Google updates Android on Nexus phones, Xoom tablets

UpdatedGoogle is in the process of rolling out Android 4.0.4, the latest version of its mobile platform, to several devices. The GSM models of the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus S handsets as well as Motorola’s(s mmi) Wi-Fi Xoom tablet will all see the software delivered over the air as a result. Google(s goog) says it will “be rolling it out to more devices in the coming weeks.”

For Galaxy Nexus owners, the update is marginal because these devices have been running Android 4.0 since they launched. Faster screen rotation and and improved camera interface are likely the only noticeable changes. But for those that own a Nexus S phone or Xoom tablet, this will be the first taste of the software known as Ice Cream Sandwich. (Update: As noted by some astute commenters below, the CDMA/LTE versions of these devices don’t have ICS; the GSM Nexus S and WiFi Xoom in some regions received Android 4.0.3 prior) My own use of Android 4.0 on both phones and tablets shows a more intuitive and refined interface that is a vast improvement over the prior version of Android.

One other quick note: I purchased an unlocked Galaxy Nexus overseas and use it in the U.S. on both T-Mobile’s and AT&T’s(s t) HSPA+ networks. This model is getting the update, but Verizon’s(s vz)(s vod) Galaxy Nexus with LTE is not part of this update wave. It’s more likely that Verizon itself will provide an Android update for two reasons: Carriers typically offer updates for the devices they sell and because there’s CDMA-specific bits in the software.

This is where the vast array of hardware running Google’s software rears its ugly head. The same devices on different networks can have different software, user interfaces, apps and features. Because I tend to buy Nexus devices or install my own custom ROMs — I’ve been running Android 4.0.4 for weeks already — I’m generally not impacted.

But for the few hundred million other Android device owners out there, this frustrating situation isn’t getting any better. At last check, only 1.6 percent of all Android devices run Android 4.0 software. Compare that to the estimated 61 percent of iOS devices updating to version 5.1 within 15 days, according to one iOS(s aapl) developer. Simplicity can sometimes be boring, but at least you know what to expect.