Android This Week: Froyo Updates; Fragmentation Fights; Xoom Pricing

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After many months of waiting, owners of Samsung Galaxy S handsets in the U.S. are finally beginning to see a software update for Android 2.2, or Froyo. T-Mobile made the software available Friday and squashed rumors that Samsung was holding back the update to gain additional support money from carriers. Instead, the delay is due to Samsung turning over the code in late November and carriers testing or integrating their own branded apps between then and now.

Sprint has quickly followed T-Mobile with a tweet, saying the update for their version of the Galaxy S is coming soon as well. I’d expect Verizon’s Fascinate and AT&T’s Captivate will see the update within a few weeks, as Samsung likely turned the software over to the carriers at the same time. While this is good news in general, the execution of the update is less than desirable: instead of an over-the-air update, T-Mobile customers must download the software on a Windows computer (sorry OS X users!) and transfer it to their phone via a USB cable.

The topic of Android updates became a popular conversation early in the week with a debate on what percentage of Android phones are running the most current version of software vs iOS handsets that are up to date. Much of the discussion centers on the different approaches taken by Apple and Google: Apple’s minor versions often add far fewer features than Google’s minor versions. And as illustrated by the Android updates for Samsung handsets, Apple’s strategy of offering fewer handset models makes it easier to get iPhone owners up to date at roughly the same time. It would serve Google well to find ways to diminish the role of carriers in the future, which would reduce fragmentation issues.

On the Android tablet front, rumored pricing is starting to make the rounds, with Motorola’s Xoom tablet reportedly priced at $799.99, per information leaked to the Android Central blog. If true, that price likely represents an off-contract, unsubsidized price for the Motorola slate, which will initially use Verizon’s 3G data network, but will be upgradable for the operators 4G / LTE network after launch. Even with traditional subsidies then, the Xoom could end up costing more than a comparably equipped iPad, which currently isn’t subsidized, making Xoom a tough sell. Neither Verizon nor Motorola have commented on the price leaks, so this story is likely far from over.

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