In my time writing for Android Bugle, I've tried to keep the tone of the articles as neutral as possible. Although sometimes, it's nice to step out and voice a strong opinion. In this case, the topic at hand is the HTC One X. This article was a few days in the works but has been retooled in the light of news that the One X's support would stop at Android 4.2 for non-Canadian users and worse at Android 4.1 for Canadian users. The fact that buyers of the Rogers/TELUS HTC One X are abandoned is simply unacceptable, especially for a company like HTC that is in financial turbulence.
My reasons for choosing the HTC One X
I believe that before we examine the woes of the 2012 HTC flagship it would be appropriate to give a little bit of background as to why I chose the HTC One X as my personal device. In the summer of 2012, I had decided to finally retire my trusty HTC Magic. My choices were narrowed down to the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III. Ultimately, there were several factors that pushed me towards the One X.
The first reason was the breathtaking display. With the One X, HTC employed their then latest Super LCD 2 display which boasted brightness, sharpness, color accuracy and viewing angles never previously seen on any smartphone. The second reason was the matte polycarbonate build which to this day is just about as stunning as on the first day I bought the One X. The last reason was that I was already accustomed to Sense UI using a HTC Magic and figured the natural progression would be a better fit.
These reasons were enough for me to overlook the advantages of the Galaxy S III like the removable battery and microSD card support. So I ended up with the Rogers HTC One X as it was still a Rogers exclusive at the time.
Canada / HTC Android Upgrade History
Having already owned an HTC Magic, I had already experienced support disappointment when in 2009 Rogers and HTC had both stated that the Magic was going to stay on Android 1.5. In a statement by HTC, they said that:
HTC is not currently planning any Android 1.6 upgrades for Rogers Dream or Magic. Android 1.6 was only made available for “Google”-branded devices such as the G1. It is not available for HTC-branded products such as the Dream or Magic, which use Android 1.5. We believe that Android 1.5 is a stable and reliable software platform that delivers a terrific user experience.
Of course this ultimately was overturned thanks to hard work from unhappy Canadians like Puleen Patel (@puleen) and Michael Schmidt (@mjsoctober) leading HTC and Rogers to work out an agreement for the HTC Magic to get an update to not only Sense UI but also a future update to Android 2.1. Chances are this time around that this will not happen.
This "update debacle" was probably (and this is purely speculation) the reason for the lack of an HTC device on Rogers for the following two years since both HTC and Rogers came out looking bad.
Sadly this isn't the only occurrence of capable HTC devices never getting Android updates. On Rogers, the EVO 3D and Raider 4G both had support dropped at Android 4.0. The TELUS Amaze 4G and Bell Sensation 4G were also stranded at Android 4.0 (but more on those later). To the south, our US friends haven't been immune either with the T-Mobile's Amaze 4G and Sensation, Verizon's HTC Rezound, Sprint's EVO 3D and AT&T's Vivid are all also stuck on Android 4.0.
Why are these devices being "abandoned"?
There has been a lot of speculation and discussion as to why the One X as well as the aforementioned devices have not seen and will not see, in the case of the One X, any further updates.
The most prominent answer is that it's simply business. HTC makes money on handsets being moved while carriers make money when contracts are renewed. While this is a pretty cynical way to see things it is likely an important factor.
One possible "business decision", at least in the HTC One X's case, is that the userbase isn't large enough to warrant an update. With the One X not being as big a hit as anticipated, updates might not have been as demanded.
Another possible reason is the potential backlash from users who were accustomed to HTC Sense 4 being thrust into the drastic changes of HTC Sense 5. Here we concede that it would be trouble for some less experienced users and this was the case for some Telstra HTC One X owners in Australia.
The last reason is technical limitations. While it's easy to assume that a Dual Core CPU should be enough to run newer versions of Android, the fact is that if you looked at HTC's update infograph, the SoC manufacturer that makes the processor for the handsets also needs to provide the necessary software support (new BSP or Boards Support Package) for updates to be possible.
In the case of the Sensation, Raider/Vivid, Amaze 4G, Rezound, and even some variants of the One S, Qualcomm didn't provide the updated BSPs for updates past Android 4.1. In the case of the One S with Snapdragon S3s they got their final supported version but the Sensation, Raider/Vivid, Amaze 4G and Rezound all got the shaft despite similarly equipped Samsung Galaxy S IIs getting at least Android 4.1.
In the case of the One X, it seems that HTC's decision to make a Tegra 3 and Qualcomm S4 Plus variant was a decision that was ultimately a mistake. Nvidia had decided against releasing a Tegra 3 (AP30/AP33) BSP for Android 4.3 or 4.4. This means that while the Tegra 3 (T30) equipped Nexus 7 got an upgrade to Android 4.4, the Tegra 3 (AP33) equipped One X and One X+ would be left out.
Not unlike the move by HTC not to update the Qualcomm S4 version of the One S because the S3 variant didn't have an updated BSP, HTC looks like its unwilling to only update part of its One X lineup leaving S4 equipped One X's without an update due to the Tegra variants not getting an updated BSP. And to make things even more ambiguous, the Canadian versions of the One X never even got Android 4.2.2 the final version supported by the One X and will not get any further updates.
