9.1% of Android users just got some cool new YouTube features

If you combine the official Android distribution numbers with the requirements for getting the 4.0 update of YouTube for Android, this is the statistical joke you end up with. Of the new features added to YouTube for Android in the latest update, the following are restricted to Android 3.2+:

  • New UI: Guide on the left side of the screen with instant access to channels
  • Preload videos while on WiFi and charging for smooth playback on the go
  • Turn your phone into a remote, to play YouTube videos on other devices
  • Access your watch History across devices

No offense here, Google, but if your developers are incapable of getting those things working on previous versions of Android, I’m starting to understand why Google apps always lack support for even the most basic Android features. I don’t care about the UI even a little bit, but far as WiFi caching, remote control functionality, and history sync goes, I have plenty of apps that do that for other services on my Android 2.3.5 phone as we speak. It isn’t exactly rocket science.

The really annoying thing here is that it’s not even that Google has abandoned updates for older OSes. Android >3.1 got an update for YouTube, but it only contained some bug fixes and HD playback support on some devices. It seems to me as though Google is withholding feature updates just to speed up ICS adoption, which is a flawed strategy in so many ways.

First of all, ICS adoption isn’t exactly in the hands of users. Not only is updates to existing devices controlled by those devices’ manufacturers, but Gingerbread even ships on devices being sold as current top-of-the-line devices. Releasing software updates that could work on older devices but don’t is bad enough, but releasing software updates that don’t work on current devices is unacceptable. Trying to encourage users to go ICS when most of them don’t have that option seems like trying to convince someone to sprout wings and fly.

Google also made Android what it is, a fragmented OS where the latest OS version isn’t on close to the majority of devices. It can’t go Apple and distribute OS updates directly; however, it can distribute app updates directly – Maps, YouTube, Gmail, and things like that. It’s Google’s chance to make the difference between OS versions as small as possible, thus making the issue of devices not having access to the latest version as small as possible. You’d think the company would treasure that opportunity, but instead it’s using it to further fragment the platform, this time on purpose.

This is becoming typical of Google. OS features are one thing, as those go through OS updates. Apps, on the other hand, should be updated equally across OS versions, as long as the OS can actually support it.  There’s a reason why Microsoft’s Office 2010 isn’t limited to Windows 7 only, because not everyone is on Windows 7. Microsoft might like them to be, but in the end, the harsh reality prevails. This is despite the fact that Windows 7 is the only OS being sold right now, and you can’t go buy a computer with XP or Vista. Not only that, but Microsoft makes money on Windows 7 sales; it doesn’t just get a better reputation from it.

I think Google is afraid: Afraid of losing market share by forcing manufacturers to clean up their update act, and afraid of locking down Android by doing so. Instead it seems to be going after the users of those old versions, rather than the people responsible for those old versions. I don’t know if it’s hoping that users will then either buy from a company that offers ICS or put pressure on the companies that don’t, but either way, it’s wrong. Of the three parties involved with any Android device (Google, the device manufacturer, and the user), it’s currently the user that takes a hit because the other two can’t work together. That’s not how it should be.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets and tends to stick with his choice of device for a long time as a result of that. After a five year break from writing, he's back to share this view with the world once again.