Why Android updates are so late | TECH(talk)

Hi and welcome to Tech Talk where we take a
look at what’s going on in technology news and offer some insights hopefully
pithy ones. I’m Ken Mingis executive editor at Computerworld, and I’m here with JR Raphael our Android blogger at computer world we’re gonna take a look at Android
fragmentation operating system upgrades what’s going on what’s going right
what’s going wrong let’s to stick around okay so jr. thanks a lot for being here from
your undisclosed location in the middle of the country every years always yes as
always thank you every year you take a look at you know one of the issues that
that Android seem to have which is the slow pace of operating system upgrades
and you’ve recently done your extremely comprehensive 4,000 word report card I
know that because I had it did the 4,000 worked no it’s really important that you
know we explain what’s going on here so with that little bit of context what did
you find with this year’s report card where things stand well you know
unfortunately it’s kind of more of the same ol every year there’s some reason
to think hey this is gonna be the one where all the Android device makers
finally get their acts together and start pushing out these upgrades quickly
and and making a real effort there’s always some reason and every year kind
of its up you know there’s a little fluctuation but by and large there’s
just never a great all-around result so this year we were looking at Pi which
came out last fall Andrew 9 and so the reason we’re doing it now is cuz it’s
been six months since the software is released which is just kind of a nice
standard metric to look at and you know if a company’s gonna get software out
and a reasonable amount of time but six months is a pretty reasonable half a
year you know if they can’t do it in half a year they’re not really putting
in much of an effort so what I do is I measure it again just for consistency
looking at the US flag ships whatever phone is available readily in the United
States that you could do any country of course and it would just the results
would change but you just need some consistency so being that we’re in the
u.s. that’s kind of what we’ve always looked at and I measure how long it
takes each device maker to get the software to their current generation
flagship and their previous generation flagship so that being said I mean the
results are basically Google did great everyone else not so much
one plus which is a pretty small manufacturer and about a significant one
especially when it comes to the Android enthusiast community they were in second
place with a 74% see if that tells you anything and I went is a step up last
year they were also in second place with addy so we’ve seen some improvement but
after that every single gray and including of course ones by the big-name
manufacturers like Samsung everyone else got an F Samsung was the highest F this
year a little bit of improvement sort of an A+ baby yeah a badge of honor they
came in with a 37 percent F basically because Samsung did get the software
onto its current generation flagship just shy of six months but it did it
right within that six month window nothing for the previous generation
flagship but it’s more than we can say for Samsung last year when it didn’t do
anything at all wasn’t that first six month window so is
the issue here you know we’ve talked about this in the past in terms of why
an Android user might want to go with with a Google device isn’t isn’t the the
ready that the fast upgrade really the biggest reason I would think in terms of
suggesting a Google phone is that because of the operating system is so
quickly rolled out yeah I mean there’s a lot to be said for that within you know
what are now pixel phones Google used to not make put out the Nexus phones and
and same kind of deal they’re really the only device where you’re going to
consistently get that timely and reliable upgrade not only that you know
you’re gonna get it but it’s a guarantee it’s written into part of the devices
sale pitch you know that that is part of the deal not only again with those big
operating system updates but also the monthly security patches other companies
will do okay here and there but no one else consistently does it and makes it a
part of their you know kind of DNA but that’s what they do
I’d add a footnote I mean there are a couple of little small companies like
essential the company that was started by androids founder and Rubin it has one
phone it even put out a phone last year it’s only put out one phone there been a
lot of stories about how it’s not doing great it was supposed to put out a phone
last year didn’t you know it’s definitely not a big player it’s hardly
sold any devices but that being said it has done well so there are a few little
like high points here and there but when it comes to the major Android
manufacturers certainly you know from an American perspective
Google’s about the only one that is consistently
putting him out you would hope Gogol would do well but you would also hope
that some other companies would do you know reasonably well in addition let’s
just go back to just the fact that the carriers are not as interested in in
making sure that devices are upgraded because it’s not really it doesn’t
