Android 6.0 Marshmallow Gives iOS Users a Reason for Jealousy

I’ve been using Apple computers since an Apple II+ in 1979, followed by a Mac Plus (upgraded from a 128K) in 1986, so when it came time to buy a smartphone, I looked no further than the iPhone. But the next version of Android sounds mighty tempting.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow

Ars Technica does some of the finest work dissecting operating systems and presenting their findings in as many words as it takes. Ars’ reviews of early versions of Mac OS X, for instance, are some of the best overviews you will find.

Android 6.0 Marshmallow home screenThis week Ars took on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the 23rd iteration of Google’s mobile operating system. You can’t do any better than reading the article yourself, but give yourself plenty of time. Ars doesn’t do anything halfway.

You’ll see the word redesigned a lot in Ars’ thorough review, and as someone who doesn’t use Android, I’ll have to take their word for it. I do know that most of the people I work with use Android phones from a wide range of manufacturers, and they’re mostly pleased with them.

The Internal Memory Problem Resolved

The biggest complaint is that some low-end (you know the ones, “free” with contract) Android phones just don’t have a lot of built-in memory. Sure, you can store photos and music and stuff on a Micro SD card, but you can’t run apps that way. They have to be stored in internal memory, and when that’s all used up, you have to delete and app to make room for the updated version.

Painful – and about to come to an end for Android devices that will be able to run Marshmallow. With Android 6.0, you’ll be able to use a USB drive or SD card as “adoptable storage”. When using this as adoptable storage, you can no longer remove the storage device without causing real problems for yourself.

What Marshmallow does is reformat “adoptable” the SD card or USB drive as a Linux Ext4 partition instead of its default VFAT file system, which lets the Android device treat it as internal memory. Android users who have been frustrated by limited amounts of built-in memory will be able to expand easily and inexpensively with a Micro SD card.

The only real drawback is that you can no longer eject the adopted drive and swap in a run-of-the-mill portable SD card – unless manufacturers decide to adopt a second memory card slot.

As an iPhone owner constantly running up against the 16 GB limit of my iPhone 4S, I wish I had a way to easily upgrade storage. But Apple would rather sell me a newer phone, so they provide no memory upgrade option. Your iDevice has whatever amount of memory it was built with. Period.

The Catch 22: Installing Marshmallow

Apple has a great little ecosystem of iOS devices. Every iPhone since the 4S can run iOS 9, every iPad after the first one can run iOS 9, and recent iPod touches can as well. Apple may have to support a couple dozen models with any version of iOS.

Not so Android. According to Ars, there are more than 24,000 different Android models out there from a wide number of manufacturers. And Google doesn’t make Android available for any device besides its Nexus line.

It’s up to manufacturers to decide if and when they compile Android 6.0 for existing smartphones. Some will have it available before the end of the year, some will get it next year, and a lot of devices will never have it at all.

Google says that over 1 billion devices have Android installed, yet most of them will never get Marshmallow because their manufacturers aren’t willing to invest the resources to support phones and tablets they sold years ago. They’ll cover devices from the past year or two at most, and often only the more expensive ones at that.

Then there’s the question of whether your hardware can even support it. Android 5.1 Lollipop can run on a device with 512 MB of system memory, if the screen resolution is low enough, or it may require 1.8 GB if you have a very high resolution display. Marshmallow probably wants even more. (This is system memory, not storage memory, so it won’t benefit from adoptable storage.)

The problem with Android system updates is Google’s model of developing the operating system but only making it available on its own Nexus branded gear. For anything else, the manufacturer has to invest time and money into compiling the latest version of Android for each of its unique configurations.

What the Android world needs is something like iOS 9, which is smart enough to only install the parts of the operating system that will function on your iDevice. If Google could develop a way to intelligently install Android on any device, Android users wouldn’t have to wait on their manufacturer for an update – or to decide that your device isn’t worth the update.

Android Works

Android is a very real alternative to iOS, but the convoluted update path puts hardware owners at the mercy of the manufacturer of their phone or tablet. If Google could work around that, a lot more Android users would update to the newest version – and then many will probably decide they want a more powerful phone anyway.

With adoptable storage, there’s even more incentive to compile Marshmallow for older phones and tablets. Let’s hope manufacturers realize it, and that customers will return to a brand that has treated them right.

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