AH Primetime: Android Software Upgrades And The Way They Should Be Implemented

February 13, 2014 - Written By Justin Diaz

We all know that there’s a problem with the Android software updates are handled. It has been an ongoing issue since Android had first started getting updates to multiple devices. It’s worse now then in the early days since there’s an infinite amount more of Android powered smartphones than there used to be a few years ago. Android is the most popular Mobile OS globally, but it has been able to reach that accomplishment, because it has had such an open source outlook on providing mobile personal computing from the beginning to any OEM that wanted to take advantage of the software. So many different Android handsets make it more difficult to reach the masses with timely updates to newer version of software, but it’s really not for the reasons that most people think. Despite popular opinion, Android can have extremely fast updates, at least for a select number of the handsets out there. Most notably the Nexus line of devices, and now with the inclusion of the GPE devices and the Moto X and Moto G. For the rest of the Android phones out there though, consumers are kind of at the mercy of the manufacturer and the carriers sending out the updates. It doesn’t matter how fast Google puts them out, we still have to wait on the manufacturers to take that update and test it to the point where they feel its fit for consumer use. Then they have to push it to carriers who then have to do their own testing before they push it out to customers. In short, the way updates are handled needs to be changed.

Not all manufacturers are terrible with their updates, but not everyone is on a common standard. Google has done what they can to try and get all the manufacturers on the same page with the Android Update Alliance, but that didn’t really pan out and the only thing to really come from it, has been the standard to update devices for only 18 months before they halt updates for those devices altogether. This works mostly in favor of the manufacturers, as they have a perfect reason for stopping the flow of support to update devices once they reach this mark. Some devices don’t even make it to 18 months total, and should the manufacturers find that it’s easier to just drop the support and site it as part of the 18 month standard then follow through, they do so. It almost feels as if the OEM’s use it as a way to justify being able to put out a new device for consumers to buy rather then put out software that enhances the devices they already own.

Let’s take a step back and take look at things from the point of view of the customers. Typically, (and this is regards to most consumers on average not the small niche group of us that go through phones quicker than you might service your vehicle) people upgrade or are ready to upgrade their phones after a two year period, or close to it. If updates stop 6 months shy of when you’re ready to get a new phone, then you can potentially lose out on an upgrade within that time that other consumers already have their hands on. So you’re left with the option of taking a loss on the software update or going out and buying a new phone that may have the new software already installed. That’s considering you get the updates through that entire 18 months in the first place. There’s nothing from stopping the manufacturer from updating a device for a consumer 4 months in, then leaving it alone the rest of the 18 months. Once that point is reached, they’re no longer bound by the standard Google set during the time that the Android Update Alliance was in play. That’s not to say that manufacturers wouldn’t update devices after that time, but since the standard was set at 18 months they have no real obligation, as they have that timing guideline to fall back on.

Android updates in their current state leave little to be desired for many because there’s nothing consumers can really do about it. While Google seems to care about the integrity of OS updates, they obviously aren’t able to impose upon OEM’s to all follow the same standard without fail. That leaves us at the mercy of OEM’s to some degree, to hope they faithfully provide newer software to their devices when new versions are made available. Smaller companies may fall in line with this because they want to provide a good user experience to their customers, but not all OEMs feel the pressure to provide timely updates. Namely the biggest of them all which is Samsung. Sown Samsung isn’t necessarily slow with their updates, but they aren’t fast either. They certainly have gotten better though. As they are the most popular OEM to date for the Android OS, they can simply choose not to update certain devices and customers will still buy their products. The galaxy Note 2 is a good example. It’s still on Android 4.3 but kit kat has been out since the release of the nexus 5, and yet were well half way into February with the update nowhere in sight. It was promised to show up early this year but customers are still found waiting. Providing timely updates would not only serve to make consumers happier, but would ultimately make OEM’s look better over all because they would be known for pushing updates out quickly. Motorola and HTC are both trying to make strides this way, but who should really be taking note is LG. Many consumers still love their products but they are well known for having slower updates to newer versions of Android than most OEMs or not updating very many devices at all.

Perhaps as Kit Kat becomes more mainstream and available on a wider array of devices across the board, consumers will start to see a decrease in what is commonly regarded as fragmentation. If none of the larger manufacturers take it upon themselves to be the first OEM to consistently offer users fast updates, perhaps we’ll start to see some of the smaller OEM’s like Xaiomi, and Oppo enter the market and take up that role. Maybe we’ll even see this sort of thing out of Motorola and Lenovo in the future as the company begins its journey together.