really help them in any way and if anything it might encourage people to
buy a new phone so they can get the latest operating system I mean isn’t it
sort of like working against their own best interests if they were too readily
upgrade everybody as soon as they could yeah I think there’s a strong argument
to be made and you know we’ll probably never know for sure cuz I was gonna come
out and say that but when you think about it Google is the only company
where software is a core part of its revenue in its business model because
Google even if it doesn’t make money selling devices it’s benefiting from you
being online having a good experience being online and using Google services
because then of course it can you know collect data from you use that data to
position ads it’s gonna win no matter what whereas Samsung HTC LG whomever
they’re making their money by and large from selling your bones and yeah if your
phone is looking more and more modern and fresh and current every you know a
few months with a nice shiny new update then it’s it’s kind of actively working
against their interests you know on top of that they’re spending money a lot of
resources to put these upgrades out and on the surface at least they’re not
making anything directly from that you could make an argument about that
they’re building customer loyalty and something like that but as we’ve seen
people don’t seem to care the general public doesn’t know enough about what’s
going on here too to say Oh Samsung is not putting out great upgrades at a good
pace so I’m not gonna buy it so it’s not hurting them so until if and when it
ever did they really have no motivation to to to make a change yeah you know
it’s interesting I can’t remember now which manufacturer was but I recently
saw something I think earlier this week one of the companies was getting kudos
for finally rolling out Oreo 18 months after hit or it arrived I’m like wow
that is a real long time frame you know I was stunned at how long it is because
coming from the you know the Apple side of things in fact I did a little
research myself to see where Apple is and based on what Apple is saying 78% of
all devices introduced in the last four years are now using iOS 12 so that’s you know
that’s the other side of the coin when it comes to like speedy updates you know
it’s a shame that it’s only Google that’s doing it on the Android side but
you know that’s the comparison let me ask ya oh go ahead go ahead it’s
definitely a difference at the same time I often like to point out that it is a
little bit of an apples to oranges so to speak comparison because the way they
handle or the way they kind of frame operating system upgrades in what is
part of the operating system is pretty different from Android to Apple Google
has done this over several years in large part as a response to the fact
that these manufacturers aren’t taking these upgrades seriously and doing well
what it’s done is broken out a lot of core pieces of the operating system into
standalone apps that it then updates so you know in any given month every single
Android device owner will get a ton of upgrades you know a Laughton times which
if you just list them out look like they could be an entire iOS update you know
you might get an update to your stuck email app your Maps app your you know
browser and then even some behind the scenes things like Google Play services
which controls a lot of sort of system level tools and security and privacy
features so there is another side to it it’s not as bad in a complete parallel
comparison as it seems but yeah I mean certainly when you look at the OS
updates themselves it’s a world of difference ok are we seeing anything
you’ve also written pretty extensively about project trouble and that was
obviously the effort to try to streamline things and make it easier for
these these Android updates to go out it doesn’t sound like at least looking at
your numbers this year compared to last year the previous years that it’s it’s
had a big impact yet are we seeing anything from project trouble well that
was really the what made this report card so fascinating and that’s something
that there’s a separate analysis that’s on computer WorldCom now really looking
just at that because this is a whole other can of worms and a lot more data
to pull but you know basically what it comes down to is project rebel was
supposed to shave about a quarter of a year off of the upgrade process that’s
information that a trouble engineer and a official Google guy who you know was
responsible for the program said to me when when we interviewed him at some
point last year so they knew going in it wasn’t gonna be
magic fix you’re not gonna go from taking eight months you know some
companies to do an update to have them suddenly doing it in a week or whatever
but you know taking three months out is it’s still pretty significant so that
was sort of the yeah the the metric we were looking at and did it shave three
months off by and large you know roughly across the board and when you look at it
it really just didn’t which is a shame so what we can go down some of the
examples a htc did worse this year it took them ninety nine so we’re looking
at the current generation flow right but took a CCE 99 days with oreo we’re still
