Friday, 13 December 2013

The Moto G, And Updating Without New Firmware

It's widely recognised that Motorola, now owned by Google, have created the best value-for-money phone this year in the Moto G. I managed to get hold of the 16GB model from Tesco in the UK for £81! It retails for £129 normally, but Clubcard vouchers brought that down, and with a £2 SIM unlock from eBay, it is comfortably amazing value for £83 all-in. However, in the week since I've had the device, it's something less obvious which has surprised and impressed me.

The first was on 9th December 2013, when the list of apps with updates in the Play Store included "Motorola Boot Services". Whilst the update description merely said "Enhancements to the power-up experience", the update actually changed the initial boot-up animation to a Winter-themed one. I've meddled with boot-up audio and animations before on other devices, but that required you to have root, as it would mean replacing protected system files. Motorola have however built the Moto G firmware such that a Play Store app is able to modify these system files. A new boot animation capability isn't going to change the world, but it's something I've not seen any other Android manufacturers put into their devices, and is a nice touch and something different from Motorola, as well as a pretty clever idea. I also love that the boot animation app package is called moodles! (com.motorola.moodles)

The second was yesterday, 12th December 2013, when another Play Store update caught my eye, "Motorola Camera". The LG Nexus 5 launched with Android 4.4, and was updated recently with new firmware images to 4.4.1 and 4.4.2. Whilst the 4.4.2 update's change log was slightly shrouded in mystery, the 4.4.1 update definitely contained camera app improvements. This is great for the Nexus 5 owners, however, the clever thing Motorola have done by siphoning off the camera app into a Play Store updatable package, is to allow updates to the camera app without touching the entire phone's firmware. That means much less hassle getting the firmware updates tested, regression tested against existing functionality, and then getting it approved and tested by networks/carriers around the world.

A look at Motorola's entries in the Play Store (below) shows there are quite a few apps which can update via the Play Store, including the FM Radio, the Migrate app, the Assist app, the SMARTACTIONS app... All of these can be updated without the need for the lengthy process of building, testing and network/carrier approving a new firmware. Google Play Services was updated at Google I/O this year which allows core APIs, services and apps to be updated by Google without manufacturers releasing new firmware as well. Google have also started to release other apps into the Play Store such as Calendar and more recently Keyboard, and the likes of GMail, Maps and YouTube were already updatable through the Play Store, so all your core Google apps are updatable without firmware updates too.

The sum of all of this is that whilst the Android version problem is not getting any better, the version problem itself is in fact becoming less and less of an issue. Getting those version updates for your non-Nexus phone, give or take the highly popular devices like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One, is slow due to development time and network/carrier approval process. Or for many other devices updates never happen at all! Now however there is an argument that you're not missing out on a huge amount if you're not running the latest point release of Android, given all the other software components can be updated outside of firmware updates, and especially if you have a Moto G of course!