Why the reasons above aren't good enough
First off to address the last part of the previous section, it is absolutely unacceptable that the HTC One XL, identical in hardware to the One X in Canada, be updated to Android 4.2.2 while the Canadian version is left at Android 4.1. I mean even the AT&T version is getting the 4.2.2 update at some point! This is very reminiscent of the HTC Magic debacle where international variants of the HTC Magic (even some with less RAM!) were getting updates to Android 1.6 while the Canadian Magic was to stay on 1.5.
When it comes to the "business" decisions, customer loyalty and satisfaction is a tremendously important part of growing business and ensuring a secure future (something HTC is trying to get back to). Providing updates might not be profitable in the short run, but pissing off your most vocal customers most certainly hurts and is definitely not profitable in the long run. Even if the One X might have sold poorly, those could be more customers who decide against buying HTC again. While I can't say that this is the sole or even the main reason for HTC's problems, it certainly isn't helping.
Lastly, when it comes to the technical hurdles, we do wish that some pressure was put on Nvidia to keep supporting the AP33 Tegra 3. While HTC doesn't have the negotiating power of a Samsung or Apple, it has to make sure that future arrangements with SoC manufacturers at least outline support for the guaranteed 18 months after release of the device. Frankly for a company in its position, I'm surprised they didn't fight harder for Nvidia to deliver an updated BSP for the Tegra 3.
If there is no perceivable technical hurdle, be proactive with updates. We are still perplexed that the Sensation, Raider/Vivid, Amaze 4G and Rezound all missed out on at least getting Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Back in the Rogers HTC Magic upgrade saga, HTC had stated that a carrier has to request an update for them to take action and if the aforementioned phones are being abandoned for this reason, that is really saddening.
I also have to object to the idea that because one subset of users can't get the upgrade that all users should be penalized. I didn't agree with it when it occurred on the HTC One S and it's quite sad that this has happened yet again. The idea of pissing off only one subset (Qualcomm S4 owners) of users seems a hell of a lot better than pissing off the entire set of users.
Final thoughts and what happens now?
While my personal experience is with Rogers, this segment can be addressed to any carrier with which updates never were delivered yet were pushed on other networks in the world.
First off, your most vocal and enthusiast customers want updates on their Android devices. They are often locking themselves into long term contracts (three in the case of the One X) and support for the device through the contract length isn't something that should be too much to ask for. When your most hardcore customers get pissed off, they will let other people know about it.
Lastly, improve transparency with your customers. You've done pretty well in keeping customers in the loop, but when a device gets support dropped it simply is written off as if it didn't exist. Adding granularity to how far the update process would go so much farther than "Coming Soon" or "Early February".
If the debacle with the One X has shown you anything is that you need to be more assertive with SoCs that they need to support their chips with BSP for at least 18 months. This would avoid situations like the ones with the One X and One S. I hope this is already something that was acknowledged in the making of the One.
With the good track record you've shown so far with the One, people have been very responsive to the quick turn around and enthusiasts are taking note and are happy. Keep it going and please above all, keep pushing updates with the same level of dedications, ESPECIALLY after you launch the next HTC flagship device.
Lastly be assertive and push carriers to want to keep your legacy phones as up to date as possible. There is absolutely no excuse for the Canadian version of the One X to remain at Android 4.1 when every other version will hit 4.2.2.
Choice for next upgrade
If you've gotten this far in the editorial, I sincerely appreciate that you got this far. Many will think, for someone who wants updates so bad he should have gone with a Nexus device. In a way those people are correct. When I made the choice of the One X, the Galaxy Nexus was the Nexus of choice and there simply was too many compromises (LTE, Camera quality, etc.) about it that made the One X a better choice for me. So what does that mean for the my next upgrade?
I could go with HTC again, but after being fooled twice by mishandled updates there are a few conditions that will need to be met. For one, if I were to give HTC yet another chance, it will not be through a carrier branded device.
It's clear to me that there are too many hands in the pot when it comes to a phone purchased from a carrier. If history is any indication, HTC should be able to keep the Google Play edition and Developer editions of the One updated with the latest versions of Android rather quickly.
If I decide against getting an HTC device again, there are two main considerations. If I am not willing to go the Nexus route again, I would probably choose a Samsung. If there a yet another aspect that Samsung has been quite good at in the past few years its keeping their phones up to date.
The now 3 year old Samsung Galaxy S II (and several variants) were updated to Android 4.1 that's an update path of 2.3 -> 4.0 -> 4.1 which is pretty good and the Galaxy S III has gone from 4.0 -> 4.1 -> 4.2 -> 4.3 with a planned update to 4.4 which is quite the feat in the Android world. If I had to choose the top OEM for non-Nexus Android updates today that honor has to go to Samsung.
Of course the obvious choice would be to go with a Nexus device, and seeing how good the Nexus 5 is it should be out of the question either. Nexus devices will undoubtedly remain the gold standard for being on the bleeding edge of Android innovation. If they can iron out the less than stellar camera quality and improve battery life to the point where it's an afterthought my money would go to a Nexus.
At the end of the day, the HTC One X owners are getting, for the lack of a better phrase, screwed over. This is especially true for Canadian owners, however few and far in between they might be, we didn't deserve this fate for support a company that needed the support.