Google engineer answers why manufacturers take so long to release software updates

Several Android engineers held an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session on Reddit earlier this week, giving users a free pass to question them. One of the users wanted to know about system updates and got a reasonably long message in response. The user was curious about why several manufacturers are not able to update Android versions on a timely basis. A Google engineer has explained why manufacturers take time to release software updates and what Google does to make it easier for them to send updates.

The most important thing to understand here is that upgrades are fundamentally a cost issue for manufacturers. Every OEM partner wants to upgrade their devices. They are, however, limited by the tough economic choices that it costs. Therefore, as explained by the Google engineer, manufacturers do not update their devices say as regularly as Apple and other OS manufacturers because of the high cost involved.

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Why are the upgrade costs so high? The answer has several points to add:

-Android is open source and customizable

-The Android ecosystem is huge

-For each device, there are several companies involved in the launch

-There are operator certification costs for each major update

According to the engineer, the first two reasons are exclusive to Android. The third and fourth are universal and also apply outside the Android ecosystem. However, the third reason is more pronounced on Android. Together, the first three reasons lead to higher upgrade costs compared to other platforms.

Android is an open-source platform, and like all open source projects, it allows modifications and customizations. This flexibility is an essential feature of Android and allows manufacturers to tailor the code to their needs. Customizations carry costs, as in all open source projects. The manufacturer takes a version of Android, makes changes, and launches it. When the next version arrives, you have to make the changes you previously created and transfer them to the new version. This takes time and effort, which leads to higher development costs.

Google explains two ways to solve the issue

The engineer explains that there are two ways to reduce these costs: one of them is for the manufacturer to contribute their changes to the open-source project, so the Android project bears that adaptation costs. This is how the Linux kernel community works. Android, however, is a different case. Many of the modifications to the Android codebase are proprietary in nature, which for various reasons, prevents them from being submitted to the open-source project. So this means that manufacturers have to adapt their own changes with each new version.

The second way is by establishing boundaries between which components the manufacturer can freely modify and which should be standard. This is where initiatives like Project Treble and Project Mainline are helping manufacturers with updates.

Although there is still a long way to go, the latest adoption figures for Android 10 seem to indicate that Google is on the right track as manufacturers are updating their devices faster than ever before. This is why Google’s efforts will continue to be focused on defining boundaries between components. This will let them make the underlying operating system increasingly upgradeable without sacrificing the flexibility and power of the open-source nature that Android provides.


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