Android, Over The Air, and Sprint


I wanted the first article I wrote for Phandroid to be something simple and quick. This is not that article and I’m sorry for that. But this is a subject that has been bothering me for the last 2 weeks or so. Why should you care you ask?  That is simple enough to answer if you let me explain for a few minutes.

I purchased a Sprint HTC Hero on the first day it was available and although it is by far my favorite phone I have owned from the struggling carrier in the past 8 years or so, it is far from perfect. Right now the battery life is less than ideal, there is a issue with the messaging app “staying awake”, my clock app does not tell the right time, and my weather app never, and I mean never updates with what city I am happen to be in and those are just 3 of the issues that are currently bothersome. If these few minor issues were my only problem I would be fine. The real problem I have is worse.

I have gadget envy and I’m not afraid to admit that. So imagine my utter disappointment when I heard that The Hero would ship not with the latest 1.6 software, but that we also have no idea when we will receive the 2.0 update especially now that Verizon customers are walking around with brand new Droid 2.0’s

OTAThis brings me to the subject of this post. If your not familiar with the term Over The Air basically it’s one way a service provider can provide updates to a handset that can bring new features, correct bugs in the software, or as Android fans know well enough-  introduce a whole new version of the current OS. It also might be the most seamless way to deliver this content to a handset as the other methods require the customer to do a little leg work.

Recently, David Owens, VP of Consumer Marketing with Sprint held a sort of fireside chat session with subscribers and the subject of Android was brought up multiple times, but in regards to our conversation here this exchange between Adam and Mr. Owens is what caught my eye and the rest of the Android loving sites.

AdamJaworski: Will the Android updates to 1.6 and 2.0 be over the air, or will I have to go into a store for the update?

David: Likely to be a wired update (due to size) but you will be able to do online at sprint.com.

This would be a mistake if Sprint or any other carrier decides to make customers either tether their phones to a computer to get a update or spend a hour in store waiting for the update. Especially when there are carriers that are not doing it that way (T-Mobile). Maybe because of the Sense UI Mr. Owens made the comment he did, but remember the question was open ended and not specific to the Hero. Lets take a look at another flagship phone Sprint carries, the Palm Pre. WebOS updates for that phone were made available to do OTA and their respective sizes were as follows:

  • 1.0.3  13 MB
  • 1.0.4  12 MB
  • 1.1     87 MB

So based on those downloads I’m assuming that whatever update is provided for the Hero for Sprint would have to be larger than 87MB right? And the Samsung Moment which is running straight Android with nothing on top… does this handset abide by this same rule?

According to the Palm Pre support website this is how the magic happens:

Background update delivery:

Once a system update becomes available, it downloads in the background over Wi-Fi when a Wi-Fi connection is available (and your phone is not in airplane mode).  If no Wi-Fi connection is available after 2 days, the download begins using a high-speed data connection when one is available.

So if the Palm Pre does not have Wi-Fi available it will use your high-speed data connection. I verified this with Alex Hunter Manager in Public Relations at Palm, his response was that the link to the support site stated the process correctly. So again whats the issue with Sprint giving updates OTAs to at least the Samsung Moment?

I’m trying to get in touch with someone at Sprint that will answer a few of these questions. If I get any answers at all I will post a update to let everyone know. Right now its all food for thought and fun to kick around for sure. Personally, I have my own ideas about the 2.0 update from Sprint and T-Mobile but I will hold that until Rob says I’m not fired for writing this first piece.

So why the big deal about OTA and why should you care? As a friend of mine Chris was explaining to me the other day when I mentioned this to him and I quote “If I give me wife my G1, and she had to sit down, plug it in to the computer, and then do some button punching to get a update to fix bugs or add features she would never do it. Period”  Do you see the problem? If that customer walks away from the Android/ and or Google Experience thinking it was lacking in a area, even if that area was fixed by a update that the customer never got there’s a good chance you may never get that customer back again to buy an Android phone, an HTC phone, or a Samsung, or whatever carrier or manufacturer has the hottest Android phone on the market at the moment.

If you want Android to be successful in the years to come (and I’m sure you do because you’re reading this), it’s an issue you should be worried about.  The fact is most of us (and lets be clear an US and THEM does exist)  that have been using Android are used to “plugging” in for lack of a better term. Most have moved from another platform where ROM updates and flashes were the norm.  What about Chris’ wife, though, who has no need or want to plug in?  She just wants her phone to work when she needs it too.  We have to remember that there are tons of other people that this phone needs to get in the hands of to be successful.  Carriers and Manufacturers would do good to keep this in mind and keep it as seamless as possible.

