Friday, October 28, 2011

ICS for Galaxy Nexus & Nexus-S, but not Nexus One

Google's new flagship phone is likely to be on the shelves in three weeks with a date of the 17th of November pitched for the release of the Galaxy Nexus [Telegraph].

The Samsung made device, dubbed the Nexus Prime before its unveiling earlier this month, will be the first Android phone with Ice Cream Sandwich [ICS] which is set to close the gap between tablets and phones running the Android operating system [Google: Galaxy Nexus / video: Introduction to Galaxy Nexus / Galaxy Nexus unveiling].

There was talk that other Android devices were to get an Over The Air [OTA] update to Android 4.0, but many owners will be disappointed.

No Ice Cream Sandwich for Nexus One

It has been decided by the search engine giant that some devices, including the much lauded Nexus One, made by HTC, is too old to receive the software update.

Google launched the Nexus One in January 2010 but users of the device have felt increasingly abandoned by Google. The Nexus One's support forum closed on 1st of November last year, soon after the launch of the Nexus-S, made by Samsung. And users of the Nexus One had to wait months before they received the OTA update of Gingerbread or Android 2.3.4. 

While mostly cosmetic the update did bring some improvements to the keyboard and copy/paste functions. Other improvements were mostly under the hood and may not have been seen by most users.

But fans of the first proper Google phone will be disappointed to learn they will not get the upgrade to Android 4.0 or ICS. In many respects this will not be an issue since much of the functionality of ICS would be lost on older devices.

Technological advances

ICS allows for facial recognition, which may be employed to unlock the device. However the Nexus One does not have a front facing camera, making such a facility somewhat redundant. The ease of video calling is also lost on the Nexus One for the same reason.

There is better integration of Near Field Communication [NFC] technology in ICS. Again the Nexus One loses out since it has no inbuilt NFC chip. NFC allows contact-less payment using Google Wallet and may also facilitate the reading of NFC chips deployed in museums or on retail displays to obtain more information or an audio or video presentation. NFC can also be used to share a contact, photo, song, application, or video or even pair Bluetooth devices.

So far there are few devices incorporating this new technology, and it has to be said Google Wallet would be of little use outside the US at present since it has yet to be adopted by retailers beyond American borders. The Samsung built Nexus-S was the first mobile phone to have an NFC chip, and is set to receive the ICS OTA update. But for early adopters of Android they are stuck with Gingerbread, Froyo or in some cases Eclair [Android version history]. 

There are a few users with even older versions of Android and will perhaps feel even more out in the cold. As of August 2001 most Android phone owners were using the older Froyo [Android 2.2] amounting to a little over 45% while Gingerbread [Android 2.3.x] users accounted for around 38%. Eclair [Android 2.0] is still used by a significant number of people with some 12% of devices using the software. And according to one site there are a few, admittedly a tiny minority, still stuck on the earliest versions of Android, Cupcake [Android 1.5] and Donut [Android 1.6].

To upgrade or not

There is no doubt the new Galaxy Nexus will provide a fantastic user experience. It compares favourably with the iPhone 4s and even excels in many aspects [].

But is it worth upgrading, and ditching a device that otherwise works? For those holding older devices still running on Froyo or earlier operating systems, the advantages are clear. But for those with newer, smarter phones there are difficult choices.

Many people take a phone on contract, often getting the device for 'free'. However such contracts may be long, from 18 to 24 months. A free upgrade may still be some months away for some Nexus One users and even longer for those possessing the Nexus-S.

Then there are all those accessories which may need to be purchased once again. In the case of the Nexus one there was a very stylish car dock which retailed at some $55 as well as a desk top charger. Neither the Nexus-S nor the Galaxy Nexus will fit in these custom made devices, thus any upgrade would resign such objects to an ever growing garbage bin of redundant electronic paraphernalia.

Environmental considerations

In the last 20 years there have been major advances in mobile communications, but it has come at a cost, not only to the consumer, but also to the environment. Since obtaining the first digital mobile phone to hit the UK market in 1994, tvnewswatch has accumulated eleven different mobile phones, and their associated chargers, in-car chargers, data cables etc. With millions of mobile phone users around the world, recycling and disposal of such devices, especially the batteries and the rare earth elements that are used in the electronic components, is proving to be a major problem.

Google is not solely to blame. All technology manufacturers are partly culpable in enticing the consumer to constantly upgrade and dispose of otherwise working items.

Approximately 15 million mobile phones are replaced every year in the UK alone with the average consumer replacing his or her mobile phone every 18 months. Dumping mobiles in conventional landfill sites or incinerators can be extremely hazardous to the environment. Many contain toxic substances, including arsenic, antimony, beryllium, cadmium, copper, zinc, and brominated flame retardants which can be released into the air and groundwater when burned or disposed of in landfills, creates threats to human health and the environment

Batteries often contain cadmium or lead, both probable human carcinogens and toxic to wildlife. Such substances can easily pass through the food chain to the liver, and can cause kidney damage and even death at high exposure.


There are options to help reduce the effect on the environment. Envirofone and Fonebank are just two enterprises which pay money for old phones which they recycle, though disposing of very old devices may be an issue.

Many charities will take old devices, including Amnesty International, Trees for Cities or Oxfam. And some companies including Apple will also take your old mobile or iPod and recycle it for you, free of charge.

For many mobile phone users upgrading to the latest device is not necessarily an issue. As long as their device works and does what they want it too, that is enough. For technophiles having, or not having, the latest advance in technology is more of an issue. So too is the rising cost, both of the device and the monthly tariffs.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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