Device software updates are something of a minefield for device manufacturers and customers. When we consider the Google Nexus devices, we have a large number of devices that are being kept up to date with the latest version of Android. As of this moment, the Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Nexus 6 smartphones are being maintained. From a tablet perspective, we have the 2012 Nexus 7 WiFi, 2012 Nexus 7 3G, 2013 Nexus 7 WiFi, 2013 Nexus 7 LTE, Nexus 10, Nexus 9 WiFi and Nexus 9 LTE. That’s ten devices over four manufacturers, six System-on-Chips and six display panels. And yes, I am doubling up on the Nexus 7 and Nexus 9 tablets, but since these are different devices, it is only right to do so. Google’s decision to keep the 2012 Nexus 7 products – the 4, 7 and 10 – up to date with Android Lollipop is creditable but has increased their software engineers workload by another four devices. And Google’s decision to keep older devices has also increased the number of customers complaining that their device doesn’t have the very latest version of Android seemingly as soon as it is rumored.
Nevertheless, and putting aside the issues that all software updates seem to bring, the update to Android 5.0 and through the different versions to the latest, 5.1.1, does appear to be somewhat more convoluted than with previous updates. From the 2013 Nexus 7 LTE taking around a hundred days to move from Kit Kat to Lollipop to the Nexus 9 only just recently being updated past 5.0.2 to 5.1, what’s going on with the Nexus software update scene?
Firstly, it’s important to put things into perspective. The majority of Nexus owners bought their device because it offered reasonable specifications at a great price. That it had a pure, fast form of Android was useful. And yes, some bought the Nexus because it would be at the front of the queue in receiving software updates, but there are a lot of Nexus customers – especially those with the tablets – that are likely to ignore the software update notification for a period of time rather than be checking Settings, About, Software Update every seventeen minutes because their device doesn’t yet have Android 5.1.1. It’s very easy for Android websites to decry Google’s rather valiant efforts at keeping the device pool up to date because those people who are interested in their device having the latest version of Android are also those people interested in Internet forums and of having their say. From the Nexus 4 and later, Google have attempted to make the Nexus products more consumer-friendly and less a pure development device with a side business of selling as well.
Nobody should be in the position of seeing their device suffer from a software upgrade, but unfortunately it can and does happen. It may not be the software update itself but perhaps an application that does not like the new version of Android. Or something has been corrupted. And whilst in that ideal world, developers will have kept their applications more up to date than the operating system, and no user would ever download an application that could corrupt the device, these circumstances can and do happen. Some faults are easily traced back to the operating system – if you notice your cellular signal struggling after a software update, this is likely to be a change to the modem firmware. But a reduction in battery life could be any number of issues, of course including the software. It is difficult to ascertain the size of the issue simply because people do not go online to announce to the world that after the last update, their device was still working perfectly.
Have Google bitten off too many devices to maintain? Is ten Nexus devices too many for one manufacturer? No of course not. However, is managing the simultaneous deployment of software updates to ten individual devices too much? Apple manage this… Or do they? Because the iPhone, iPad and iPod devices never have issues following software updates, right? Spend time in Apple fan forums and there are often chords of discontentment from users with issues following an update to iOS. It’s an imperfect world when it comes to software updates and Google’s device pool of supported devices has almost doubled in a year. Instead of being upset at Google for not keeping all of their disparate devices up to date inside a few hours of one another, perhaps it’s time to contemplate how great it is that they’re working on keeping their 2012 devices up to date?