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  2. Great article. Please keep us informed if you learn any new info.

    I exchanged my Hero yesterday because it was collecting dust under the screen and there were 5 dead pixels. My new Hero has 9 dead pixels…and they are in a more annoying location.

    OTA or wired updates won’t fix the hardware issues. Yesterday was my last day on the Sprint 30 day return policy. Now I’m stuck. I’m sure I could complain enough and show my receipts for my future returns.

  3. I guess Tmobile with the G1 paid for OTA updates, HTC seemed to do the Hero in a bit more of a hurry.

    Who knows what Sprint updates are going to be like, but for the GSM Hero (eg on Orange or T-Mobile in the UK) the first software upgrades (from a 1.76 build to a 2.73 build) have required FULL WIPES of the phone. So any of your settings, apps that aren’t synced into the cloud are gone! Hopefully the upgrade path after the 2.73.xxx.xx builds will be somewhat less intrusive!

  4. I would much rather have htc hero with htc sense on 1.5 than android 1.6. So; that is a non issue for me.

    OTA; I dont have much energy on. Iphone updates are via teathered connection to itunes. Android so far is taking a similar approach.

    All Apps are OTA; and updates for the apps, which is what you are normally updating. Android is in its genesis period so I suspect the major OS updates will not be as close together as the product matures.

    I suspect that there are significant tech challenges for swapping out an OS over the wire. I have no problem connecting a usb cable to my phone to perform an update. I may be too geeky; but if you cant connect a usb cable; should you really be using a smartphone?

  5. Well done, Feech. I agree wholeheartedly. My wife is pining after the CLIQ but if the updates aren’t OTA I’ll be the one to update. She won’t even know if there’s an update available, much less how to get it.

  6. This poses a very good point. This definitely needs to be addressed. However, as I understand it, android is currently a more “geek centric” platform. If/when that android catches on like wild fire (soon I would imagine) they most certainly need to come up with a simplified version of the update process. Hell, even Blackberrys can OTA update.

  7. I feel your pain. I got the Hero on Oct 9 (first day it was available) and once I found out that the battery, SMS and other issues weren’t going to be resolved in a timely manner (wired or OTA) I decided to return the Hero and pick up a droid.

    It also occurred to me that any OS customications (HTC Sense or Sony’s Rachael) are going to cause a delay in getting new updates. I’d rather have something that can be updated regularly than add a tiny bit of functionality.

  8. I don’t see the big deal with installing the update with your computer. Windows mobile and iPhone users have been doing it this way for years. Personally I don’t like OTA updates. I’ll update when I want to update, not when the carrier deems it time to update. I’ve seen too many updates break things. I usually wait a week or so before doing an OS update on my computers, the same with my phones.

  9. My droid was freezing and crashing I returned it to Verizon and then did a Hard Reset and cleared the phone, within 3 hrs it was freezing and crashing then it bricked up on me and I had to battery pull to get it going. 1 hour later it froze again, I returned it and got a new one and it has been great…. NO problems! Still don’t know if it was app related or if it was bad memory in the phone. I guess we’ll see as time goes on.

  10. I don’t mind updating the OS over wire… I would be more worried about lack of updates…

  11. @Rob My phone has frozen only once. Last night I tried to change songs on Pandora and the phone crashed. It reset after a while. I kept holding down the power button then a minute later it reset. Dunno if I caused the reset.

  12. they could always send a text message to every account that has an android phone, to let the person know about the update. there would still be those that dont upgrade im sure, but as long as you notify the person, and give them a couple easy options to do so, it would get alot more people to do it than releasing it without any info about it and just let the “word” get around on its own about the update.

  13. I also purchased the Hero when it came out on Sprint. I switched from T-mobile who I’d been with for a long time (like 10 years) for it because it really is a great handset. But due to all the software glitches and the fact that the screen lets in dust…I returned it for the Droid. I wasn’t willing to bet a 2 year contract that Sprint would solve the issues in a timely manner. That’s a lot to ask of somebody who just spent a lot of money on a device they expect to be working at time of purchase. I know that devices all have problems initially, but having to use a work around to be able to text without draining your battery in half a day is a little rediculous.

  14. @TimWilso I’m on the SAME boat. Instead of the Droid I’m back with Tmo no contract until I find a phone AND a company worth staying with (for at least 2 years). I can’t believe they talked up the Hero so much to be the iPhone killer, and it’s no where close! sad sad sad

  15. I’m for a wired update solution. I want to wait a few days and see what the update did to your phone before I put it on mine…LOL!

