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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  • redraider133

    Maybe this will quiet all the haters for a little while so they can see how it actually happens.

    • jerrbomb

      In a perfect world remember.. Lol..

  • Agent DIscount

    Blah, Blah, Fragmentation, Blah. Your device may or may not get an update. That’s just a reality of having an Android device. I hope we’ve reached a point where we don’t have to talk about it anymore.

    • Jon Garrett

      having the latest update is not always a good thing, just ask anybody who had an iPhone 3G and updated to iOS 4!! or those who updated to iOS 6 only to get shitty apple maps and loos the YouTube app.

      besides, as with most updates., the average person doesn’t even know what version they’re running and couldn’t care less.

      AND from one version to another, how much really changes and changes enough that you really need/want the latest version of your firmware.

  • koorsr

    Carriers also require a certain amount of testing before releasing the update, so that alone can add a couple of months to the timeframe as well.

    • w9jds

      Also, Carriers have to go through and make sure that it doesn’t do things they don’t like. For example, The Droid DNA for Verizon. HTC came out with an update for the device, but Verizon didn’t like that it allowed the user to officially unlock the bootloader directly from HTC’s site. So they added in a system to block it. (that doesn’t take into account bloatware as well.

      Personally I wish I could use my N4 on Verizon :( or the Xperia Z was available lol

  • OTA rollout
  • redraider133

    I think also with google updating apps through the play store and not only with major new releases it makes the sting of waiting for updates a little less painful since you can still have the latest and greatest core apps without always needing the latest version of android.

    • jerrbomb

      Right.. And that totally shuts up the whole fragmentation thing to a degree.. Because no matter what people will always bring it up when takes of a new update OS for android comes up… I like being different and not on the same OS page as everyone else.. And until today I had the latest version of Android.. Thanks to the GS4.. Lol. But to bring it back to the topic of this post.. I don’t really mind waiting for an update.. I’m satisfied….

      • redraider133

        I agree. I like the bug fixes and performance improvements but with how the high end devices perform now it isn’t needed right away like it used to be.

        • jerrbomb

          Exactly.. What most critics (I like to call them subtle trolls) don’t understand is that perfection takes time and with android and how it works fragmentation will never truly go away due to its open nature.. As you said before… With the way phones are.. Especially a high end phone.. And the way android as improved so much.. Updates are a thank you kindly sir type thing more that a Omg I really need a bug fix right away because my phone my get chucked.. Lol

  • Ryan O’Neill

    If only we had CLU here. He would create the perfect system.

  • Raul

    So theoretically speaking shouldn’t phones with the same SoC as a nexus device get the updates faster since they get to skip the board support package part by the SoC vendors, like the optimus G for example.

    • jerrbomb

      I honestly was wondering the same

  • Nathan D.

    That why, when day come when it happens for my phone I’m rooting it

  • Himanshu Shah
  • Colton

    Then I pose this question:

    Why is ASUS always one of the first companies to post updates, when they ARE NOT an SoC maker like Samsung and they’re in the same boat as many other manufacturers? They sometimes update within a couple weeks!

    • Brook Marin

      ASUS for the most part is making tablets that don’t have cellular modules in them. That means you aren’t waiting for the carriers to force them to go though the various GSM, CDMA or LTE certs that phones have to go through.

  • Sang

    This article starts like a real promise, and ends with not much or none. Rewrite such articles or just simply don’t publish. Quality controls anyone at “androidandme”???

  • GRAW

    But…what about the Galaxy Nexus? Where’s our update, Verizon?

  • Dnk

    Google has been decoupling as many of its services and apps from Android that it can with each new version of Android it releases. So that we don’t need to update to the latest Android to get many of the new features. Google play services was part of it.
    I expect that by next year Google would have been able to break down Android in 3 parts the

    1. UI that OEM play around with like touchwiz
    2. Google Play and apis
    3. Hardware drivers

    With that I think most people would have access to most of the latest Android features and still allow for OEM to differentiate by unique hardware design and UI.

  • assem
    • Dan

      so the moral of the story, we don’t care about you really getting an update to fix your problems, lets face it our carriers really push out updates so just go out and buy that new phone with the new software, it drives up profits.. blah blah blah my rear, When got my galaxy over my iOS and the one thing I can say when I had an iPhone is that apple was great about updates and when they did screw something up they fixed it… this is just an excuse. Its time for Android and the carriers to push updates on a reg basis and stop making these lame excuses.

  • ahmedfaiz919

    In future i hope both chipmakers and OEMS come up with a better system of organized update with timeline for all the the phones in the update list with a time frame on when they will get it rather than a sup! update like now whenever they wish. I hope android and google will change this trend. two updates per a year is perfect and also emergency updates if needed. i hope things will get better on in future.

  • donger

    Get a Nexus device, updates come from Google.