Timely Android upgrades are even more important today – that’s why
Last year, Samsung’s bold promise to offer a three-year Android upgrade was warmly accepted. In contrast, the OnePlus revelation that Nord-series phones were only worth a year’s worth was strongly criticized. Fragmentation has always been a problem on Android, but it was something that only advanced users and developers were worried about. But nowadays, even the average consumer is becoming more cautious about the version of Android that their phone is running and when to get the next update. As a result, manufacturers, especially major manufacturers, need to enhance their Android upgrade games as it is more important than ever to get the latest version of Android to everyone as soon as possible with user demand.
Android upgrades and security updates
The rather disappointing state of software updates on Android was actually revealed in 2015 by the disclosure of the Stagefright bug. It emphasized how manufacturers and Google itself weren’t equipped to handle fast releases of security patches and bug fixes. Since then, the Android situation has changed dramatically, with Google’s monthly Android security bulletins and similar monthly releases from some manufacturers. Unfortunately, that is no longer enough.
Android has two types of software updates, consistent with most release strategies for other major software such as Apple’s iOS and macOS. First, there are minor maintenance updates with monthly rhythms, at least as far as Google is concerned. These include patches to close security holes and fixes to some bugs that can be addressed without making major changes to the underlying platform.
And there are major Android upgrades released each year. It used to have a dessert nickname. These bring even greater changes to the operating system, even if the user is not always aware of it. Google releases more or less new Android versions every year, like clockwork, but it’s always a guessing game for third-party device owners, and it needs to be improved faster.
Under the hood
All new Android versions have made visible changes to the user experience, but not all have completely redesigned the UI like the other versions. For example, Android 9 Pie introduced a gesture-based navigation system that migrated from the old-fashioned three-button system, and in subsequent releases it only improved the implementation without compromising compatibility. Android 5.0 Lollipop introduced Material Design in 2014, which has had only minor improvements over the years. Android 12 will make its first major leap since later this year with Material Design 2.0, also known as Material You.
That said, all Android releases always make significant internal changes, even if they don’t break backwards compatibility. The old system will be modified or deleted and a new system will be introduced. All of these are aimed at adapting Android to the latest trends and needs in the mobile market.
The authorization system is one of the biggest examples of significant changes to the Android foundation. Almost all new versions fine-tune Android permissions, giving users more power to protect their privacy and limiting the damage that malicious apps can do. These changes are often implemented in a timely manner, and the times are changing faster than ever.
Patches alone are not enough
Google releases security fixes every month, and thankfully some manufacturers are trying to catch up. However, these patches only address issues that can or need to be fixed quickly without significantly changing the Android code. Unfortunately, not all bugs are like that.
There are always bugs that require significant changes to the platform and can cause problems if not implemented properly. Google strives to be compatible with older Android versions, but new releases are an opportunity to introduce new solutions. Until the user receives this particular Android upgrade, the user remains vulnerable to security holes opened by older versions.
There are also outdated features and concepts that can only be replaced by more popular and invasive releases. Changes to the permission system, multimedia framework, and even the software upgrade system itself require larger changes to the operating system and cannot be quickly delivered to the phone with monthly patches. It’s understandable that it takes time to test and deploy these major changes, but manufacturers and carriers unfortunately take too long to do so.
The speed of adoption of new Android releases is always compared to the speed of iOS. In an ideal world, Android upgrades are done like iOS, deploying to compatible devices almost instantly with a delay of at most a few weeks. For better or for worse, Android works in a completely different world, where things behave differently.
The Android journey begins with Google, but the pipeline can be stopped at any time due to the large number of players involved. Many responsibilities rest with manufacturers and carriers, but even chipset makers like Qualcomm and MediaTek play a role in the development, testing, certification, and distribution of new Android releases.
Android has been around for nearly 13 years, but unfortunately it hasn’t completely solved the problem yet. Google has been working on a new system to improve that situation, but unfortunately it’s still far from ideal.
The need for speed
This fragmentation isn’t just about Android users’ facial eggs. It also remains vulnerable to security flaws and bugs that small patches cannot fix. Not only does it lack the latest features and the most glossy new UI, it also means that you don’t have a version of the operating system optimized for today’s devices.
Privacy has become so important these days that it is often exposed on mobile through other privacy-related frameworks, such as permits and indicators when cameras and GPS are in use. Security trends and practices are changing faster than ever today, and Android needs to respond to them in order to better protect its users. Unfortunately, if the user is still running a version of Android prior to 2019, that agility will be disabled.
Android upgrades bring performance improvements as well as Android itself. In many cases, new releases also include updates from component manufacturers that fix bugs and improve hardware behavior. Until you get these upgrades, you won’t be able to get the most out of your phone or tablet, at least for the latest features that the manufacturer has enabled.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Fortunately, Google is familiar with this issue and has been working to fix it, at least since the end. Efforts like Project Treble and Project Mainline are trying to simplify the process by splitting parts of the platform and relocating major updates to pushable locations without waiting for a new Android version. Unfortunately, even though Project Treble has been a requirement for new Android smartphones for years, these efforts don’t seem to be progressing rapidly.
Part of the problem is still at another point along the way: manufacturers and carriers. Unless OEMs and network operators improve their own processes, all the improvements Google seeks from the platform side will not help. With Treble and Mainline, the bottleneck is the same as before.
Many consumers and businesses avoid Android due to platform inconsistencies and fragmentation regarding software versions and upgrades. Some manufacturers actually do their own thing and take advantage of it by making their own set of commitments, but only to a small portion of their mobile phones. Even within the same brand, lower-tier phones are treated differently when it comes to upgrades, just because they have a lower priority.
This situation needs to change quickly, not because it’s becoming embarrassing. The number of Android devices on the market doesn’t go down quickly, and if left unchecked, it gets worse. Consumers need to be more responsive and voiced about the demand for faster and more regular Android upgrades, even on midrange or entry-level phones. And maybe you can start dreaming about phones getting Android upgrades for 5 years.
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