Smartphone hardware manufacturer HTC is having trouble making up its mind.

On Tuesday, HTC quietly posted to its Facebook page that owners of its Desire smartphone would not receive the latest Android software update, “Gingerbread.” The company claimed a memory issue that conflicted with its customized user interface, Sense 3.0.

Less than 24 hours later, however, HTC made a complete 180-degree turnaround on its position in a pithy follow-up post: “Contrary to what we said earlier, we are going to bring Gingerbread to HTC Desire.”

HTC hasn’t given a reason for flip-flopping on the matter, and the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

HTC’s issues with updating the Desire handset highlight a problem long familiar to the Android platform. The Android team’s software development cycle averages a new version release every six months. That’s hard on manufacturers, which can take twice that amount of time to go through the developmental process of creating a new piece of hardware. HTC has the added hassle of updating its Sense software to work with each new version release of Android. So by the time a phone is ready to launch, the Android version it ships with may already be out of date.

Some say HTC’s Sense software is the very thing holding the Desire back from an update.

“The hardware itself can certainly handle Gingerbread,” Steve Kondik, creator of popular Android modification software CyanogenMod, told “A standard build of Android fits just fine, but once HTC adds their stuff to it (Sense UI and everything that goes with it), there is no way it will fit.”

Google makes the code for its Android platform widely available to manufacturers after each version is finished (with some notable exceptions). It’s what is called “stock Android,” because the code comes directly from Google, untouched. A number of devices — like HTC’s Nexus One or the more recent LG G2X — ship with stock Android.

Many others, however, ship with customized versions of the Android platform. “Sense” is HTC’s particular flavor of Android, and the modified user interface serves mostly to differentiate HTC’s phones from the glut of others currently available on the market. HTC’s initial statement suggested that the latest version of Sense was too large to load on the 512 MB of flash memory the Desire comes with.

With some effort, however, HTC may be able to fit a version of the Sense software on the Desire.

“They probably have to trim the fat,” software developer Koushik Dutta told in an interview. “Provide the bloatware as optional downloads, compress the image resources further,” and other tweaks to the Sense software that result in a slimmer software footprint on the device.

It may not be realistic to expect continuous software updates to smartphones considering the industry timetables.

“Generally, consumers should count on paying for upgrades at the initial time of purchase,” Gartner mobile analyst Ken Dulaney told in an e-mail. “Save your money and buy new devices every 2 years.”

That two-year window fits in line with Google’s vision for carriers and manufacturers. In May, Google announced an agreement with the most prominent smartphone manufacturers and carriers, mandating that newly purchased Android devices you buy from participating partners and carriers will receive the most current version of the Android software for up to 18 months after the device’s initial release.

Although the Desire first debuted before this agreement, it’s not unreasonable to expect a software update on a phone less than a year old.

HTC’s dilemma raises the question: How many smartphones aren’t updated to the latest version of Android because of top-heavy customized interfaces?

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