    I do that with all software updates. I don’t want a poor update pushed to my phone without any way out of it. I lived with the horrible MR6 update that broke everything on my Instinct for over 2 months before they fixed it in MR7. Don’t want to do that again.

  16. @russell Yah it was a tough decision to jump to Verizon. I’ve had some pretty horrible experiences with them in the past with their fios services, so getting back in bed with them was not an easy choice. Not to mention they are more expensive than most. That was one reason I made the switch to Sprint in the 1st place was to save some money. That being said…Their 3G coverage has been excellent so far and quite fast. I knew the droid was gonna be awesome so I wasn’t worried about the device. I just think it’s gonna be easier to get updates on a stock Android device than something running HTC Sense. Sense looks amazing and is definitely eye candy, but didn’t work out well for me.

  17. I like the article. I’ve been wondering myself about 2.0 for my HERO. I also agree with Sense UI 1.5 over android 1.6 but we are an instant gratification society and we want it now… Sprint certainly Rocks the pricing plan war though… My nephew just got the HTC Eris and paid dearly for the extras in addition to his calling plan. Ha!Ha! (Nelson Muntz)…

  18. i live in an area with no cell coverage.

    my g-1 has updated over wifi every time.

    updates have arrived without anything but, the normal prompts.

    google doesn’t jerk around like telcos or cellcos.

  19. The fundamental problem with OTA updates on CDMA carriers (like Sprint and Verizon) is that running the WAN data connection cuts off the phone’s ability to place calls. This isn’t the carrier’s fault, it’s just a technical limitation of CDMA networks. While you could technically pull an over-the-air update via the network, updates that are big enough (say, >87MB?) would disable the phone for longer than the FCC-mandated maximum outage time for 911 calls (I believe this is 10 minutes). The Pre’s background-wifi option seems workable, but it would require the ability to “trickle” the update in over time since wifi connections aren’t assured. All told, simple USB updates seem like the most straightforward solution, and the one that gives the user the greatest degree of control.

  20. Hokay, so just read the 2 Phandroid posts newer than this one – mayhaps I stand corrected? Could Verizon have found a way around the FCC 911-blackout rule?

  21. Interesting post. I just have to say, please do some more editing before posting though. There were way too many “a’s” before a vowel instead of the word “an.” Also, there were missing commas, and a couple terrible run on sentences. I’m not usually one to point these things out, and I usually just overlook them in the name of faster stories being posted…but it seemed excessive, even to me.

    Great story otherwise.

  22. I disagree with the article.

    You give your wife a G1 and it makes calls, sends texts and she can pick some ringtone, she will be fine without ever having to update the phone. If she doesn’t plug it into a computer, she’s not geeky enough to care about new features.

    Does any windows mobile phone update windows from 6.1 to 6.5 OTA? No.

    Pointless. I have HTC Hero with Sense. The sense UI has a lot of the good features shared of 1.6 and 2.0. Plus HTC didn’t even have to promise us 2.0 or re-adaptation to 2.0 with sense but they are doing it anyway.

    My .02 “sense”

  23. Great article Feech, but don’t bother inquiring to Sprint about updates. A Sprint employee/mod on the Sprint forums http://community.sprint.com/baw/community/buzzaboutwireless/phones-and-devices/android_phones/hero has already issued a statement that it is Sprints official position “to not comment on upcoming updates”, This is an absolutely contemptuous and dispicable policy. Sprint, these problems are serious and needs to be addressed immediately! Paying customers need answers NOW!

  24. I fully agree with you here. Confusing “your” and “you’re” is a good way to annihilate your credibility as an author. Aside from the obvious grammar/spelling problem here, I suggest you read a book called “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser. That book helped me to do eliminate clutter, something that pervades your writing. Look at your first paragraph:

    “I wanted the first article I wrote for Phandroid to be something simple and quick. This is not that article and I’m sorry for that. But this is a subject that has been bothering me for the last 2 weeks or so. Why should you care you ask? That is simple enough to answer if you let me explain for a few minutes.”

    Sentence by sentence, you are saying “I want this to be short. This is not short. This is a subject that bothers me. You ask ‘Why does it bother you?’ I will answer.”

    Are any of those sentences really important to you? If those ideas *were* actually important to get across, you could have simply said that this subject is important to you, and you will explain why. That’s going from three sentences to one! But I maintain my view that the entire first paragraph was unnecessary.

