Christy Wyatt, senior vice president and general manager of Motorola's Enterprise Business Unit, says it isn't smartphone manufacturers slowing down upgrades to Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" by customizing the OS -- it's the hardware. Or rather, it's Google developing the 4th-generation Android OS using Google's Nexus platform, and then having to write code that supports all other hardware afterwards.
"When Google does a release of the software ... they do a version of the software for whatever phone they just shipped," she said. "The rest of the ecosystem doesn't see it until you see it. Hardware is by far the long pole in the tent, with multiple chipsets and multiple radio bands for multiple countries. It's a big machine to churn."
But even after Google gets the hardware support under control, consumers still have to wait for Motorola, Sony and other smartphone makers to layer on their custom software (read: bloatware). After that, the upgraded phones must be re-certified by the carriers (carrier bloatware is typically installed with the manufacturer bloatware).
Because of this process, it's extremely difficult to provide a definitive release date. To make matters worse, some manufacturers work with more chipsets and carriers than others. As PC Magazine points out, Sony promised the delivery of ICS a while back, but hasn't launched the upgrade yet even though it deals with far less chipsets and far less carriers than Motorola.
"I would have to know that every single operator I have is going to want to upgrade every single product, and sometimes they'll want to control the timing ... it's just not easy to make that blanket statement," Wyatt said.
But Wyatt points out that Motorola on many occasions came out as the fastest to get an upgrade out to market. The company doesn't even run stock Android, adding 3LM device-management software and enterprise security options. To get the upgrades out to consumers as quick as possible, Motorola prepares a lot of its code in advance.
Wyatt goes on to talk about how the company looks forward to ICS, which can be read here.