waiting for any delivery with pi so that’s as of the day we’re taping this
about 190 days and Counting so pretty you know they’re not right on the cusp
where when has the point they’ve fallen off the cliff yeah yeah yeah and then
HTC certainly having its own trouble so they probably don’t have the resources
that being said we go past their LG is officially past the point of meeting
that three month window of improvement it took not it’s nothing to be proud
about here 274 days LG to get Oreo to its current generation like its top to
your phone people who’ve just bought it and to get to beat that by three months
with PI it would have had to have got the PI update onto its flagship by
February 6 the work so we’re well past that it’s doing worse ok Moto’s also
past the point samsung saw a little bit of improvement
as we mentioned earlier a modest improvement we’ll say it went from 213
days with the Oreo to 177 days of Pi so still nowhere near the 90-day level that
it should have and then when you start looking at the previous gen flagship
because you know people most people aren’t buying phones every year
especially now you want to get a phone and know it’s going to have updates for
at least two years not a bare minimum and Samsung still hasn’t sent anything
out to his previous generation flagship the one company that did have that
90-day improvement that did well one plus it improved its delivery time for
its current gen flagship by almost spot-on ninety one day so there’s our
kind of one little shining ray of hope but then you go to the previous
generation flagship and it did 407 I’m sorry forty-seven days that’s gonna say
407 days would be 47 days were so oneplus did a little better on one side
a little worse on the other side you know again Google the one consistent
company to in about the same year to year but
you have by and large the improvement that they were hoping to see this isn’t
there and it just comes back to what we were saying a second ago and something
that I’ve written about since all this tremble talks started and even in
further back what can you say other than the logical factor that’s unaddressed by
treble still present here is motivation and that’s something that that no amount
of engineering wizardry wizardry can address because you can see the logic in
what Google did it makes sense that you’re gonna you know take a lot of the
work out and what they did is they took all the kind of foundational hardware
level elements of the operating system and put them into a separate level so
that every time an update comes along the manufacturers don’t have to wait on
Qualcomm or whomever to do their part and so that all makes sense logically
but if the company still just doesn’t care and doesn’t have motivation to do
it you can’t fix that with any amount of coding you know right understood okay so
I guess we’ll have to kind of wait a little longer and see if maybe trouble
can make some progress the other question that I wanted to get to and
this is sort of the the underlying or overlying issue here is you know and
you’ve written about this this week for us on computer world why should people
be concerned about updates and upgrades you know what’s I mean we sort of know
that but I’d like for you to lay it out you know in more detail as to why this
is important well it’s a really good question because when we talk about
these new OS upgrades we tend to talk about more the surface level things like
PI the the gesture controls and you know whatever features you’re gonna see in
the interface design changes and a lot of people think I don’t care so much
about that I like the what my phone the way it is or you know if you’re using
like a Samsung or LG phone each manufacturer kind of modifies a software
in their own way and you may have already had some kind of equivalent of
this feature for a while and so you think yeah whatever it doesn’t really
matter but the truth is there are a lot of less sexy attention-grabbing features
elements of an OS update that often get overlooked so with PI for example there
are a lot of performance privacy security type of improvements with some
of the examples with PI apps are able to use less memory be more power fishing
and load faster there’s a lot of changes to the tools that developers app
developers have access to they can use advanced machine learning newer Wi-Fi
protocol better indoor location pinpointing and
then in addition to bringing new things with every release google also aegis a
takes away but kind of tightens up what people are able to do in the name of
ongoing you know improvements of privacy and security
so with pi specifically there were restrictions put in place on to how and
when apps can access your microphone your camera sensors when they’re in the
background something they used to be able to do now it’s a little more
restricted that’s something we’re expecting to see more of with the
upcoming Android Q release and things like that there’s more effective
encryption for Google backup data enhance privacy for network connections
the list goes on and on and on and it’s the same every year we saw similar
things with Oreo which you know among other things brought a whole new system
that lets you opt out of individual notifications from apps so I could say I
