The 4th and final developer preview of the newest version of the Android operating system was released on Monday, to little fanfare. Many who are Android enthusiasts were waiting on this final “DP4” release and many others were probably unaware that we are probably only about a month out from a new version of Android hitting many phones. While there are sure to be new features found in this release, the truth of Android updates is not as easily found.
I own a Google phone, the Pixel XL. Part of the reason I wanted this device in particular was that Google had promised (dare I say, guaranteed) software updates for at least 2 years, and security patches for at least 3 years. In the world of Apple and iOS, this is something that most users simply take for granted. The world of Android is far different. And its more than just having the latest and greatest, or getting new features for your device hardware. It’s fixing bugs and improving performance. It’s better battery life (hopefully) and patching vulnerabilities.
Some OEMs are better about software updates than others. And to be fair, there are many moving parts to this process. But the end user doesn’t care about how hard it is for Samsung or Motorola or LG to take the Android source code and put their spin on top of it. They don’t care about the number of programmers it might take or the cost analysis of the time it takes to integrate all of their software into the Android software. They want the phones they paid their hard earned money for to get software and security updates, and they want them in a timely manner.
Google has done a lot to help facilitate this process. In response to end user and OEM input, we have things like the Developer Previews now (and multiple versions of them) as well as things like Project Treble. This is work (though progress) make no mistake. Google of course has tremendous resources to throw at this problem, even if they don’t exactly have a great track record of success. But I don’t know if they can do much more if the OEMs don’t do their part and pick up some of the slack. Google will publish the base to the public, and its up to both the device manufacturers and the carriers to take it from there.
Some folks will have choices when it comes to the device they purchase as their daily mobile phone. They (as have I) can choose to buy phones and support OEMs that commit to producing both software and security updates for those devices quickly and regularly. Others aren’t so lucky as to have a budget committed to technology. So there has to be another way for those (admittedly large) groups of folks to know they are getting a device they can feel comfortable with for the foreseeable future. As of right now though, that way doesn’t exist. Hopefully that changes soon; quicker and better updates is in everyone in the mobile phone lifecycle’s best interests.