Want Android 4.0 on your phone? Move from the U.S.

Four months after the introduction of Google Android 4.0(s goog), handset makers are starting to update older phones. The software version, known as Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), currently ships on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus in the U.S. on Verizon’s(s vz) network; all other Android phones run on the older Gingerbread, or Android 2.3. Samsung and Motorola(s mmi) recently announced upgrade plans, and the U.S. is low on both lists.

On Tuesday, Samsung made good on a prior promise to deliver Android 4.0 sometime in March. ICS for the Galaxy SII handset, Samsung’s top seller to date, is now available in Poland, Hungary, Sweden and Korea. The company says other markets should expect a gradual rollout but offers no specifics as to which markets are next. Additionally, Samsung says the next devices to see the update will be the Galaxy Note and Galaxy SII LTE smartphones along with the Galaxy Tab 8.9 and 10.1 tablets.

A few weeks ago, Motorola created a web page to explain the Android upgrade status for all of its devices, along with the four phases used to delivery the software updates. According to that web page, I found, via the Android Guys blog, that the Atrix 4G, Atrix 2 and Photon 4G are the only U.S.-based handsets currently in “Development,” or the second stage. All other phones — the Razr, Razr Maxx, Droid 4 and Bionic — are still in the first stage, sadly dubbed “Evaluation and Planning”. The international version of the Razr, however, is already in development.

I find this approach odd. (And just to cut off any questions of bias, since I am based in the U.S., the topic doesn’t affect me since I bought a Galaxy Nexus with Android 4.0 in November.) In terms of smartphone penetration, the U.S. is among the highest in the world, meaning a large percentage of our population has a smartphone, many of which are Android powered. Wouldn’t these companies get the most “bang for the buck” with U.S. updates?

Perhaps the reason for the lack of U.S.-focus has to do with our carriers. My colleague Kevin Fitchard suggested that it may take the handset makers longer to build the updates for U.S. phones because of the carrier software that requires integration. That sounds plausible, if not disappointing. I’ll have to rely on our overseas readers to tell me whether or not carriers there include their own software on handsets.

Could it be the vast array of hardware options that is holding up the software upgrades? That’s what a Motorola exec recently suggested, and while I see merit in that argument, it doesn’t explain why overseas models are getting upgrades prior to U.S. models. The same hardware components are generally used and aren’t specific to different countries, except in the case of different network technologies. Maybe it’s the U.S.’s move to LTE? Again, that’s doubtful, in my opinion.

For now then, there will be few changes for devices in the U.S., unfortunately — although HTC Sensation owners can take some solace as their update is due out this month. The rest of us will just have to move to Europe, Asia or some other country!