will buy a phone that already does what I want it to do and will stop having unrealistic expectations of future upgrade support being any good. Oh. and then Google bought Motorola.. I don’t know how this is going to work out since Motorola seems to be totally into locked bootloaders…

    • The Zedian

      Good god how i remember the pain!! The froyo update on the milestone was an absolute joke! Will never ever buy a moto product again!

  • Anonymous

    Samsung has left such a bad taste in my mouth that there is no way I would ever buy another Samsung phone & risk going through this again when “Jelly Bean” is released later in the year. The only company that has impressed me when it comes to updates is Asus, & I read that they are releasing a new ICS phone later in the year. I have nothing but good things to say regarding the way they handled the original Transformer iCS update. It appears that you can’t just look at hardware anymore, you also have to evaluate how quickly an OEM offers updates & how many updates they’re going to offer has to also be looked at now.

  • Anonymous

    Samsung has left such a bad taste in my mouth that there is no way I would ever buy another Samsung phone & risk going through this again when “Jelly Bean” is released later in the year. The only company that has impressed me when it comes to updates is Asus, & I read that they are releasing a new ICS phone later in the year. I have nothing but good things to say regarding the way they handled the original Transformer iCS update. It appears that you can’t just look at hardware anymore, you also have to evaluate how quickly an OEM offers updates & how many updates they’re going to offer has to also be looked at now.

  • Ethan Cayford

    4.0 is already here for t mobile i have got it on my Galaxys S2 Through kies

    • Jes14

      No it’s not but nice try…..TMobile has not made it available in the U.S. yet

    • Jes14

      No it’s not but nice try…..TMobile has not made it available in the U.S. yet

  • Ethan Cayford

    4.0 is already here for t mobile i have got it on my Galaxys S2 Through kies

  • McBegbie

    Apparently the Orange ICS update still isn’t available for S2 NFC enabled phones

    • Anonymous

      Yup, it’s not unfortunately.

      • Britjojojo

        Why? Has Samsung not released ics supporting this or does it come down to the networks?

        • Anonymous

          Down to the networks. They like to check the updates themselves to make sure they run fine on their basebands etc, as they don’t want to be seen as putting out stuff that breaks anything – a network being reliable is an important part of their reputation. Of course, you could argue the delay in the update this causes can cause the customer to get pissed off with them too.

  • Anonymous

    And in the meantime, I switched over to CyanogenMod 9, which is basically vanilla ICS – the same as seen on the galaxy nexus. It’s 95% functional, which is perfectly fine for me. The only thing it can’t do is connect as a drive on my Mac. However, I can explore the files just fine on my PC. You guys seriously need to take a look.

    • Anonymous

      How easy did you find it to install?

  • Bonato

     I must say I’m not excited with my new ICS install, which I got recently
    OTA in my Galaxy S2. I couldn’t feel a great difference in performance
    and I noticed a lot more force closes and slowness than before. It’s not
    enough to put me through the effort of trying to go back to
    Gingerbread, but if I knew all the effects of ICS I would have stayed
    with things as they were.

  • Bonato

     I must say I’m not excited with my new ICS install, which I got recently
    OTA in my Galaxy S2. I couldn’t feel a great difference in performance
    and I noticed a lot more force closes and slowness than before. It’s not
    enough to put me through the effort of trying to go back to
    Gingerbread, but if I knew all the effects of ICS I would have stayed
    with things as they were.

    • Anonymous

      Consoled yourself with Android for Chrome?

  • http://twitter.com/romicom1 romicom

    The ics on S2 is buggy and not as good as Gingerbread. I installed here in South Africa and not happy with it. The phone has to be restarted many times , something it never did before. The native Internet doesn’t work and I have to go through Opera most of the times. A lot of installed softwares are also not working like the ArcMedia. The battery life is poorer. It still needs a lot of polishing and a phone that used to be bug free and highly functional has become unpredictable.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=690371379 Michael O’Neill Codrington

      Had the same problem here in the UK (on Virgin) with ICS. Found it terrible. Went straight back to Gingerbread 2.3.6 – an official version, downloaded from SamMobile – which means I get updates from Samsung via Kies (actually got one yesterday!) ICS? Much ado about nothing in my opinion. Like the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke…”

      • Anonymous

        It’s a real shame Samsung has botched it so – vanilla ICS is a HUGE leap forward in usability. But Samsung’s tried to make it as much like Touchwiz on 2.3 as possible.

  • Ramtnv

    i upgrade ISC through kies, there is nothing to say gud only task man, and view are changed. is there more changes.. no, only some of gui are changed. I thought ICS may cum as jarvis in iron man…. on the developers view… 

  • TKUEXCLUSIVE.com

    Just upgraded my S2 to ICS now it freezes constantly and sometimes when I take photos or videos the file gets corrupted or something.

    • TKUEXCLUSIVE.com

      I hope there’ll be an update on how to fix it soon. Bothers me a lot. :(

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