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When will you get a Gingerbread update?

Even though Google's released the Gingerbread SDK, it may be awhile before you see updates to your Android smartphone.

Gingerbread Android 2.3 icon

We can't blame you for getting excited about Google's official Gingerbread announcement--also known as Android 2.3--and all it contains. That said, we wouldn't hold our breath over seeing an Android 2.3 update immediately pop up.

Yes, purchasers of the Google Nexus S will be the first to use the Gingerbread OS update--it'll be available at Best Buy stores in the U.S. starting December 16 and from Carphone Warehouse in the U.K. on December 20. (The Samsung-made Nexus S will cost $529 or with a two-year contract with T-Mobile for $199.)

Everyone else will have to submit to the same waiting game we play with each Android update.

Why? Part of the open-source deal you get with Android is that after releasing its software kits for developers and codes, Google deliberately backs away. After that, it's up to cell phone manufacturers to determine which handsets they want to upgrade, test them for compatibility with the new OS, and then work with mobile phone carriers to push out over-the-air updates.

Manufacturer skins like Samsung's TouchWhiz, HTC's Sense, and Motorola's MotoBlur and Droid interfaces also add an extra layer of complexity that can delay OS updates while engineers test and tailor code. (As with the Nexus One before it, the Nexus S will contain a stock Android interface without any additional skins.)

That said, we can expect to twiddle our thumbs for weeks or months for the first over-the-air updates to emerge for other Android handsets. Considering that most of the Samsung Galaxy S series phones are still awaiting the Android 2.2 Froyo release, the Gingerbread's arrival could be equally slow in coming for existing Android users.

The one exception is the Nexus One, which, as we mentioned uses the stock Android interface and is the one handset prior to the Nexus S that has been managed solely by Google--though not particularly well. Reto Meir, an "Android Developer Advocate at Google," suggests via Twitter that an update to the Nexus One should be ready in "a few weeks."

In future releases, if Google does begin to implement its strategy to bypass carriers when it comes to updating features in older phones, we could yet see OS fragmentation wane as promised.

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