While many manufacturers have announced fairly detailed plans for updating their current devices to the recently released Android 4.4 KitKat, market darling Samsung has remained largely silent.
A Samsung U.K. spokesperson said only that the manufacturer will “announce rollout plans for Android 4.4 in due course,” so the public has no idea when the latest Google operating system will begin to roll out on current Galaxy devices. Samsung Galaxy devices likely won’t update to Android 4.4 KitKat until well into 2014. Here are some reasons why we shouldn’t expect to see Android 4.4 running on a large range of Samsung devices any time soon.
Samsung working on Google Play Edition update
At least one Samsung device will receive an Android 4.4 KitKat update before 2014: The Google Play Edition Samsung Galaxy S4. Notably, Samsung is in charge of rolling out this update, as Google explained after the Google Play Editions Galaxy S4 and HTC One were unveiled in June. HTC will similarly be in charge of updating its Google Play Edition HTC One, but both devices are expected to update at the same time, as they did when they updated to Android 4.3 Jelly Bean in August.
The Google Play Editions Galaxy S4 and HTC One are notably different from their standard model counterparts in that they run stock versions of Android, giving them a “Nexus user experience.” In addition, both devices are sold by Google rather than by their respective manufacturers or supported mobile networks.
Currently the Google Play Edition devices are expected to receive the Android 4.4 update shortly after the Google-branded Nexus 4, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 update to the new OS, which surprisingly has not yet happened. Usually Nexus-device updates occur immediately after a new Android operating system is unveiled, but Google has only stated that Android 4.4 is coming to older Nexus devices “within the coming weeks.”
With such Google Play devices on the market, we can be certain that Samsung already has its hands on the Android 4.4 KitKat software. According to HTC President Jason Mackenzie, the HTC One Google Play Edition (and subsequently the Samsung Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition) should update within 15 days of the Nexus 5 and Android 4.4 KitKat release, a mid-November time frame, which is quickly approaching.
OEMs must already have Android 4.4 KitKat on hand in order to update Google Play Devices. As unlocked devices running stock Android, the Google Play Editions will be much easier for manufacturers to update. Further development is then needed to prepare operating systems and OEM-specific devices for update, including deciding which devices will update, implementing manufacturer-specific software such as Samsung’s TouchWiz, and gaining certifications from local carriers. This, in addition to general OS shelf life, may push back the Android 4.4 update on standard Samsung devices for several months.
Android 4.4 will likely be exclusive to the few Google-based devices for a little while before other devices begin to update. It also appears Google is currently taking advantage of some Android 4.4 exclusivity with the Nexus 5.
Samsung currently rolling out Android 4.3 Jelly Bean update
Samsung also has its hands full with the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean update on a number of Galaxy flagship devices, some of which have gone more than a year without an update. Devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2 have either recently received the Android 4.3 update or are expected to update soon.
A leaked rollout schedule has indicated that the Android 4.3 update timeline for Samsung’s primary devices may extend into December, after which secondary devices such as the Galaxy S4 mini, Galaxy S4 Active, Galaxy S4 Zoom, Galaxy Mega 5.8 and Galaxy Mega 6.3 are also expected to update.
Some devices, including several models of the Galaxy S4, have updated to Android 4.3, according to the leaked schedule, while others, such as the Galaxy S3, have missed their predicted rollout dates and still have not updated to Android 4.3. This may indicate that the Android 4.3 update has been delayed on certain U.S. carriers. As said, carrier-branded devices usually require certain certifications before system updates can be applied. Failure to get these certifications can hinder updates for days, weeks or months.
Regardless of when these older Galaxy devices finally update to Android 4.3, it is likely Samsung won’t be focusing on updating devices to Android 4.4 KitKat until the eight devices it has scheduled to update to Android 4.3 have done so.
Android 4.4 KitKat will release natively on new Samsung device before updating on others
The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 notably released in September, not only as the first Samsung devic, but also as the first non-Nexus device to run Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. The Samsung Galaxy S4 before it released in April as the first Samsung and non-Nexus device to run Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Unless Google has some sort of trick up its sleeve, the next Samsung flagship device will likely be the first non-Nexus device to run Android 4.4 KitKat.
Rumors are currently circulating around the Samsung Galaxy S5 being the next flagship device for the Korean manufacturer. Predictions peg a release date as early as February, but those are being taken with a grain of salt as Samsung is known for releasing is Galaxy S devices between April and May. Other reports suggest there may soon be a new Galaxy line introduced in the Samsung Galaxy F, a device rumored to be Samsung’s take on a metal design.
It might be too early for any concrete rumors on Samsung Galaxy hardware; however, we can be sure that the manufacturer has something in the works that should release within the first four months of 2014. Samsung flagships have an average 5-month initial life span before something new is introduced. Consider that the Samsung Galaxy S3 released in late May 2012, followed four months later by the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 in late September. The Samsung Galaxy S4 released seven months after that in late April, followed by the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 five months later. With such a pattern in place, in addition to the general 12-month life span of devices in a particular Galaxy series, the next flagship will likely release within five to seven months of the Galaxy Note 3 release.
Rivals updating in 2014
As we said, other manufacturers have been much more talkative than Samsung about their Android 4.4 update plans. Several sources from HTC have stated that the HTC One Android 4.4 update is scheduled for late January 2014, while Sony has said a number of its Xperia-brand devices will update to Android 4.4 after updating to Android 4.3. With Sony’s Android 4.3 Jelly Bean update scheduled for December, it is unlikely Android 4.4 will roll out onto the devices before the end of the year.
Samsung may take an approach similar to what it did with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean and not say much about the Android 4.4 KitKat until it is ready to roll out the update onto devices.
In addition, given the large number of devices currently expected to update to Android 4.3, it is possible some of them won’t make it through another update cycle. The Galaxy S3, for example, is several generations old and has previously updated from its native Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean; therefore, it may not update again after Android 4.3. Some devices may also skip OS updates in order to update to a future operating system, which will release after Android 4.4. The Galaxy Note 2, for example, runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and has skipped the Android 4.2 version in order to update to Android 4.3. This may also be done with other Galaxy devices by the time Samsung is ready to roll out an Android 4.4 update.
Android 4.4 has notably been optimized with Google’s “Project Svelte” in order to be compatible with a host of devices, including those with as little as 512MB RAM. This means many older and low-end devices will also have the opportunity to update to Android 4.4; however, it's still ultimately up to OEMs to decide which devices will get the update.
Currently, most would peg the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 3 as most likely to update to Android 4.4 KitKat in the future; however, with little word from Samsung, we can't be sure.
Do you think any standard Samsung Galaxy devices will update to Android 4.4 KitKat before 2014? Let us know in the comments below.
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Fionna Agomuoh is a Technology Reporter for the International Business Times, a vegan foodie, and a lover of Electric Dance Music.