don’t want to get these alerts from Google Maps asking me to rate a place
every time I’m in it but I still do want to get an alert if there’s traffic on my
way home you know from my commute to work or whatever no important things
that that are kind of behind the scenes and under the hood a little bit
sometimes things you might not even overtly notice but certainly with the
privacy and security and the performance they’re pretty important so people may
not always realize especially when we talk about more casual users the kind of
things that are happening but it’s certainly reasonable to say that they’re
worth having and things that you should care about that’s really really good
insight you know it dawns on me too that if we were ever going to get to a point
where Android users are clamoring you know and and yelling at the carriers and
the hardware makers and everybody that they can responsible for this that may
be the one way you know once these companies feel a little bit of heat that
they might be able to roll these things out there’s no there’s nothing stopping
them from rolling out these updates in a timely manner
they just don’t as best we can tell and it just sounds like it’s gonna be one of
these project trouble aside everything that Google’s doing aside it’s gonna
have to come you know from the bottom up I think yeah if and when people you know
care it enough of a volume that someone like Samsung has to listen cuz you know
ok we if we want to cut anyone a little slack not to say that there’s an excuse
but if you want to justify or try to understand it a company like HTC you can
see why it’s struggling that no I mean it yeah of course yeah but a company
like Samsung there’s no reason Samsung even before treble if Samsung one
to devote the resources to it it has the money it could get upgrades out in a
matter of weeks certainly with trouble even before if it wanted to so what yeah
it all just comes down to these companies singer reason and people kind
of demanding it which you know may or may not happen I did to see something
interesting the other day that Google’s pixel line was now officially the
fastest-growing smartphone line within the US obviously still very small scale
but you know somewhere right that’s the same conversation we could have had
about Android you know eight years ago that it was small scale growing really
quickly but still just in the single digits didn’t seem significant and you
know know people say that’ll happen or not with pixel but maybe that growth
will at some point if it continues encourage other manufacturers to start
taking some of these things seriously maybe maybe not that’s an element I like
that I think you’re right so last question random question we got Android
queue coming up this year do we have any idea what queue is gonna be I’m kind of
holding out for quiche even though I know it’s not a sweet but I can’t think
of any sweets that are starting with a letter Q yeah that’s the million dollar
question ideas about the only thing that they’ve always said they used to say
desserts then at some point they just kind of quietly started saying sweet
treats to brand it out it’s like jelly bean that came out that wasn’t a dessert
so maybe they like jelly beans for this earth but you know okay I know it’s
clearly not a dessert I don’t think ya know ki was a tough one I mean the only
ones that really make sense are these non-american impossible for you know
people like us are now suitors that you would never have heard of which would be
kind of cool if they went with something just totally out there that you know
most of us didn’t know we didn’t know how to say it’ll be a nice learning
experience to go but yeah we’ll see all right great okay on that note then
thanks for the insights on the upgrade report card which is on computer world
you can take a look at it now again it’s a very extensive look at all the
carriers and manufacturers and what Google’s doing with grades and
everything it’s well worth your time jr. thanks so much for you know the insights
and the information we’ll revisit all of this at some point down the road I’m
sure absolutely thanks for having me thanks buddy for now that’s a wrap

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2 thoughts on “Why Android updates are so late | TECH(talk)

  1. The discussion did not take into account the way specialized apps, especially medical apps, cannot run on old versions of Android. That is why the broad failure of the Android device manufacturers to provide timely updates for at least the first four years of device lifespan pushes potential customers to Apple's iPhones and iPads. Samsung's systemic failures to furnish Android OS updates means buying less from Samsung, not more.

  2. I am so bitter with the current state of the mobile industry. It was bad enough with the slow Android updates. Regardless of the fact, Google was always the Go to with their excellent line of Nexus phones. All went to hell when everyone was so insistent in copying Apple with notches and the removal of the headphone jacks. Not even a single manufacture exists now that makes a phone without a notch, frequent updates that is as close to Google's and includes a headphone jack. I find this very sad and disgusting!

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