Jul 25 AT 1:39 PM Dustin Earley 25 Comments

How Android updates work and why manufacturers are mostly quiet right now


In a perfect world, right after Google’s Android 4.3 announcement, manufacturers would have released detailed lists naming all the devices that will see an update to the latest version of Android. In the real world, with the exception of Sony, no one has said a word. We’ve briefly covered how Android updates work in the past, why manufacturers are slow to announce which devices will be updated and why support for devices is frequently dropped, but with a new version of Android just released, it’s time to revisit the conversation. This time, with a little help from XDA admin and TV host, Shen Ye.

The process, from Google releasing a new version of Android to manufacturers getting code to work with for their devices, can be rather complicated. Shen Ye breaks it down like this:

  • OEMs do not get the Android source code directly from Google.
  • The SoC vendors are provided the code from Google, where they make a board support package (BSP), which contains drivers and optimisations, etc.
  • The BSPs are then passed on to the OEMs, which they use to develop updates for their devices.

Right now, most phone manufacturers are waiting to hear back from chip manufacturers like Qualcomm before they can take the next step in the update process. They don’t want to announce something that isn’t true. Sometimes, even though a phone may not seem all that old, support for the chip inside is dropped. Sometimes, like in the case of the HTC One S, an update is promised, but then support for that device is dropped by the chip manufacturer. When that happens, there’s really nothing that can be done.

And of course, just because a chip manufacturer supports a version of Android, doesn’t mean the OEM will support it. There are all sorts of complicated situations like this with the current system. Like how Samsung gets direct access to Android code, since they make their own chips, but only for certain models. International variants have Exynos chips from Samsung, while here in the US, we often see devices with Qualcomm hardware inside. Samsung could update their Exynos S2 variant because they controlled the code, but had to drop support for the LTE variant because it had a Qualcomm S3.

Shen says it best when he says, “It’s not the perfect system, but it’s how it works in the industry right now.” The only advice we can leave you with is this: if Android updates really matter to you, get a Nexus device. But Google has proved that updates aren’t everything. You’re best off not worrying about it so much and buying a phone you like.

Source: Google+

Dustin Earley: Tech enthusiast; avid gamer; all around jolly guy.

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