Google’s Inability To Force Software Updates Threatens Android

Nexus 5X (image: Google PR)
© Provided by Forbes

Next month, Google’s fifth major version of Android will have been publicly available for one year. In that time, new handsets have shipped with the OS, and some older handsets have been offered a software upgrade to reach the latest version with the stability and security that it offers. After a year of work, how much of an impact has Lollipop had on the Android ecosystem?

Twenty three and a half percent.

That’s the share that all the versions of Lollipop has achieved. Of course Google has ensured that the Nexus device under its direct control will be on the latest version of the OS, and consumers who have SIM-free handsets direct from the manufacturers have a better chance of getting any updates rather than wait for a network to also certify the update, but the inability to roll out new code has always been an Achilles heel for Android – and events this year have shown up the dangers.

Android Dashboard (image: Google.com)

© Provided by Forbes Android Dashboard (image: Google.com)

Google has worked to mitigated the issues, using the Google Play Services library to pass out some updates to the software, and lifting as many applications as possible outside of the firmware bundles and into the pre-installed applications so they can be updated in the same way as a third-party application.

The public exposure of the StageFright vulnerabilities has seen Google push manufacturers and networks to sign up to its monthly security updates and push these through regularly, but uptake has not been universal – HTC is the latest manufacturer that is having to say thanks but no thanks because it believes a monthly update is unrealistic when put alongside the demands of carrier testing programs.

In contrast, Apple’s ability roll out iOS updates and bug fixes has a pace that I’m sure Android engineers look on with envy.

Android Marshmallow is expected to be publicly available next month, certainly on the new Nexus devices, but I would expect to see some of the smaller and more nimble handset manufacturers pick up on the new version to be seen as cutting edge and cash in on the goodwill from the geekerati.

Unfortunately there’s no sign (beyond a little bit of psychology) that Google is able to force through a change that would improve the update situation in 2016.  That alone speaks both to the weakness of Android, and the weakness of Google in the ecosystem. With more commercial pressures likely to be placed on Android manufacturers next year to reduce both the build cost and the ongoing support costs to maximise the profit in the low-margin high-volume market spaces, it’s unlikely that Android is going to improve on its ability to update itself one a handset leaves the factory.

Written by Ewan Spence of Forbes

(Source: Forbes)

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