Last week HTC infuriated the community with an announcement that they won’t provide an update to Android 4 ?Ice Cream Sandwich? (ICS) for the popular Desire HD smartphone. This comes half a year after the announcement that the phone would receive an update to Android 4 in the July-August time frame. The anger of the community culminated in a petition, urging HTC to provide an update to ICS.
Officially HTC claims that the ICS update doesn’t provide an improvement of the user experience and thus the company decided to let the Desire HD stick with Android 2.3 ‘Gingerbread’. The statement in the company blog reads, "After extensive testing, we?ve determined that the current version of HTC Sense with Android provides customers with the best experience on the HTC Desire HD. When we consider new versions of software, we weigh a number of factors, but ultimately the customer experience on the product is the deciding factor. We apologize for any confusion this change may have caused our customers."
From a technical standpoint, the reasoning of HTC is not founded in truth, considering that they have already provided an ICS update for the Incredible S and are still committed to offer such an update for the Desire S. Both the Incredible S and Desire S are based on the same Qualcomm MSM8255 SoC clocked at 1GHz featuring a Adreno 205 GPU, like the Desire HD. All of these phones are also equally equipped with 768MB of RAM. In terms of flash storage, the Desire HD even eclipses the other newer models with 1.5GB vs 1.1GB. All of these phones also feature the same screen resolution of 800×480 (WVGA).
So, long story short, if ICS does not provide a good user experience on the Desire HD, it should not do so on the other phones based on, more or less, the same hardware. Indeed some users have posted mixed experiences with the update on the Incredible S, with the most common problems being faster battery drain or lack of certain features they have become accustomed to.
Just for comparison, the old flagship phone Nexus S is equipped with a similar 1GHz Corex A8 based SoC from Samsung with a different PowerVR GPU and only 512MB of RAM. Still Google didn’t even think twice to offer OS updates. It should be noted that the Google phone does not come with HTC’s UI addition Sense, which adds a lot of eye candy and UI features as well as memory usage, but is considered as bloated by some users.
As for the real reasons, there run wild speculations in various forums. One of the more plausible ones is that the vendor wants to save themselves the hassle of network operator validation. For the Desire HD, which was available from a wide range of operators around the world, rolling out an update would mean a lot of additional testing effort. Something the company might not be willing to spend money on for a product considered to be old in the world of smartphones.
There are already a lot of community provided Custom ROMs available that prove that the Desire HD indeed can run Android 4 without a hassle. However, the problem with such community developed ROMs is that in some cases you have to give up some functionality. Also, the update process is something that can’t be recommended to everyone. To get started you would need to root your phone. The worst case scenario is that you could brick your phone, so if you dare to go that route, carefully read all of the instructions in forums such as xda-developers.