The Galaxy S4's Key Lime Pie problem

Samsung's latest flagship will have the newest version of Android -- for about two months.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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  • SABEW Best in Business 2011 Award for Breaking News Coverage, Eddie Award in 2020 for 5G coverage, runner-up National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award for culture analysis.
Roger Cheng
2 min read
Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Electronics' latest will run Android 4.2.2, also known asJelly Bean. Sarah Tew/CNET

The new Galaxy S4 features cutting edge hardware.

Too bad its operating system will be out of date about four weeks after the phone hits store shelves.

Samsung Electronics' latest phone, which will debut in April at the earliest, will run Android 4.2.2, also known as Jelly Bean. It's also the latest version of Android -- for now.

The problem is another version of Android, widely believed to be called Key Lime Pie, will likely make its debut at Google's I/O developer conference in May.

Meet the stunning Samsung Galaxy S4 (pictures)

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With the first carriers expected to get the Galaxy S4 in April, Samsung has a limited window before its best phone is running software that's no longer the latest and greatest.

Samsung's dilemma underscores the broader problem that Android handset manufacturers face with Google: slow access to the latest version of the mobile operating system.

In its defense, Samsung has had a fairly decent track record when it comes to keeping its phones updated. But a constant complaint by users of all phones has been the slow rollout of different versions of Android.

For instance, the difference between when a Nexus device gets an update and when an HTC or Samsung phone can often be dramatic.

In situations like the Galaxy S4, where another version of Android is likely just around the corner, the lack of vendor control can be glaring.

Android updates are complicated by the relationship between the handset vendor, Google, and the carriers. The handset vendor has to wait for Google to release the code. The vendor in turn has to take that code and integrate it into its customized version of Android -- in Samsung's case TouchWiz -- which can take time. Finally, the altered version of Android has to be submitted to the carriers, which can take their time when it comes to approval and roll out.

It's likely the cause of some of the perceived tension between Google and Samsung. While Google has called Samsung a threat, Samsung has been working on another operating system, Tizen, as a potential alternative to Android. While Tizen is open to a number of players, its development is under the direction of Samsung and Intel.

For now, Android remains dominant, and Samsung will stick with the operating system. Samsung executives have maintained that there is a relationship built on respect between the two companies, while Google has said that it is committed to being open.

And smartphones like the Galaxy S4 will continue to suffer from Android envy just weeks after they launch.

Watch this: Introducing Samsung's Galaxy S4