Software updates are vital to fixing bugs, improving performance, keeping up to date with security flaws and so on. When Google releases an update to Android, manufacturers have to update their modified versions of Android too, adding time to the software update for users.
This is where Apple kicks Google’s butt in terms of software updates, because Apple controls its software and hardware, and keeps all of its devices up to date within hardware limitations. Conversely, Android is an open software platform that allows hardware manufacturers to customize it. Only Google’s own Nexus devices like the 5X and 6P run pure Android, meaning they will get updates as soon as Google releases them.
Historically, it has been very difficult to know when the Android flagships from LG, Samsung, HTC and Motorola were going to release updates. The manufacturers keep that information guarded, mainly because they have to scramble to update their version of Android on its devices as fast as they possibly can.
Add in carriers to the mix, mainly in the United States, and updates are even slower due to the testing and modifications they have to make to each Android device they sell.
Last September Google announced the release of Android 6.0 Marshmallow for October 2015. Since then here is what the flagships release schedule looks like:
Remember Android 6.0 brought users Doze, which improves battery life significantly, Now on Tap which brings smarter searching and predictions, and it also brought better control over permissions for keeping your information private.
From the chart above you can see that AT&T is the slowest of the four major US cellular providers to update Android 6.0 to its devices. It turns out that Verizon is the fastest to give its customers the latest features, with Sprint and T-Mobile right behind. AT&T also installs the most bloatware/crapware on its devices which also contributes to the slowness of updates.
LG and HTC also beat Samsung in updates, but Samsung has quite a few more flagships to support. Samsung is also the largest phone manufacturer in the world, so you would hope that it could improve update speed with its vast resource pool. Instead it looks like its programmers are spread too thin to keep up with Google and its heavily modified version of Android with TouchWiz. It’s really disappointing to see the Note line struggle with the slowest updates to Android 6.0 as it is the most expensive flagship out of all of the devices listed. You would hope your money would get you faster updates, but it simply isn’t the case for the power user’s smartphone.
Motorola moved away from carriers altogether with its 2015 Moto X Pure as it could keep more control over its software updates. By doing this, Motorola also abandoned its 2014 Moto X users and sadly told them they will not be receiving Android 6.0 even though the unlocked version would see it. Keep in mind Motorola also went through major changes by being sold off from Google to Lenovo in 2014.
Be mindful of what device you might buy in 2016
While writers me rarely need to worry about updates, because we switch devices regularly, as consumers you all need to be aware of how slow your update schedules will be if you care about them. Most of you will keep your smartphones for two to three years, so if you’re on old software, you might be dealing with bugs that are long fixed on a pure Android device like the Nexus 6P or Nexus 5X.
It might even cause enough frustration for you to move to the iPhone where everyone gets updates with Apple’s releases. Or you can even consider buying unlocked international variants of each of these devices, as those are usually the first to get updates since they are not beholden to wireless carriers in the US. Hopefully consumers will become more aware of the fragmentation issues that exist within Android and will demand more from their carriers and manufacturers in the future.
Keep in mind, while the device you buy today might work like a dream, in one to two years when we are on Android N and O, you might be behind with a buggy Android device. And the way things look now, you’ll be the furthest behind if you buy a Samsung through AT&T.
Are you happy with the updates on your Android device? Or do you not care enough to bother with it as long as your phone works? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.