Why do Android Updates take so long?

Android and iOS probably run on about 95 percent of smartphones currently existing on earth and while a lot of things fall in favor of Android (Sorry! I am an Android fanboy), there is one thing where iOS has always been ahead. I am talking about OS updates. Yes, if I take the latest figures, iOS 11 is already onboard on about 65 percent of iPhones while the Android side of things isn’t that green at the moment. The latest Android distribution stats from Google reveals that Android Oreo, which was released back in August 2017 has managed to crawl on just 1 percent of Android smartphones in the market. That is sad. But, why does it take forever for Android updates to reach all the eligible smartphones? Well, that is exactly what I am going to discuss today.

The Process

Android Updates go through an extensive process before they appear on your notifications drawer as an OTA. Android updates generally involve three steps –

  • Chipset Manufacturer Testing
  • OEMs Android Skin Testing
  • Carriers Testing

 

Chipset Manufacturer Testing: Just after Google pushes out the source code for its latest update, various chipset manufacturers like Qualcomm, MediaTek, Samsung etc. test the compatibility of the new update with their various chipsets. The chipset manufacturers make sure that the new update (source code) is able to communicate with the hardware and thus, control it in an efficient way. Post this, the chipset manufacturers then roll out the list of processors which are eligible for the update. With Apple, this process is done and dusted even before the update goes public.

 

OEMs Android Skin Testing: After chipset manufacturers are done testing the new update, they communicate the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) as to which smartphones are eligible for the new update. Post this, OEMs then begin to layer the source code with their respective Android Skins. Samsung Experience (formerly known as TouchWiz), HTC Sense, MIUI are some of the examples of Android Skins. Now, remember, the heavier the skin, more time it takes for the OEM to bake the latest update into it. This is why companies like Samsung, Xiaomi, and LG are often late to the party when it comes to updating their smartphones. Once OEMs are done testing the new update with their skins, we move on to the Carrier Testing.

 

Carriers Testing: This is not very common in India but after the skin layering, the update then rolls up to the carriers who add their own bloatware, test it with their network (GSM, CDMA, LTE) before giving it a green light.

 

Number of Android Devices

One major reason why it takes ages for a new android update to reach its eligible destination is the sheer number of devices in the market. Apple launches two or three phones in a year and works out both the hardware and software for its devices. So naturally, it is easy for the Cupertino giant to test and roll out the updates. Android, on the other hand, runs on a plethora of devices across OEMs and each company then sets its own timeline.  

 

Timelines of Android Updates

Apple being the master of both the software and hardware on iPhones can conduct all the testing with the chip and other hardware components well before it announces it to the public. Google, on the other hand, releases the update after which it goes through all the testing with the chipset manufacturers, OEMs and Carriers. So Apple actually announces the update at the end of the update process while Google announces the update at the beginning of it.

 

Nexus and Pixel devices will always be the first one to receive the updates as Google had already done most of the testing before they finally announce the update. Android skins that have minimal or no additional customizations falls next in the queue while smartphones with heavy skins like Samsung Experience or MIUI are often left stranded.

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