Solving the impossible problem of Android updates
Android updates remain a messy, unpredictable business — and although Google and manufacturers have made progress in the past year, there’s still much work to be done …
The speed at which new platform updates arrive remains one of the major pain points of owning an Android device. Whereas Apple rolls out iOS updates instantaneously across much of its product line — the platform absolutely was designed with that in mind — Google’s lack of direct control over the firmware running on most of the world’s billion or so Android devices means it’s impossible for it to do the same.
In an article published in late 2012 we discussed exactly why this is the case. The “open” nature of Android, the vast differences in hardware across the entire ecosystem, not to mention the large number of moving parts required to get most updates pushed to users, all contribute to the lengthy delays we’ve come to know and hate. As we said almost 18 months ago, it’s a weakness that’s built into Android’s DNA, and not something that can be easily overcome.
Google and the manufacturers are tackling Android updates on multiple fronts.
Yet over the past year we’ve seen new endeavors by Google and some leading Android manufacturers to tackle this seemingly impossible problem. There have been efforts on multiple fronts: Firstly, the introduction of new features and APIs through Google Play Services, and the spinning of major Google apps out into the Play Store, allowing them to be updated independently from the OS. Google has put future Android code into the hands of OEMs earlier than before, through the “Google Play edition” program. There’s also evidence that manufacturers are seeing the competitive value in being first (or at least quick) with new OS versions. And OEMs, particularly HTC and Motorola, are getting better at communicating details of these updates to end-users.
To be sure, it’s no magic solution to the gargantuan task of moving the entire Android ecosystem forward. And the update situation for non-flagship devices remains something of a crapshoot. But it’s a start, and a big step in the right direction. And as we move from Jelly Bean into the KitKat era, it’s enough to give us some hope for the future of Android updates.
Read on to find out why.