Why does Android get software updates so little?

Why does Android get software updates so little?

Meta: Many Android users wonder why the Android operating system gets software updates so little. This article is a detailed answer to that question.

Android users have always questioned the cause of the stinging problem that has persisted for many years on Android phone models: how often updates are made, especially compared to Apple. The bottom line here is the baseline problem manufacturers face with updates: cost. Every manufacturer wants their devices to be able to stay up to date over their lifecycle. But they are constrained by the tough economic choices, expressed in terms of costs. So to speed up the update, Producers focus on reducing those costs. The question is why is the update cost so high? This article will be a detailed answer that has partly answered questions over the years for us.

the baseline problem manufacturers face with updates: cost.

Android is open source software

Every open source project, as the name implies, allows modifications to be made. Flexibility in this regard is a core property of the Android Operating System (OS). It is also one of the main reasons why Android has been so successful. When our team at Google released a new version of the Android OS, Producers actually only released the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) version, of course in source code. It is important to point out: the AOSP version is not an end product (to reach the user). It can be considered that it carries the mission of introducing a core form to the operating system, with all the components that make Android: the ART environment, activity management systems, window managers and software packages,  multimedia subsystems, sensors, cameras, initialization logic, etc… things like that. The AOSP release also includes open source versions of many OS components that the end user will more interact with such as the system interface or the App Launcher, multiple applications.  additional use. But these are only open source versions for reference, and Producers do not intend to use them on any device in the hands of users.

Android is customizable

When Producers release an AOSP version, Producers want it to be a reference. OEMs as well as silicon microprocessor manufacturers have the sole discretion to tailor this source code to suit their needs of their products, as long as they pass a set of tests, to make sure things do. This tweak does not interfere with the OS behavior, which can cause apps not to work. Most of our partners take advantage of this flexibility to differentiate their products.

Customisers will have maintenance costs

Again, this is true of every open source project. You use a release, make many changes, and then release the changed version again. Once the next release is released, you must convert or completely refactor the old code portion of the changes you made. This takes time and effort, and time and effort are the cost. There are 2 main fixes to reduce costs: the first way is that you contribute your changes to the open source project, from which the overhead  will be included in the main project (cost) and everyone will be responsible for your changes. Here’s how the Linux kernel community works. But the case of Android is different. It is evident that a lot of customizations to the Android base code are proprietary, which prevents them from being updated (by Android Dev Team). This means that our partners are solely responsible for updating their changes.

The Android development team still shares the AOSP source code

Another solution to reducing costs is to create a balance between making change everywhere and not changing at all. More specifically, Producers create boundaries – protocols between components – and have to reach a clear mutual agreement with partners: must define what kind of component they can  adjustments, without sacrificing flexibility, and the types of ingredients that must be kept exactly the same among every individual in the ecosystem.

From there, Producers have created 2 projects to solve the update problem: Project Treble and Project Mainline. These two projects are aimed at solving the aforementioned boundary problem, in different but complementary ways.

The number of users updating to Android 9 is significantly higher thanks to the Treble project

The Mainline project is tasked with bringing patches to more and more devices

As such, the “maintenance cost” is the reason why it is difficult to update. However, manufacturers are also finding solutions to benefit users.


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