    I apologize if my criticisms seem rude, they were not intended as such. I’m told I’m no good at constructively criticizing.

  25. I’m glad everyone on this site agrees wives/women/females are too incompetent to update their phone via a website.

    “Feech?” Your friend “Chris” needs a reality check.

  26. @d – I don’t see anywhere where the author made assumptions about any female other than “Chris’ wife”, who would probably freely admit she knows nothing about updating smartphone firmware via usb connection.

  27. Between At&t with my iPhone and T-Mobile with my Blackberry Curve I really don’t think tethered OS updating is that much out of the norm. Sure it’s annoying but I don’t think it’s unbearable. Sprint is trying to be more competitive in the market place, especially with plan pricing. So, with this in mind, I am willing to cut them some slack if they keep trying to improve their game.

  28. what do you mean when you say the hero lets dust in?

  29. Hey Breon

    How does the hero collect dust under the screen?

  30. I love htc SENSE omg i love it, WILL THE 2.0 Update keep the sense in it or will it be a whole new different OS

  31. True, the author can’t write. That’s what we get with these “free” websites that can’t afford real writers and editors. The bigger problem is that the author does not think clearly.

    Over-The-Air updates are the phone carrier’s choice. We are spoiled by the T-Mobile G1 which is all about Google and the cloud; the phone never needs to be plugged in except to charge the battery. Different phones on other carriers running custom versions of Android may or may not push updates OTA. Most don’t. If you want this feature, ask Sprint nicely–good luck with that!–or choose another phone or carrier.

    The larger issue here is how the phone carriers have us over a barrel with exclusive phones, restrictive contracts and least-of-evil plans. The phone industry is in dire need of change and I don’t see any of these fan sites speaking out for the consumer.

  32. How about the million dollar question……..it’s not how are they gonna get us our 2.0 update for your HTC Hero’s……The question should be WHEN!!!!

    They have the manpower with both companies working on it, im sure. They have the new OS in hand, probably months ago. They have the competition already using the new OS and touting it over and over (nice support for HTC from Sprint, huh). So the question is, who is twiddling their thumbs and dropping the ball? Is it HTC or is it Sprint? As a 15 year customer of Sprint, I’m guessing it’s Sprint. The new OS has been out long enough that I am sure HTC has already applied or done what they needed to for the SenseUI to work. Hell, I’m guessing they were working on it before the phones even shipped. I’m guessing they were working on 2.0 the whole time anticipating on skipping the whole 1.6 thing and because it wasnt 100% done, they threw it out on the market with the outdated 1.5. With that said, I guess it would be Sprint dragging their ass to release an update and FIX the outstanding issues with 1.5 that EVERYONE, not some, are experiencing. But then again, it wouldn’t shock me if the updates don’t come for another 3-6 months. That’s just how Sprint operates……LUCKY US huh?

  33. according to htc support, the patch was completed a while ago but sprint is now “testing” the patch to see if it’s ok to release.

  34. We talk about how people wouldn’t update if it had to be tethered but isn’t there a (slightly overhyped) phone out now in numerous countries where the only way to update it is to plug it in to a computer and perform the update? The (i)phone has done updates this way for years. And honestly (understanding that I’m a geek) the update to Donut (1.6) was the first OTA update I have waited to recieve (it snuck up on me). All the other updates I did manually using an SD Card. The process of updating using the SD Card is not hard and might be the best way for Sprint to handle it if they don’t want to adjust to OTA.

  35. You made a very good point, I have a Palm Pre, so I don’t need to worry about updates. But I also understand that others have been doing updates the “old fashion” way for a long while. I guess that Android been in many carriers and handsets makes it harder to make OTA’s available to all of them. Oh well, I tell you what, just get a Palm Pre and you’ll never look back!!!

  36. I haven’t had any hardware issues with the hero. The software bugs are minor or have a workaround. Motorola makes ugly phones. Sprint will release the update when they can. Verizon would be twice as expensive for the monthly plan anyway. I agree with above statements that plugin updates aren’t a big deal.for techies. Hopefully by the.time android is mainstream in a year they will have streamlined the process.

  37. Sprint probably wants to do the wired update so that it is easier for them to give us a bulky version of android with the extra junk they put on their phones. I am very disappointed about this because ideally the android updates should be available to dl ota through google and not through the carriers. The “universal” aspect of android is part of the reason why I purchased my moment and sprint is starting to take away from this. Google is very good about keeping their users happy and making everything convenient for them. It appears that most cell phone providers do the exact opposite.

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